Bolivia: Aymara dissidents block highway

Followers of Bolivian Aymara organization CONAMAQ blocked the highway between La Paz and Oruro for four hours Dec. 19, demanding that their office in La Paz be returned to them—and not be turned over to rivals within the organization that they say are being manipulated by the ruling party. The dispute began nine days earlier, when CONAMAQ's national gathering in La Paz, dubbed the Jach'a Tantachawi (Grand Assembly), broke down into a physical confrontation for control of the office. The following day, Dec. 11, National Police riot troops sealed off the office, barring access to the dissident faction that had been in control of it, "organic CONAMAQ." Adherents of this faction, led by Félix Becerra, began a round-the-clock vigil outside the office, camping on the sidewalk opposite a phalanx of police. On Dec. 13, a fight erupted when the vigilers were set upon by followers of the rival faction, led by Hilarión Mamani. That night, five "organic" leaders began a hunger strike to demand the office be restored to them. On Dec. 18, they lifted their fast, and decided to take direct action. One of the strikers, Walberto Barahona of Qhara Qhara Suyu, Chuquisaca department, said: "It is better to mobilize, because if we wait sitting we will die of hunger."

Luis Gallegos, lawmaker from the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), weighed in, saying the government should only recognize Hilarión Mamani as the leader of CONAMAQ. He accused the his rivals of "receiving resources from the right"—naming some who participated in the hunger strike, such as Rafael Quispe, CONAMAQ's former president. He also emphasized that the CONAMAQ office had been purchased through a government aid program, "Bolivia Cambia-Evo Cumple" (Bolivia Changes, Evo Complies—a reference to President Evo Morales and his pledges to build indigenous power).

However, the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) issued a statement recognizing Félix Becerra as CONAMAQ's president, or jiliri apu mallku. The statement decried the "violence" of the pro-MAS faction.

On Dec. 20, the government announced the expulsion of the Danish non-governmental organization IBIS, which has been working with the "organic" CONAMAQ leadership. Presidency Minister Juan Ramón Quintana said, "We are not going to tolerate the politics interference of IBIS in Bolivia," accusing the NGO of "promoting conflict" with CONAMAQ and the allied lowland indigenous alliance CIDOB. IBIS protested the move, saying their group has "for more than 30 years supported and strengthened the capacities of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia." CONAMAQ reminded in a statement that IBIS had worked closely with President Morales around the Constituent Assembly that rewrote Bolivia's constitution between 2006 and 2008. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, Dec. 21; EFE, ErbolPágina Siete, La Paz, Dec. 20; Erbol, Dec. 18; El Deber, Dec. 16; Página Siete, Dec. 13; Erbol, Dec. 12; Servindi, Dec. 11)

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