Bolivia’s Defense Minister Quits Amid Rising Tensions In Highway Dispute

September 26, 2011 12:44 pm 1 comment

The town of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia where protesters seized a landing strip Monday.

Bolivia’s defense minister reigned from her post after the government sent around 500 police officers to break up a protest over a planned highway through an indigenous-inhabited nature preserve.

Former Defense Minister Celicia Chacón said she did not agree with the government’s actions to break up a march against the highway project. Her resignation comes at a time of growing pubic anger toward the crackdown by police against the protesters.

While Bolivian President Evo Morales said that he supports indigenous causes, he claims that the highway is vital for the country’s economy. The planned 190-mile highway would connect Brazil with Pacific ports in Chile and Peru.

Protests against the highway began in mid-August when activists from Bolivia’s Amazon basin region left the northern city of Trinidad in a plan to march to the capital of La Paz. The demonstrators, most of whom are from three different Amazonian groups that have lived largely in isolation for centuries, said that the road would force landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people into the area and colonize the region.

The indigenous peoples of the region also worry about illegal settlement and deforestation in their ancestral Amazon homeland.

During the police break-up of the protesters near the northeastern village of Yucumo, several people were injured when local police used tear gas on the crowd and several wounded activists were taken away in buses by police.

“No bullets were fired, (only) some tear gas was used,” said local police chief Óscar Muñoz. Doctors had treated two people for minor injuries and some police were also injured in the melee, according to Muñoz.

Muñoz added that the demonstrators taken away in buses were allegedly not under arrest, but instead being taken back to their hometowns. However, residents angered by the police action in the area blocked the buses early Monday morning in a nearby town.

About 100 protesters also seized the landing strip in the town of Rurrenabaque on Monday in an effort to prevent police from using it to fly detainees out of the area.

President Morales said on Sunday that the government would call for a referendum to see if the road project would go through. “We are going to ask people (in Cochabamba and Beni departments) in a referendum,” Morales said, according to AFP. “If they say yes, a study will be done to see where the best route for that road is, the most direct … and with the least environmental impact.”

Morales, who has in the past enjoyed widespread support from Bolivia’s sizable indigenous population, faces stiff opposition for his government’s actions – both at home and from international groups.

“Injured children, disappeared mothers who didn’t want to separate from their children – this does not talk well about our democracy. This is not democracy,” said Bolivian ombudsman Rolando Villena.

The United Nations also criticized the use of force by police and reminded authorities that it was their responsibility to “protect the people.”

“The most important thing for us is that they stop the violence as soon as possible,” said the U.N. envoy in Bolivia, Yoriko Yasukawa, according to AFP.

The proposed highway is being funded by Brazil and built by a Brazilian company.

Photo: Phillie Casablanca @ Flickr.

Leave a Reply


Other News

  • Blog Today in Latin America Great Reads This Week

    Great Reads This Week

    Immigration Rules in Bahamas Sweep Up Haitians Frances Robles. The New York Times. January 30, 2015. Strict immigration laws in the Bahamas that require everyone to hold a passport have put people of Haitian descent at risk of deportation or detention. Even those born in the Bahamas but to Haitian parents are often unable to obtain a passport, because the paperwork requires tracking down both parents’ birth certificates. On Jan. 29 the Bahamian government took the new immigration policy even […]

    Read more →
  • Blog Paraguay Southern Cone Today in Latin America German Couple Kidnapped, Shot Dead in Paraguay; Guerrilla Group Suspected

    German Couple Kidnapped, Shot Dead in Paraguay; Guerrilla Group Suspected

    A German couple who had been working as farmers in Paraguay for 30 years were found dead on Thursday, and authorities are blaming members of an elusive guerrilla group that threatened the owner of a neighboring farm just one week prior. Roberto Natto, 60, and Erika Reiser, 53, were abducted on Wednesday, along with four of the couples’ employees, from their ranch 395 kilometers (245 miles) north of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. Natto and Reiser were killed around midnight, according to […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico News Briefs North America Two Confirmed Dead as Latest News on Mexican Maternity Ward Explosion Emerges

    Two Confirmed Dead as Latest News on Mexican Maternity Ward Explosion Emerges

    An explosion caused by a gas leak at a Mexico City maternity and children’s hospital killed two people and injured dozens more, according to the Borough Chief of Cuajimalpa, where the hospital is located. Borough Chief Adrián Rubalcava confirmed the two deaths on Twitter, rejecting previous reports that seven had been confirmed dead. “The previously reported figure of seven corresponds to individuals transferred to hospitals who are in critical condition,” Rubalcava wrote in Spanish, “and alive.” Dozens of women and […]

