Indigeous Protests Against Evo Morales Government Gaining Support

A group of about 500 Eastern Bolivian indigenous people, members of the CIDOB, the Bolivian Indigenous Peoples Organization initiated a march against President Evo Morales' government 5 days ago and have advanced over 100 kilometers so far. This group of demonstrators, which some members of the government ridiculed as only a small group of 150, has grown to 500 and continues to grow as more indigenous groups join to support them. The protest and march began in Trinidad Beni and they are headed first to Santa Cruz, and from Santa Cruz will continue on to La Paz, covering over 1500 kilometers on foot.

Initially supporters of Morales' MAS party, they are now protesting against a law that is being discussed in Congress at this time that affects the number of representative seats they will have in the Bolivian Assembly once the law is passed. Initially the government had promised them about 18 seats but after elections promptly reduced this to just 7.

These ethnic groups, prior to elections, were also promised full autonomy over their territories and resources and the new autonomy laws being discussed at this time do not include the promised autonomy or the resources to put their autonomy into practice.

They feel the government has betrayed them. President Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, is of Aymara origin. The indigenous peoples of the lowlands of Eastern Bolivia feel he and his government give preference only to the Aymara and Quechua of Western Bolivia and are not taking the needs and demands of Bolivia's remaining 34 ethnic groups, most of which are Amazonian and reside in northern La Paz, Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz, into account.

This group of marchers is expected to get larger as indigenous organizations throughout Bolivia begin to throw their support behind them, and are calling on their members to join the march.

On Friday evening, 25 June 2010, six indigenous congress members representing Amazonian ethnic groups from various regions of the country - and surprisingly all members of President Morales' MAS party - announced they were initiating a hunger strike of indefinite duration against the government in support of the indigenous groups that are making their way to La Paz and are also demanding the law designate them the originally agreed 18 seats.

Meanwhile in Santa Cruz a group of about 20 men, women and children from of the Moxeño culture are on strike on the steps of the Electoral Court where they have slept, cooked and remained unmoved for the past two weeks. Several days ago they initiated a hunger protest as well and today 2 women were taken to the hospital.

The APG (Guaraní Peoples) also threatened to mobilize stating they were not being included or consulted regarding the autonomy law and indigenous rights to consultation prior to any decisions made that affects their territories. Evo Morales met with representatives of the APG this morning, promising to dialogue with them directly.

Meanwhile, Evo Morales attended an ALBA meeting in Ecuador, where he signed a commitment to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and protect the environment, while outside indigenous groups protested the meeting claiming they are not being consulted on decisions made that affect them directly; however, they were repressed by police.

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