Crime & Justice

Bolivian indigenous peoples approach major city after month-long march

Cotoca, Bolivia, Sep 29 (EFE).- Bolivian indigenous people who, more than a month ago, began a march from the city of Trinidad, in the Amazon region, are nearing their final destination, Santa Cruz, the country’s largest and most prosperous city, to demand that the state respect their territories and customs.

The marchers spent the night in the city of Cotoca, less than 20 kilometers (13 miles) from Santa Cruz, and on Wednesday they intend to move to a university on the outskirts of the larger city, where they will spend the day on Thursday, the group’s leader, Marcial Fabricano, told reporters.

“We left (Wednesday) after noon … We’re not going to walk at night for safety (reasons),” said Fabricano, who has been a leader among the eastern indigenous peoples in Bolivia since in 1990 he headed a march that gained clout for the tribes after being ignored for decades by the Bolivian government.

On Tuesday, the marchers attended a Mass celebrated in the Virgin of Cotoca church by Santa Cruz Archbishop Sergio Gualberti.

The marchers, who departed from Trinidad on Aug. 25, sent letters to the four branches of government asking for a dialogue at which they will demand full respect for their rights in the face of invasion of their lands, forest fires and government projects on their territory without previously having consulted them, among other things.

The group, which has formed itself into a “Parliament of Indigenous Nations of the Bolivian Amazon, East and Chaco,” also sent letters asking for the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner to accompany them during the dialogue.

The march that Fabricano headed in 1990 led to the state recognizing three indigenous territories of some two million hectares (5 million acres) and to constitutional reforms being proposed to acknowledge various rights of indigenous peoples.

The tribes of Bolivia’s Amazon region later staged marches from Trinidad to La Paz in 2011 and 2012 against the project mounted by the Evo Morales government to build a highway through a nature preserve in central Bolivia.

The present march is being questioned by indigenous peoples allied with the governing MAS party, MAS lawmakers and the government, all of whom claim that the marchers have political ends.

The problem of land distribution and complaints about invasion of indigenous territory by settlers has sparked tension between the Luis Arce government and the Santa Cruz provincial government headed by opposition Gov. Luis Fernando Camacho.

Arce contends that land distribution is the exclusive responsibility of the central government, while Camacho has warned that he will not allow anyone to “run over” the protected areas or indigenous lands.


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