Bolivia’s Interior Minister the Latest Official to Resign in Highway Construction Controversy

Posted September 27th, 2011 at 11:35 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Another Bolivian cabinet member has resigned as criticism of how Bolivian President Evo Morales' administration handled a month long protest over a controversial rainforest highway project increases.

Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti is the latest official to tender his resignation over a police crackdown on demonstrators opposed to the road project.

Officials say Llorenti's deputy interior minister, Marcos Farfan, also resigned Tuesday and could be a subject in an investigation into the police action. Immigration director Maria Rene Quiroga also stepped down, criticizing the crackdown as “unforgivable.”

Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon announced her resignation Monday. Chacon said she did not agree with the government's decision to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had been marching toward La Paz from the city of Trinidad since August to show their opposition to the highway.

President Morales has announced the suspension of the construction project until a referendum is held in the two provinces that the road will link. Mr. Morales was also critical of the police action against the demonstrators and promised an investigation.

On Sunday, riot police fired tear gas at marchers 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 project threatens a protected area of rainforest and that their right to be consulted with violated.

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

President Morales had 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.

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