Bolivia: 18 dead in Pando, governor ordered arrested

The opposition prefect of Bolivia’s eastern Pando department, Leopoldo Fern├índez, is facing an order for his arrest from the national government following violence at Porvenir, 30 kilometers east of the department’s capital, Cobija, that left 16 dead Sept. 11. Interior Minister Alfredo Rada said the 16 peasant supporters of President Evo Morales were killed in a clash with an armed opposition group. At least two opposition supporters were killed the next day as government troops opened fire to disperse protesters who had occupied Cobija’s airport. Rada accused Fern├índez of orchestrating a “massacre,” and said his supporters had brought in sicarios (hired assassins) from Brazil. Morales has declared martial law in Pando, and dispatched his presidency minister, Juan Ram├│n Quintana, to the departmentÔÇöbut the minister remains confined to the airport by ongoing violence in the city.

Fern├índez denied the charges. “The government has a great ability to distort things, and its arguments are always the same, accuse without reason,” he told Bolivia’s Radio FIDES. Peasant leader Antonio Moreno told AP in a phone interview that the violence began when he and several truckloads of fellow Morales supporters were halted by an opposition roadblock. After some brief fighting, one of the men at the roadblock opened fire with a submachine-gun. “The campesinos fled to the mountain, while others jumped into the river,” Moreno said.

The emergency order prohibits people from gathering or carrying weapons, but the military admitted that sniper fire continues in Cobjia, and the national government appears to have little control in the city. Morales and opposition governors from the four eastern departments have agreed to hold talks, and Chile has called for an emergency meeting of South American leaders Sept. 15 to address the Bolivian crisis. (BBC, Los Andes, Argentina, Sept. 14; AP, Sept. 13)

In Venezuela, Exterior Minister Nicol├ís Maduro pledged his government would support armed resistance to restore Morales to power in Bolivia if he is removed in coup. “The times are over when the United States could foment coups d’etat and the other countries wold assist by not resisting,” he said. However, the Bolivian armed forces issued a statement rejecting the offer. (BBC, Sept. 13)

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