Bolivia: indigenous power at issue in hunger strike

Six leaders of the dissident Aymara organization CONAMAQ held a hunger strike for four days at the doors of the Bolivian congress building last month, as the lower-house Chamber of Deputies debated a bill on assigning legislative seats to ethnicities and regions of the country. The strike was lifted after the law was approved Oct. 7. By then, one Aymara elder, Simón Antonio Cuisa from Charcas Qhara Qhara, Potosí, had been hospitalized. On breaking his strike after the vote, CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe said, "The plurinaitonal state is mortally wounded." CONAMAQ and its congressional allies—dissident members of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), calling themselves the "free-thinkers" (librepensantes)—pledged to seek the law's reform. Dissident MAS lawmaker Rebeca Delgado spoke on the chamber floor in support of CONAMAQ's demands before the vote. CONAMAQ is demanding an increase in the number of congressional seats assigned to indigenous Bolivians from seven to 16, questioning the results of the 2012 census on which the apportioning was based. Chamber of Deputies president Betty Tejada (MAS) responded that the 130-seat body is already 70% indigenous. (Erbol, Oct. 31; Reuters, Oct. 8; BolPressCámara de Diputados, Oct. 7; Erbol, Oct. 5; La Prensa, La Paz, Oct. 6; Servindi, Oct. 4)

The question has occasioned much factionalism in Bolivia's indigenous movement. After the vote, CONAMAQ repudiated the Council of Original Authorities of  Potosí (CAOP), charging that it is a tool of the MAS that does not truly represent the indigenous people of Potosí. CONAMAQ adherents in Charcas Qhara Qhara said they will a boycott a CAOP meeting called for November to coordinate all indigenous bodies in Potosí department. CAOP curaca Carlos Copa responded by accusing CONAMAQ and the librepensantes of being "with the right." (Erbol, Oct. 30)

Traditional leaders of the Chichas people in Chaquillapampa, Potosí, announced that they are withdrawing recognition of their jatun cacique, Hilarión Mamani, accusing him of having participated in a physical attack on CONAMAQ's La Paz office in September. Chaquillapampa has also seen recent conflict between indigenous campesinos and independent mining collectives that Aymara leaders say threaten local water sources and operate outside the law with government connivance. (Erbol, Oct. 1; Erbol, June 10)

There were also protests over the apportioning of seats in the congress, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, to Bolivia's regional departments, with street clashes reported from Potosí, Beni and Chuquisaca. These three departments each lost a seat under the new law, with Santa Cruz gaining three. Two Chuquisaca lawmakers from the opposition Convergencia Nacional, Juan Luis Gantier and Pedro Medrano, held their own hunger strike against the law, joined in solidarity by Cochabamba opposition lawmaker Alex Orozco. A cross-country "March for Chuquisaqueñidad" was held, and the mayor of Chuquisaca's capital Sucre, Moisés Torres, was among 14 civic leaders who also fasted in support of the lawmakers' hunger strike. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, Oct. 5; ServindiEl Día, Santa Cruz, Oct. 4; FM Bolivia, Oct. 1)

Later in October, villagers from the pueblos of Rodeo and Challuma in Oruro department held a nine-day hunger strike demanding resolution of a border conflict with neighboring Potosí department, which they said is usurping their communities of traditional lands. The strike was lifted when Minister of Autonomy Claudia Peña and Minister of Land and Territory Nemecia Achacollo flew to Oruro to hear their grievances. The villagers pledged to resume their strike and organize road blockades if the issue is not resolved within 30 days. (La Razón, Oct. 24)

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Bolivia: anti-crime op militarizes Santa Cruz

Bolivia's government claimed gains against local corruption and srteet crime in a National Police campaign dubbed Plan Chachapuma, which has mobilized nearly 15,000 troops to Santa Cruz department over the past months. But a group of opposition lawmakers from Santa Cruz held a public protest against the operation at the Government Ministry building in La Paz. Deputy Verónica Aguilera said the problem of insecurity in Santa Cruz is grave but that Plan Chachapuma "only serves to intimidate the population." (Los Tiempos, Nov. 6; FM Bolivia, Nov. 1)