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Bolivia: Police Repression of Indigenous Marchers in Yucumo

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights and Forest Focus: Amazon.

It has been more than a month since a group of indigenous protesters from the Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS in Spanish) started their 500km march with the goal of reaching the seat of government in La Paz to express their opposition to the planned highway construction through their land.

For several days, the march had been halted by a group of pro-government colonizers, who had blocked the road in Yucumo insisting that the protesters stop and resume dialogue with the government of Evo Morales.

Police intervention

TIPNIS march. Image by Fernando Miranda, copyright Demotix (26/09/2011).

TIPNIS march. Image by Fernando Miranda, copyright Demotix (26/09/2011).

The police also reinforced this blockade saying that it wanted to prevent any confrontation between the marchers and those blockading the road. This stoppage also prevented supplies, such as food, water, and medicine donated by thousands of residents from the cities, from reaching the protests. Tension between the sides continued to climb, and there was a sense that there would be an impending intervention by the security forces.

A little after 5 pm local time on September 25, 2011, right when the protesters were eating a meal, it was reported that approximately 500 uniformed police officers began to use tear gas to disperse the protesters with the goal of rounding them up on buses. The Fundación Tierra (Land Foundation) maintained a live blog, where it published the early actions reported by their communications team on the ground [es].

17:18 GASIFICACIÓN. En este momento comenzó la gasificación policial a los indígenas en el campamento en el que se encuentran desde ayer.

17:25 RUMBO A LA PAZ. Se informa que en este momento la policía obliga a subir a las mujeres y niños indígenas en camionetas rumbo hacia Yucumo.

17:28 DESESPERACIÓN. En medio de la desesperación los niños lloran y las madres buscan no separarse de sus hijos mientras los efectivos policiales antimotines ingresan en el campamento indígena para desalojará a los marchistas y obligarlos a subir a camionetas que llegan desde San Borja.

[…]

17:49 ESTAMOS EN EL LUGAR. Hacemos todo lo posible para actualizar con toda la información posible pero como comprenederán no es una tarea facil y las comunicaciones son intermitentes.

17:18 GASIFICATION. Right now the police have begun tear gassing the indigenous [marchers] in the camp where they have been since yesterday.

17:25 DESTINATION: LA PAZ. It is being reported that the police are forcing indigenous women and children to board trucks towards Yucumo.

17:28 DESPERATION. In the middle of the desperation, children cry and the mothers try not to be separated from their children, while the anti-riot police enter the indigenous camp to remove the marchers and force them to board trucks that arrive from San Borja.

[…]

17:49 WE ARE ON LOCATION. We will do everything possible to update with all the possible information, but please understand that it is not an easy task and communication is intermittent.

Soon after the police repression started, information began to be reported by the media on location, even though there were reports of the police confiscating cameras and cell phones from journalists. There are conflicting reports of the number of casualties, but the television channel Red Uno reported that a 3 month-old baby died [es] apparently from the fumes from the tear gas used by the police.

Media outlet Erbol reported that at least 45 people were being treated in area hospitals, and that the Director of the San Borja hospital. Javier Jiménez, said that police had handcuffed doctors and prevented them from treating the indigenous marchers [es].

The blog TIPNIS Resiste (TIPNIS Resisting) collected a personal testimony from indigenous representative Esther Argollo, who was present at the time of the police intervention [es]. She said:

Había una mujer que estaba con tres bebés, llorando en el camino y estaba entregando sus pequeños y a mí me dijo por favor mi bebé, mi bebé y yo le tuve que socorrer a un niño de tres años que estaba llorando y que rostro estaba lastimado de repente por una caída que ha tenido. Escapamos al monte porque los policías estaban tirando gases por todos lados, no han respetado a nadie, han rodeado el campamento, han tirado las cosas, han agredido a las personas, hay gente que ha sido golpeada.

… Había muchos niños perdidos, las mamás estaban buscando a sus hijos, no se sabe cuántas personas están todavía en el monte porque han corrido, estaban de miedo. Han corrido peladitos, sin nada. […] Todos están dolidos hay mamás que han perdido a sus bebés no se sabe dónde están, hay niños desaparecidos, está oscuro, no se sabe más de la gente, están perdidos, regados por todos lados.

There was a woman that was with three babies, who was crying in the road and she was handing over the small children and told me, please, my baby, my baby, and I had to help a three year-old child that was crying and had injured his face probably by a fall. We escaped to the bush because the police was launching gas everywhere, they did not respect anyone, they surrounded the camp, threw things, and attacked people, there are people that were hit.

… There were many lost children, the mothers were looking for their children, it is not known how many people are still in the bush because they ran out of fear. They ran naked, without anything […] Everyone is hurting, there are mothers that lost their children and they don't know where they are, there are children that disappeared, it is dark, and they haven't heard from them, they are lost, scattered everywhere.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights and Forest Focus: Amazon.

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