Bolivia: indigenous protesters lift road blockade

Indigenous protesters at the Bolivian Altiplano pueblo of Achacachi lifted their blockade of the main highway to the Peruvian border on Sept. 20, after a full month of paralyzing traffic on the artery. Following a clash with National Police troops three days earlier, villagers agreed to dialogue on their grievances, to be mediated by the Catholic church and Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo. A new "mixed" municipal government was declared, with participation from both sides in the factional split at the pueblo. But the town's mayor, Edgar Ramos, who has taken refuge in La Paz, says he will not step down. And residents are still demanding the release of 47 protesters detained in the police operation. (Eju!, Santa Cruz, Sept. 21; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, La Razón, La Paz, Sept. 20)

The situation was fast approaching internal violence at Achacachi before the de-escalation. Modesto Clares, leader of the Ponchos Rojos militant group, re-emerged from hiding after the police operation and denied claims that he had been abducted. The Ponchos Rojos had days earlier threaetened to raid and occupy the home of protest leader Felipe Quispe if the road blockade was not lifted. The Ponchos Rojos had accused Quispe, also known "El Mallku," of being behind the abduction of Clares. Quispe may still face abduction charges, which were announced by the government on Sept. 15. (ANF, Sept. 17; Correo del Sur, Sucre, Sept. 16; Erbol, Sept. 15; ABI, Sept. 14)

While charges of corruption in the Ramos administration were the immediate cause of the protests, the conflict reveals a split over the stance of Bolivia's powerful indigenous movement toward the government of President Evo Morales. While the Ponchos Rojos remain loyal to Morales' ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Quispe accuses the president of being a "neoliberal" and "vende patria" (country-seller). (InfoBae, Aug. 26)