Bolivia

Bolivia: vice-minister killed by protesting miners

A deputy interior minister in Bolivia's government was abducted and killed by striking miners Aug. 25 in a conflict over formalization of mineral claims on the Altiplano. Rodolfo Illanes had gone to Panduro , a town some 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with the miners, who had been blockading a highway for the past three days. The protest had turned violent, with two miners killed by riot police. Interior Minister Carlos Romero said "all indications" were that Illanes had been murdered in a "cowardly and brutal" attack. Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira broke down on television as he described how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been "beaten and tortured to death." The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives (FENCOMIN), which called the strike, has not yet issued a statement.

Bolivia unveils 'anti-imperialist' military school

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Aug. 17 dedicated a new international military academy, which will seek to counter the influence of the US and Pentagon in the developing world. The new academy is based in the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia's east, and named after the country's former president Juan José Torres. Courses are to include "Theory of Imperialism," "Geopolitics of Natural Resources," and "Bolivian Social Structures."  Said Morales at the inauguration of the new base: "If the empire teaches domination of the world from its military schools, we will learn from this school to free ourselves from imperial oppression. We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements, and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies."

Coca cultivation down in Peru, soars in Colombia

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this week released its latest figures on coca cultivation in the Andean nations—to the pride of Peru but chagrin of Colombia. Most dramatic was the bad news from Bogotá. The new Colombia Coca Survey (PDF), jointly produced by UNODC and the country's government, shows a nearly 40% increase in coca crop area—from 69,000 hectares in 2014 to 96,000 in 2015. This is twice the 48,000 figure for 2013. Coca leaf reached its highest price in Colombia in 10 years, shooting up 39.5% to $1.02 per kilogram (3,000 pesos). Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC representative in Colombia, told reporters the country is now cultivating more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. (InfoBae, July 9; UNODC, July 8)

Bolivia: police clash with striking workers

At least nine were injured, including four police, and some 30 detained when security forces clashed with unionists of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) blocking a highway through Cochabamba department June 30. The action was part of a 72-hour strike called to oppose the government closing of the state textile firm Enatex. National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the roadblock, and protesters responded with rocks and clubs. The COB has repeatedly called general strikes in recent weeks to demand the government annul the decree liquidating the firm and dismissing 850 workers. The COB supported President Evo Morales when he too office in 2006, but now accuses him a "neoliberal" economic policy. Morales has declared the strike "illegal," saying that only 180 of the dismissed workers are refusing to accept severance pay, and "for this number, they cannot paralyze the country." (InfoBae, Bolivia Prensa, June 30)

Bolivia: labor unrest rocks La Paz

Riot police clashed with protesting laid-off workers in Bolivia's capital May 17, during a march against the government's decision to close the country's largest state-run textile company, ENATEX. Three people were hurt, including a protester who lost his hand while preparing to hurl a stick of dynamite. At least 20 were arrested after some 5,000 workers marched on the ENATEX factory in the Villa Fatima district of La Paz. Protesters took over the ENATEX offices, and police used tear-gas to prevent workers from occupying the factory itself. More than 800 people were laid off when President Evo Morales liquidated the foundering parastatal this week. Morales' administration bought the company in 2011 to save it from bankruptcy. The march was organized by COB, Bolivia's general labor federation, which threaetened solidarity actions in other sectors and cities if the arrested workers were not released. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, May 18; AP, TeleSur, May 18)

Chile-Bolivia water dispute headed for The Hague

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.

Evo Morales' ex-advisor arrested on guerilla ties

Peruvian journalist Walter Chávez, widely named in the press as a key campaign advisor to Bolivian president Evo Morales, was arrested in Argentina March 16, and may face extradition to Peru, where he faces charges of having served as an operative of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a now-defunct guerilla group. Chávez was granted political asylum in Bolivia in 1992, and worked on Morales' campaigns between his election in 2005 and his most recent re-election in 2014. Bolivia refused a Peruvian extradition request in 2007. Chávez was arrested in Argentina's northern city of Salta, apparently having crossed the border some three weeks earlier. (Peru.com, March 17; InfoBae, Argentina, Eju!, Bolivia, March 16) In response to the controversy, Bolivia's cabinet chief Carlos Romero denied that Walter Chávez had ever been an official advisor, saying he did not work out of the presidential palace but "particiapted voluntarily" in Morales' campaigns. (Terra, March 17)

Bolivia: violence precedes vote on term limits

Exit polls suggest Bolivia's President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum to amend the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term. The constitution change would let Morales remain in power until 2025. Opposition supporters are already celebrating the referendum result in parts of La Paz.  However, Vice President Alvaro García Linera said the results so far are a "technical tie." The vote takes place amid controversy over who is responsible for a deadly incident of political violence four days earlier in El Alto, the sprawling working-class suburb of La Paz that is a traditional stronghold of Morales' ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). (BBC News, Feb. 22; La Razón, Feb. 18)

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