5 dead in Bolivia clashes challenging interim govt
Published: 10:50 AM, 16 November 2019 Updated: 10:50 AM, 16 November 2019
Clashes between pro-Morales and police in Sacaba, suburb of Cochabamba (central Bolivia); Photo: AFP
Bolivian security forces clashed with supporters of former President Evo Morales in a central town Friday, leaving at least five people dead, dozens more injured and escalating the challenge to the country’s interim government to restore stability.
Gualberto Lara, director of Mexico Hospital in the town of Sacaba, told The AP that most of the dead and injured had bullet wounds. Witnesses said police opened fire on protesters calling for the return of Morales from exile in Mexico.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Lara said, calling it the worst violence he’s seen in his 30-year career.
Thousands of largely indigenous protesters, many coca leaf growers, had gathered peacefully in Sacaba in the morning. But fighting began when many tried to cross a military checkpoint near the city of Cochabamba, where Morales’ supporters and foes have clashed for weeks.
Emeterio Colque Sánchez, a 23-year-old university student, said he saw the bodies of several protesters who had been fatally shot.
Sánchez, a protester who spoke from the site of the clashes, said about two-dozen injured people were taken to the Mexico hospital in Sacaba. Others were transferred to the Viedma hospital and local private clinics.
“I was there when the injured began to arrive and our hospital collapsed,” said Sandra Mercado, a physician at the Viedma hospital.
The families of the victims held a candlelight vigil near the place of the clashes. Angry demonstrators chanted: “Civil war!” 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? These are not numbers. These are lives.”
Bolivia’s Ombudsman’s Office said it regretted the death of five people during the joint police-military operation and called on the interim government to investigate if the security forces had acted within the constitution and international protocols on human rights.
“We express our alarm and concern over the result of an attempt to stop a demonstration by coca leaf growers from entering the city of Cochabamba,” it said.
The ombudsman also demanded a thorough investigation into the reason behind the deaths.
“We want to remind the current government that it has said that its transition would seek the pacification of the country,” it said. “However, today, the Bolivian people must lament five deaths, which add up to the 13 other ones already counted by this institution during this conflict.”
Presidency Minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters in the capital of La Paz that five people had been killed and an estimated 22 were injured.
He also called on a dialogue with all parties involved in the conflict.
“What we’ve been able to determine through preliminary information is that they used military weapons,” Justiniano said, adding that in at least one of the deaths, the bullet went through the nape and then “went up and down, which means that it did not come from crossfire.”
In the capital of La Paz, riot police fired tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators. Elderly people and children were caught in the violence and tried to seek shelter in businesses that had been shut behind metal sheets to protect against looters.
The violence came as Bolivia’s interim leader said Morales will face possible legal charges for election fraud if he returns home, even as the ousted leader contended he is still president despite resigning after massive protests against him.
Morales stepped down on Sunday following nationwide protests over suspected vote-rigging in an October 20 election in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office. An Organization of American States audit of the vote found widespread irregularities.
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