Indigenous Bolivians angry at plans to build a highway through an Amazon nature preserve resumed their protest march Saturday after a violent police crackdown a week ago, a top demonstration leader said.
The march began at daybreak in the town of Quiquibey, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) northeast of the capital La Paz, protest leader Rafael Quispe told AFP.
Quispe said that the hundreds of protesters were moving toward the capital at a speed of around 20 kilometers a day.
Bolivian authorities have been trying to tamp down the uproar that erupted when riot police fired tear gas and arrested hundreds of activists who had been marching for a month on September 25.
Bolivia’s defense minister Cecilia Chacon resigned over the incident, followed by interior minister Sacha Llorenti. Migration chief Maria Rene Quiroga has also stepped down, calling the crackdown “unforgivable.”
Morales, the country’s first elected indigenous president, suspended plans to build the road on Monday, and on Wednesday publicly apologized for the violence.
But he claimed Saturday that the continued marching was a protest with a political goal: to derail upcoming elections for court appointments October 16.
“This (protesting) is a political issue; it is not about environmental protection demands,” the president said. His spokesman Carlos Romero said Morales was hoping that dialogue would take place soon.
Quispe said marchers do not trust the government, because the government offered a dialogue and hours later unleashed tough repressive measures on marchers.
The protests and crackdown fallout present a major challenge for Morales, who has said the 300-kilometer highway is vital for the country’s economic development.
The Brazil-financed road would run through the Isiboro Secure preserve, home to some 50,000 natives from three different indigenous groups.
Amazon natives also fear the road will bring landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people — Bolivia’s main indigenous groups and Morales supporters — into their region to colonize the land.
The road is part of a network linking landlocked Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean through Chile and the Atlantic Ocean through Brazil.