A 40-day protest march by more than 1,000 Bolivian Indians was brought to an abrupt halt yesterday when police swept in with tear gas and truncheons to dispel the protesters.
The Indians were walking 500km from the northern town of Trinidad to Bolivia’s capital in protest against a highway planned to cut across the heart of the Isiboro Sécure national park.
The rainforest park is home to Chiman, Yurucare and Moxos Indians.
The protesters had been detained for several days by a police blockade allegedly set up to prevent clashes between angry colonists and the marchers.
However, in a shock move on Sunday afternoon, police moved in on the group, arresting several leaders and tearing down the Indians’ camp. A number of children are reported missing.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been strongly criticized for failing to consult with the park’s indigenous inhabitants about the road, which they fear will attract illegal loggers and colonists, and destroy their forest home.
Despite his electoral campaign focusing heavily on indigenous rights and environmental protection, Morales has said, ‘Whether they like it or not we will build this road.’
Brazilian company OAS has been contracted to construct the road with funding from the Brazilian Development Bank.
Together with more than 60 international organizations, Survival has signed a letter to President Morales, supporting the Indians’ right to decide on any project that affects them and their lands.