Bolivian Police Attack Massive Anti-World Bank/Bechtel March

Close to 1,000 heavily armed members of Bolivian security forces dispersed peaceful marchers with tear gas, beating them, and confiscated their personal possessions around three p.m. on April 12. Over 60 were illegally detained, and Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún announced that there was one arrest: unionist Oscar Olivera, a
key leader of the movement to reverse water privatization by San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation in Cochabamba in April 2000.

Close to 1,000 heavily armed members of Bolivian security forces dispersed peaceful marchers with tear gas, beating them, and confiscated their personal possessions around three p.m. on April 12. Over 60 were illegally detained, and Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún announced that there was one arrest: unionist Oscar Olivera, a
key leader of the movement to reverse water privatization by San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation in Cochabamba in April 2000.

The march to La Paz, called the "March for Life and the Sovereignty of Our People", left Cochabamba 9 April, to demand attention to a series
of demands, some of them unfilled promises from April of 2000. Led by Olivera and others, the march was made up of over 600 peasants, workers, coca growers, and others, organized in a coalition called the Comunal. Marchers not detained vowed to continue towards La Paz.

On, the fourth day of the March, the Bolivian government violently interrupted the march in the highland village of Pongo. Facing tear gassings and beatings, the marchers fled to the mountains, while some 60 to 70 others were detained.

Father Luis Sanchez of the Cochabamba chapter of the Bolivian Permanent Human Rights Assembly has denounced the government action as illegal,
insisting that it was an "illegal forced transport" and "illegal detention" of marchers. He and other human rights observers are
beginning to speak of Olivera and other illegally detained marchers as "disappeared."

Minister of Government Guillermo Fort̼n claimed at 8:30pm tonight that the only marcher arrested is Olivera, on charges of subversion and attempted murder. The subversion charge is for comments made by Olivera that he would like to see President Banzer leave office before his term expires in 2002 Рa widely shared sentiment in Bolivia.

The attempted murder charge stems from an incident yesterday, 11 April, when marchers happened upon plainclothes police monitoring the march. Lying, the police first identified themselves as journalists, then part of a human rights delegation. Their vacillation caused suspicion among
the marchers, and a scuffle ensued.

According to eyewitnesses from various local media, Olivera intervened to put a stop to the scuffle. Marchers seized weapons, cellular phones, and a copy of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, which were turned over to human rights observers.

Today, Minister Fortún characterized Olivera as responsible for the scuffle, which is now being called a "massacre" of the police and "attempted murder."

At the time of this writing the whereabouts of Olivera are unknown. Minister Fortún admits he is in government custody, but church leaders, human rights workers and press in Cochabamba have been stonewalled by police and government officials, and Olivera has not been seen.

* * * ACTION REQUEST * * *

We are asking for letters and faxes to President Banzer of Bolivia, and Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún. IT IS IMPERATIVE THIS REPRESSION NOT GO UNCHALLENGED.

Please adapt and send the following letter to the faxes noted below:

Dear President Banzer:

I am writing to express my concern and outrage regarding the treatment of the civilian marchers in the "March for Life and the Sovereignty of Our
People", illegally detained 12 April, and among them Mr. Oscar Olivera.

The manner in which they were detained and dispersed is both illegal and unconscionable. We demand guarantees for the safety and respect for the human rights of all the marchers and Mr. Olivera, and that Bolivian and international law be respected. We denounce the obviously absurd
charges against Mr. Olivera, contradicted by many press eyewitnesses. We expect such violations to cease immediately. We will be monitoring the situation closely.

Sincerely-

Please send faxes to:

Presidente Hugo Banzer Suárez
Palacio de Gobierno
La Paz, Bolivia
Fax: +591 2-391216

Min. de Gobierno Guillermo Fortún
Ministerio de Gobierno
Av. Arce No. 2409, esq. Belisario Salinas
La Paz, Bolivia
Fax: + 591 2-442589

For more information please contact the Andean Information Network:
paz@albatros.cnb.net
or
kledebur@albatros.cnb.net

Author: Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida – Cochabamba, Bolivia

News Service: the Andean Information Network