LA PAZ – The government of President Evo Morales on Tuesday blamed Deputy Interior Minister Marcos Farfan and police commanders on the ground for last weekend’s brutal repression of an Indian march resisting construction of a highway through a national park.
Presidential chief of staff Carlos Romero and Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti took that position at a press conference in La Paz, during which they also announced that Farfan had resigned in order to “undergo an investigation.”
“The operation carried out near Yucumo on Sunday was not ordered by the president,” Llorenti said.
“It was a decision taken at the site” by Farfan “at the suggestion of some police commanders,” Llorenti said, to which Romero added that the former deputy minister “will have to take responsibility for what happened Sunday.”
Llorenti did say, however, that “no orders can justify the abuses and violations” committed by the police and that “those are responsibilities of an individual nature.”
He promised to provide a list of agents who reacted violently against the Indians.
Llorenti originally said that prosecutors had ordered the crackdown on the march, something Attorney General Mario Uribe denied.
The march, which had been launched on Aug. 15 with the participation of some 1,500 Amazonian Indians, was violently broken up on Sunday, more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from La Paz.
Some 500 agents mounted an attack of tear gas and clubs against the Indians’ campsite near the town of Yucumo, gagged the Indian leaders and women with adhesive tape, bound their hands and forced dozens into buses and vans to be moved off to nearby villages.
A child was killed in the confrontation between police and the marchers.
The Catholic bishops conference condemned the police attack on the indigenous camp because it occurred when “they were in a situation of total defenselessness.”
Morales said on Monday that the police repression was “unpardonable” and called a temporary halt to construction of the trans-Amazonian highway that the Indians oppose, in order to discuss the project with the regions it will pass through.
Indians found that proposal unsatisfactory, however, and renewed their march on La Paz once they checked the “physical and material” damage caused by the attack, the spokesman for the residents of Tipnis National Park, Adolfo Moye, said on Tuesday.
For the Amazonian ethnicities, Morales’ announcement means that the project has not been canceled and will continue, since he only spoke of stopping construction while discussions are going on, even though the Indians have expressed their total opposition to a highway through the Tipnis.
The police repression set off a wave of protests nationwide and on Monday led to the resignation of Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon, and on Tuesday of Migration Director Maria Rene Quiroa.
Both Indians and conservation groups are opposed to the Brazilian-financed highway crossing the Tipnis because of the environmental damage the project will cause and because they fear an invasion of illegal loggers and coca growers.
The goal of the project is to link the Brazilian Amazon with Pacific ports in Peru and Chile. EFE