Bolivian Defense Minister Quits In Dispute Over Anti-Highway Protest

Posted September 26th, 2011 at 11:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Bolivia's defense minister has resigned to protest a police crackdown on indigenous groups marching to protest a planned highway through an Amazon rainforest nature preserve.

Cecilia Chacon said she did not agree with the government's decision to disperse hundreds of demonstrators, who began marching toward the capital, La Paz, from the city of Trinidad last month to show their opposition to the project.

On Sunday, riot police fired tear gas at the marchers who had gathered in the Yucumo area. Police rounded up several protesters, who were later released after area residents blocked an airport landing strip to prevent authorities from flying the detainees out of the area.

The demonstrators say the $415 million road threatens a protected area of rainforest, and that their right to be consulted was violated.

The nature preserve is home to Amazon groups, who have lived in isolation for years. The groups fear outsiders will try to develop the region.

President Evo Morales has angered indigenous people by saying the road would be built through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park “whether they like it or not.” Activists have said they will be ready with bows and arrows when the time comes to protect their land. The project will be financed in part by the Brazilian government.

Mr. Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president. In past speeches, he has said all nations must respect “Mother Earth” in their environmental policies.