The Bolivian government says it will negotiate with an indigenous group that apparently lynched four police officers on May 23. Government rights ombudsman Rolando Villena said he was travelling to the southern department of Potosí to try to convince the group to hand over the officers’ bodies. An assembly of “Ayllus Guerreros” (generally translated as “Warrior Clans,” although ayllu is perhaps better rendered as “community”) has declared the local municipality of Uncía a “zona roja,” and are barring authorities from entering to search for the bodies.
The Ayllus Guerreros have thrown up roadblocks on highways leading to Uncía, and say they are acting under “justicia indígena originaria”, as permitted in the new Bolivian constitution. The government is not recognizing the killings as a legitimate form of indigenous justice. National police authorities say the killings were retaliation for the destruction of a local cocaine laboratory.
The slain officers were members of the Directorate for the Prevention and Investigation of Vehicle Theft (DIPROVE), and were taken captive last weekend in the Quechua community of Cala Cala. It is not known how they were killed, but the remains are believed to have been buried in Cala Cala and the neighboring community of Saca Saca. Community leaders accused the DIPROVE officers of taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of stolen cars from neighboring Chile. “Brothers, we did not kill police officers, we killed thieves disguised as police officers,” one local leader told a community gathering.
Wives and other surviving kin of the slain officers have appealed to president Evo Morales for help. Eighteen relatives had earlier travelled to the area where the killings took place, but were reportedly warned they too would be killed if they proceeded further. (BBC News, Télam, Argentina, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, May 28; EFE, Correo del Sur, Sucre, May 27; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Radio Fides, Bolivia, May 26)
See our last post on Bolivia.