LA PAZ – Leaders of the 18-day-old general strike in the southwestern region of Potosi said Thursday that they will enter talks with the Bolivian government only if authorities release 51 miners arrested during disturbances in the capital.
The chairman of the Potosi Civic Committee, known as Comcipo, told Radio Fides that he has yet to hear from the government about renewing discussions, though Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera announced plans to convene another dialogue with the strike leaders.
“If there were a letter (of invitation to dialogue) at this moment, first the liberation of my comrades,” Jhonny Llally said.
Hundreds of miners from Potosi clashed with police in La Paz on Wednesday following a failed attempt to initiate talks between Cabinet ministers and Comcipo, which mounted the general strike to advance a score of demands related to economic development in the region.
The miners hurled dynamite and the cops responded with tear gas.
Two official vehicles were blown up and the flames from fires that followed dynamite blasts spread to the German Embassy, a city park and a police-owned hostel.
Garcia Linera accused the miners of seeking to harm the Cabinet ministers and the journalists who were covering what was supposed to be the inauguration of a dialogue.
Llally on Thursday apologized to the residents of La Paz “for causing such damage” and expressed appreciation for the support Comcipo has received from some sectors in the capital.
The Comcipo chairman burst into tears during the interview with Radio Fides as he explained the reasons for the general strike, pointing to poverty and underdevelopment in Potosi.
“I have voted for Mr. President (Evo Morales), I have believed in him, because a person who suffers knows the necessities,” Llally said. “I have been with him. I said this gentleman was going to change things, but he came in and the changes did not happen.”
Comcipo is demanding major public works projects for Potosi, including the construction of a hydroelectric dam, hospitals, highways, glass and cement factories and an international airport.
Speaking at an event in the neighboring region of Chuquisaca, Morales appeared to allude to the situation in Potosi when he said: “At all times there have been traitors, there have been people who instead of being on the side of their community, they go to the other side.”
“There will never be a lack of traitors, but equally the people will continue supporting and seeing the changes. Some say there is no change. They would have to blind not to see it or deaf not to hear it,” the president said.
Pro-Morales peasants, workers and indigenous people in Potosi have threatened to mobilize in favor of the national government if Comcipo does not suspend the general strike within 48 hours.
Morales, an Aymara Indian who grew up in poverty, is Bolivia’s first indigenous president.