On Sunday, around 2,000 unarmed and peaceful indigenous peoples in Bolivia embarked on a 370 mile march to the capital city of La Paz to join protests against a construction project that will lay a highway through a preserved rainforest and their homeland, specifically known as the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory. Hundreds of police officers ambushed the procession which, according to protest leaders, killed four people and injured dozens more.
Protesters are now accusing the Bolivian government and its leader President Evo Morales of betraying their trust and putting money ahead of the indigenous people.
The Bolivian government denies that any protester was injured or killed and instead stated that the deployment of police officers to the procession’s route was merely for the safety of the protesters.
Protesters successfully shut down an airport by clogging up the runway soon after news broke out of the ambush.
In response to the growing pressure put on by the protesters, President Morales has declared a temporary suspension to the construction project.
The construction of this road is being overseen by a Brazilian company and backed by Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development. The project, which aims to connect roads snaking throughout Brazil, Peru, Chile and Bolivia to Pacific ports costs 415 million U.S. dollars.
According to the Bolivian government, the road will provide easy access for indigenous communities to education and hospitals.
Despite a wary “yes” from at least 14 indigenous communities (which could now change into a defiant no), other communities are incredibly skeptical of the construction project which they is simply another way of the government making money from its coca and in the process destroying their way of life and the surrounding wildlife.
Bolivia is the world’s 3rd largest grower of coca which is the crop that can be processed into cocaine. Ever since President Morales took office, coca has become a more legitimate product and needed ingredient in growing Bolivia’s economy.
With outrage still fresh over the brutal police crackdown on protesters, there have been a string of resignations from President Morales’ cabinet including the resignation of Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti, Deputy Interior Minister Marcos Farfan and the Defense Minister Maria Cecilia Chacon, who stated that she resigned to protest the unnecessary force used by the Bolivian police.
Ironically, the former Bolivian government led by former Bolivian president Gonzaloa Sánchez de Lozada was overthrown after protests led by both indigenous and non-indigenous Bolivians erupted over poverty, political issues and economic policies regarding Bolivia’s natural gas.
Current President Evo Morales was one of the protest leaders who later took office and radically changed traditional Bolivian politics. Now, President Morales is facing similar, pro-environmental problems that he himself led a few years ago.
Earlier this year, protests carried out by C.O.B. (Central Workers Union) and other unions grew as people demanded for higher wages in the face of growing food and fuel prices that had insanely shot up by more than 85%.
(Cover Photo: REUTERS/David Mercado)