LA PAZ – Bolivia’s defense minister resigned Monday to protest President Evo Morales’ decision to use force to break up a march by indigenous people opposed to plans for a trans-Amazonian highway.
A child was killed in the confrontation between police and the marchers.
Cecilia Chacon, who only became defense minister in April, “irrevocably” resigned her post because, as she explained in a letter she sent to Morales, she does not agree with the decision to suppress the march.
There were other alternatives to resolve the conflict “within the framework of dialogue, respect for human rights, non-violence and defense of Mother Earth,” she said.
The march, which had been launched on Aug. 15 with the participation of some 1,500 Indians, was violently broken up on Sunday near the town of Yucumo, more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from La Paz.
The death of the child was in doubt initially because it was reported only by sources linked to the Indians who did not provide clear details and because it was denied by the police and the government, but a source with the Catholic bishops conference told Efe that the death had been confirmed.
The bishops condemned the police attack on the indigenous camp because it occurred when “they were in a situation of total defenselessness,” and they are demanding that Morales “renounce the road of repression, persecution and violence.”
The national ombud’s office expressed itself along the same lines.
Unions, indigenous associations, opposition parties and environmental and human rights defense groups on Monday organized vigils, hunger strikes and road blockades to support the Indians, and the COB labor federation called a general strike for Wednesday.
The Amazon tribes oppose the fact that the highway linking Bolivia and Brazil bisects the Tipnis reservation and enables illegal loggers and coca growers to invade the area.
In La Paz, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Monday in Murillo Square, where the presidential residence and the Legislative Palace are located, and called for the resignations of Morales and Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti, but the police cordoned off the area so that they could not pass.
There were also protests in Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre and other cities.
Llorenti said that the excesses of the police will be investigated after television footage showed officers gagging men and women with adhesive tape and dragging them with their hands bound.
“This government has chosen to call itself a defender of human rights. What has it done for us? It hasn’t respected our rights. Not even the government of the extreme right treated us the way this government is treating us,” said Justa Cabrera, the head of the Confederation of Indigenous Women. EFE