    Read more →
  • Blog Caribbean Cuba North America Today in Latin America United States Cuban President: Return of Guantanamo Bay Needed to Normalize Relations

    Cuban President: Return of Guantanamo Bay Needed to Normalize Relations

    Top Story — The United States must return the Guantanamo Bay naval base to Cuba, lift the half-century embargo completely and remunerate Cuba for the embargo’s economic damages before both countries can move forward in restoring diplomatic relations, Cuban President Raúl Castro said on Wednesday. President Castro’s remarks, made during a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica, are the latest in an increasing list of demands made on the United States, which some fear may […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico North America Today in Latin America Mexican Attorney General Officially Declares 43 Missing Students Dead

    Mexican Attorney General Officially Declares 43 Missing Students Dead

    Top Story — Evidence in the case of the 43 students missing from Iguala, Mexico, since Sept. 26 conclusively proves that they are dead, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced on Tuesday. Murillo Karam’s statement is unlikely to quash suspicions held by the students’ relatives, many of whom suspect that the federal government is seeking a quick solution to the mystery of the students’ disappearance. “The evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned and thrown […]

    Read more →
  • Caribbean Cuba Today in Latin America After Long Silence, Fidel Castro Cautiously Backs Negotiations With U.S.

    After Long Silence, Fidel Castro Cautiously Backs Negotiations With U.S.

    Top Story — Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro broke over a month of silence on Monday by writing a letter expressing cautious praise of Cuba’s recent negotiations with the U.S seeking to normalize diplomatic relations. “I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” Castro wrote in a letter that was read at the University of Havana and published […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico News Briefs North America Missing Mexican Journalist Found Dead, Mayor Accused of Orchestrating His Death

    Missing Mexican Journalist Found Dead, Mayor Accused of Orchestrating His Death

    The body of Veracruz journalist José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, missing since Jan. 2, has been found on the outskirts of Medellín de Bravo, Mexico, state prosecutor Luís Angel Bravo announced on Sunday. A former police officer confessed to participating in the murder, according to Bravo, at the behest of Medellín de Bravo Mayor Omar Cruz Reyes. Former police officer Clemente Noé Rodríguez Martínez confessed that he and five accomplices killed Sánchez Cerezo. The men allegedly beheaded the journalist and disposed […]

    Read more →
  • Andes Today in Latin America Venezuela Amid Renewed Protests, Venezuela Blocks Politicians’ Visit to Imprisoned Opposition Leader

    Amid Renewed Protests, Venezuela Blocks Politicians’ Visit to Imprisoned Opposition Leader

    Top Story — As the Venezuelan opposition attempts to revive protests of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, the former presidents of Colombia and Chile were blocked from visiting opposition leader Leopoldo López in Venezuela’s Ramo Verde prison on Sunday. López has been under arrest for almost a year over his role in anti-government protests last spring. Sebastián Piñera, the former president of Chile, and Andrés Pastrana, the former president of Colombia spoke to reporters outside Ramo Verde prison after being denied […]

    Read more →
  • Today in Latin America Great Reads This Week

    Great Reads This Week

    Aiming to Create a Jazz Capital Melena Ryzik. The New York Times. January 18, 2015. Danilo Pérez, a Panamanian jazz pianist and founder of the Panama Jazz Festival, is a towering figure in the world of jazz — a genre of music not quite as popular in the region as in the U.S. or Europe. As a teacher and mentor, he is a tireless promoter of musicianship in his home country. Here, reporter Melena Ryzik explores his highly influential jazz […]

    Read more →
  • Caribbean Cuba North America Today in Latin America United States Cuba, U.S. Agree on Diplomacy, Clash Over Human Rights During Historic Talks

    Cuba, U.S. Agree on Diplomacy, Clash Over Human Rights During Historic Talks

    Top Story — High-level talks between U.S. and Cuban delegates in Havana ended with both sides agreeing to move forward with plans to restore diplomatic ties and to reconvene ahead of April’s Summit of the Americas, when both countries’ presidents are set to meet. While the two days meetings were largely cordial, representatives of both countries clashed over human rights issues — with Cuba countering remarks about its humanitarian record with references to recent killings of unarmed black men by […]

    Read more →