Three indigenous organizations in eastern Bolivia have declared a state of emergency after a wave of racially-motivated violence left their offices, small businesses, and homes damaged. Several indigenous organizations reported that the lives of their leaders had been threatened.
On December 15th, a delegation of Chiquitano people engaged in a protest on a main road in the area was attacked by an unknown number of people traveling to a meeting in buses. When the bus passengers encountered a road block created by the protestors they attacked them with sticks, stones and some small arms. Fifty people were injured as the indigenous people attempted to defend themselves.
That same day, the offices of indigenous organizations in the towns of Concepcion and San Javier were attacked, and several of their leaders received death threats, causing them to flee their homes. The Indigenous Central Committee of Concepcion said in a press release that 100 people attacked and destroyed the office shared by several indigenous groups there, destroying computers, cameras and other electronics, office furniture, and two motorcycles before burning the office and all files. No one from the indigenous organizations was injured in this attack.
Details of these attacks were released by the Indigenous Central Committee and the Coordinator of Ethnic People of Santa Cruz (CPESC), the Organization of Chiquitano Indigenous People (OICH), and three other organizations. The indigenous groups denounced the organizers of the attacks, mostly political and business leaders from the area objecting to the work of indigenous people's organizations to gain legal title to their ancestral lands.
Oxfam America funds the work of the OICH and CPESC groups, which are organizing the legal titling of indigenous lands in the Monte Verde region of eastern Bolivia and promoting the human rights of the indigenous peoples there.
This recent wave of well coordinated attacks on indigenous people in eastern Bolivia is just one in a series over the last several years. Bolivia has seen immense disparities between the indigenous majority (close to 80 percent of the population) and tiny elite that controls most of the natural and other resources of the country. The status quo seems likely to change under the current presidency of Evo Morales, who has demonstrated sympathies with the indigenous majority. In the first few months of his administration, he has nationalized the oil and gas industry, removed several obstacles that had slowed down indigenous land claims for decades, and agreed to re-examine fundamental clauses in the national constitution with a particular eye to the way that resources are shared across the population.
"These actions show a complete lack of respect for the human rights of indigenous people," said Gonzalo Delgado, director of Oxfam America's program in South America. "We express our solidarity with our partners in Bolivia, and hope that those responsible for these attacks will be brought to justice."