Bolivia: Amazon protest march resumes in tense atmosphere

Indigenous protesters in the Bolivian Amazon resumed their cross-country march Oct. 1, a week after their progress was halted by a police assault. “We have resumed the march and our intention is not to clash with anybody,” indigenous leader Adolfo Chávez told Reuters. But as they passed through the villages of Marimonos and Palos Blancos towards the town of Caranavi, the road was lined with local campesinos who booed and hurled insults including “¡flojos!” and “¡pagados!”—”lazy” and “paid,” an apparent reference to accusations that the protesters are in the pay of political interests. Scattered physical confrontations were reported. However, indicating a split among the local populace, other residents formed a cordon to defend the marchers and chanted, “Don’t molest them, let them pass!” (ANF, Oct. 2; BBC News, Oct. 1)

Tens of thousands of Bolivians took to the streets of cities across the country Sept. 28 to protest last week’s repression of marchers, and the main labor federation, the COB, called a 24-hour general strike. (IPS, Sept. 29; AP, Sept. 28)

President Evo Morales struck an apologetic tone—but also denied responsibility for the repression. “We ask for forgiveness—forgive me,” he said in comments to the official Bolivian Information Agency. “It was not an instruction by the president. No one in the government would have thought such an attack could happen to our indigenous brothers… There was no presidential order to disperse the protest.” (CNN, InfoSur Hoy, Sept. 29)

He also reiterated charges that the protesters are politically motivated, noting upcoming elections for judicial authorities. “The march of the indigenous peoples of the Oriente was supposedly to defend the rights of Mother Earth, but in reality it has as its objective the failure of the judicial elections in October and striking a blow against democracy.” (ABI, Oct. 2)

Adolfo Chávez responded: “Instead of accusing the indigenous people, what the government should do is resolve the problem of the road once and for all.” The marchers’ demand is a halt to a planned highway through their remote rainforest territory. (BBC News, Oct. 1)

The government also announced that it is entering into negotiations with the Assembly of the GuaranĂ­ People (APG), whose followers have erected roadblocks in solidarity with the march in Santa Cruz department. Presidency Minister Carlos Romero said the APG had agreed to call off their roadblocks and hunger strikes, and would meet with government representatives at the village of UrundaytĂ­, outside Camiri. (ABI, Sept. 30)

Humberto Cholango, leader of Ecuador’s indigenous confederation, CONAIE, sent an open letter to Evo Morales, opening with “cordial greetings” and a “profound embrace of solidarity,” but going on to state:

“[W]e would like to make known out deep concern regarding the events that have transpired… Being faithful to the principles of the struggle of the people, we reject the violent repression that the indigenous brothers from the march have suffered at the hands of the Bolivian police… For a long time, our people have …sought to develop our common struggle against neoliberalism, for sovereignty, for the defence of natural resources and against neo-colonial states and governments.. Without doubt, on the way we have had multiple difficulties or even committed errors. But before all else we firmly defend the process constructed between the peoples, the struggle for the DEFENSE OF MOTHER EARTH, together with the majority of the exploited men and women. We hope that these differences will be resolved through dialogue, with the aim that they not be utilized by our enemies, the national right-wing [forces] and imperialism…” (CONAIE, Sept. 26 online in English at Bolivia Rising and in Spanish at ACIN, Colombia)

See our last post on the struggle in Bolivia.

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  1. Oddly
    again, Canada for climate change is defending Morales’ decisions while also condemning Brazil for displacing indigenous people with plans for their large dam:
    Hell, you should see their anger at the organizations expressing concern about Bolivia’s police abuse!
    At least Morales halted the Dam and condemned the police action though,I suppose, but still.

    1. Odd on Bolivia?
      We wish it were that odd for the left to uncritically rally around its leaders even when they attack indigenous protesters. I’m reminded of how the Sandinistas blundered their way into a war with the Miskito Indians in the early ’80s, who were dismissed by the all the lefties as CIA pawns. If you mean this screed, it first appeared on the Bolivia Rising blog. Same game—the protesters’ demands aren’t legitimate because they were manipulated by NGOs. We also assume you mean “Morales halted the road” (which he hasn’t, exactly—just suspended it pending a “national debate”), not the dam. And he has “condemned the police action” while also condemning the protesters as pawns of the right opposition (of which I see absolutely no evidence). And is he going to take any action against those who ordered the police action, or is it just talk?

        1. Obama and Evo
          I’m not sure how relevant such comparisons are, but how do you figure? The cops haven’t charged the Wall Street encampment the way the Bolivian national police did the marchers’ encampment. And in any case, Bolivia has just one national police force. In New York, the NYPD have been left to police the Wall Street protests, with little federal oversight that I’ve been aware of.

          1. Well, lots of people were being blocked and pepper sprayed in NY
            Well, lots of people were being blocked and pepper sprayed in NYC and Obama didn’t call the law enforcement unforgivable, that’s what I mean.

            1. Point conceded on Obama and Evo
              Obama didn’t condemn the pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters at Union Square, as Evo did the repression in the Bolivian Amazon. On the other hand, the Bolivian repression was much worse, and the Bolivian police are officially under his direct command.

            1. Did we “totally condemn” Evo?
              I don’t think we did that. We just reported the facts. I really want to like Evo, but his actions in this affair vindicate my anarchist tendencies…