Bolivia: interior minister next to resign over Amazon repression

Bolivia’s Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti became the latest cabinet member to resign Sept. 28 in the wake of police repression of an indigenous protest in the Amazonian rainforest zone of the country. Llorenti, the target of much criticism, said he was stepping down because he did not want to be “a tool of the right, of the opposition, which intends to attack the process of structural transformations.” Other officials to step down in the aftermath of the violence include Defense Minister Cecilia Chacón and several ruling party lawmakers. Llorenti was immediately replaced by Wilfredo Chávez, a close ally of President Evo Morales who until now has served as deputy government coordination minister. Ruben Saavedra, meanwhile, was chosen to resume leadership of the Defense Ministry. He had left that post in April to lead Bolivia’s legal fight against Chile to regain access to the Pacific Ocean.

Morales himself said Sept. 26 that the violent crackdown on the protest was “unpardonable,” but the next day repeated charges that the protesters were being manipulated by his political enemies. Refering to himself in the third person, he said: “Evo Morales’ only sin is that he’s a peasant, an indigenous leader who is now president. Some people can’t tolerate that and some of our brothers are being used by those people who can’t accept that a peasant has become president.”

According to witness reports that have now emerged, some National Police troops fired tear gas at the protesters and charged their campsite with batons swinging. They also bound detainees and gagged them with adhesive tape, including women. Migration Director Maria Rene Quiroga and an official with the Rural Development Ministry, Roxana Liendo, also stepped down in protest of the repression.

Chacón denounced the decision to use repression against the protest march, saying there were alternatives “in the framework of dialogue, respect for human rights, non-violence and defense of Mother Earth.” Llorenti, on the other hand, initially justified the police operation, saying the officers were executing an order from prosecutors. Bolivia’s Prosecutor General Mario Uribe denied issuing any such order, placing the blame on his deputy, Marcos Farfán—who resigned Sept. 27, despite also denying having issued the orders for repression. Presidency Minister Carlos Romero also blamed Farfán, leading to speculation that the administration has fingered him to take the hit in the affair.

Protesters oppose a road through their remote rainforest territory, which would link Brazil and eastern Bolivia’s lowlands with Pacific ports in Peru and Chile. (EFE,* La Prensa, La Paz, Sept. 28)

In other political fallout from the affair, the leaders of two indigenous organizations that are leading the protest march—CIDOB, representing Guaraní and other peoples from the lowland rainforest, and CONAMAQ, representing Aymara from the altiplano—urged the formation of a new parliamentary bloc to represent indigenous interests in opposition to Morales’ ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). CIDOB director Justa Cabrera said: “It is not possible to coexist with those who committed violence against the democratic system and committed crimes against humanity, against thousands of people who were walking, at a slow step, to demand that the government comply with the political constitution of the state and nullify the contract with the construction company that is carrying out work…knowing that there has been no prior consultation with the original people…” (La Jornada, Bolivia, Sept. 28)

* The EFE account, at least as it appears on Fox News Latino, incorrectly renders the interior minister’s name as “Sancha Llorenti.”

See our last post on the struggle in Bolivia.

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