Bolivia’s crisis turns violent with five deaths

Updated November 17, 2019


Military police block the march of coca leaf producers, supporters of Evo Morales, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia on Saturday. — AP
Military police block the march of coca leaf producers, supporters of Evo Morales, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia on Saturday. — AP

SACABA: Bolivia’s political crisis turned deadly again when security forces opened fire on supporters of Evo Morales. At least five people died and dozens were injured, threatening the interim governments efforts to restore stability following the resignation of the former president in an election dispute.

Most of the dead and injured in Sacaba, near the city of Cochabamba, had been shot, Guadalberto Lara, director of the towns Mexico Hospital, said. He called it the worst violence hes seen in his 30-year career.

Angry demonstrators and relatives of the victims gathered at the site of the shootings, chanting: Civil war, now! Morales, who was granted asylum in Mexico after his Nov 10 resignation, said on Twitter that a massacre had occurred and he described the interim government led by Jeanine ez as a dictatorship.

Now they are killing our brothers in Sacaba, Cochabamba, he said in another tweet.

At least 13 other people had died during weeks of earlier protests against Morales before his departure, according to the national Ombudsman’s Office. Several came in clashes between the presidents backers and those accusing him of fraudulently trying to win reelection.

Protesters said police fired when demonstrators, including many coca leaf growers who backed Bolivia’s first indigenous president, tried to cross a military checkpoint. Emeterio Colque Snchez, a 23-year-old university student, said he saw the dead bodies of several protesters and about two dozen people rushed to hospitals, many covered in blood.

Presidency Minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters in La Paz that five people had been killed and an estimated 22 were injured. He accused protesters of using military weapons. Lara, the hospital director, said that 75 people were injured.

Earlier in the day, ez said Morales would face possible legal charges for election fraud if he returns home from Mexico City.

ez also has said Morales would not be allowed to participate in new presidential elections, which are supposed to be held within three months.

The ousted leader, meanwhile, contended this week he is still president since the country’s legislature has not yet approved his resignation.

Morales stepped down following nationwide protests over suspected vote-rigging in an Oct 20 election in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office. An Organisation of American States audit of the vote found widespread irregularities. Morales has denied there was fraud.

Families of the victims held a candlelight vigil late Friday in Sacaba. A tearful woman put her hand on a wooden casket surrounded by flowers and asked: Is this what you call democracy? Killing us like nothing? Another woman cried and prayed in Quechua over the coffin of Omar Calle, which was draped both in the Bolivian national flag and the multicolour Wiphala flag that represents indigenous peoples.

Bolivias Ombudsmans Office called on the interim government to investigate if the security forces had acted within the constitution and international protocols on human rights.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019