Bolivia: police attack indigenous protest camp in La Paz

Bolivian police used tear gas, pepper spray and blasts from a water cannon mounted on an armored vehicle against protesters at the camp established by the Ninth Indigenous March just off Plaza Murillo, the central square in La Paz, on July 5. “They have gassed children and indigenous of the Ninth March, they have soaked our beds,” said march leader Bertha Bejarano, calling upon the people of La Paz to mobilize for the “physical defense” of the protest camp. Interior vice-minister Jorge P茅rez said the police were responding to the arrival at the camp of a contingent from the local anarcho-feminist group Mujeres Creando, who he said threw rotten fruits and vegetables at the police. “There was no order, and there was no police repression,” he said. “What happened was a natural reaction on the part of the police, who were attacked in a violent manner. We aren’t justifying violence by any side, but those who came to savagely attack the integrity of the police was this group of ladies.” A statement from Mujeres Creando said “the protest was peaceful, but we suffered repression from the police.” (ANF, Erbol, La Raz贸n, La Paz, Opini贸n, Cochabamba, July 5)

The Ninth March, made up of some 1,500 indigenous marchers and their allies, arrived in La Paz on June 27, after a 62-day, 580-kilometer trek from the Amazonian lowlands to protest the government’s proposed highway through the Isiboro-S茅cure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS). Just hours before the march arrived in the capital, President Evo Morales settled a National Police mutiny that had seen six days of street clashes in the city. Morales had darkly warned that the mutiny was part of a plot by conservative opposition forces to set the stage for a coup d’etat. Vice President Alvaro Garc铆a Linera attempted to link the Ninth March to the supposed plot, saying the government had evidence of a “Plan TIPNIS” to destabilize the Morales government. Esteban Urquizu, governor of Chuquisaca with Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), cautioned, “both the police mutiny and the indigenous march are seeking violence or confrontation, as well as deaths, in order to blame the government.”

TIPNIS indigenous leader Fernando Vargas was quick to refute the charge. “Our mobilizations were never [intended] to overthrow the government but, on the contrary, have been to redirect government policies that have gone astray,” he stated. (NACLA News, July 2; La Raz贸n, June 27)

On July 3 representatives from some communities within the TIPNIS signed an agreement with the government for a consultation process regarding the highway that would cut through the area. State news sources claimed about 70% of the 63 local representatives from communities within the park attended the meeting and agreed that a consultation can take place. These reportedly included leaders from both the TIPNIS Subcentral of CIDOB, the indigenous coalition which has opposed the road, and from CONISUR, the rival coalition that has supported it. Fernando Vargas, president of the TIPNIS Subcentral, did not participate in the meeting, telling newspaper La Raz贸n that the government seeks to divide the indigenous inhabitants of the reserve. CIDOB president Adolfo Ch谩vez called the meeting another “aggression” by the government against the indigenous movement. (Indian Country Today, La Raz贸n, July 4)

See our last posts on Bolivia and the struggle for the Amazon.

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