Fatal clashes in conflict over Mayor of Yapacani
13 January 2012
Dario Kenner, La Paz
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On 11 January three people were killed and dozens injured in clashes with the police in the town of Yapacani – near to the city of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia. This afternoon a public funeral was held. Tensions had been rising over several days as local residents opposed to Mayor David Carvajal resisted his return after forcing him from office in December 2011. They accuse Carvajal of corruption who has resigned following the violence.
Over 400 police were sent to Yapacani to try and reinstate Carvajal as Mayor. Local residents congregated in the main square and held a public assembly on Wednesday afternoon when the clashes started.
Interior Minister Wilfredo Chávez stated police were only authorised to use tear gas. Forensic examinations have revealed two of those killed (aged 23 and 27) died from bullet wounds. Investigations by the Ombudsman continue.
Local police commander Colonel Lily Cortez confirmed 19 police officers were injured when their buses were shot at as they left Yapacani.
What happened in Yapacani is striking because it is a stronghold of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party led by President Evo Morales. This conflict was between supporters of the MAS government.
This morning Radio Erbol´s chief journalist Amalia Pando said Wednesday´s tragic events could have been avoided. She argues it was obvious there would be a clash and that to try and reinstate Carvajal after he was forced out provoked the population of Yapacani. She also said sending in the police was a mistake and it is clear the MAS government does not know how to manage conflicts.
The day prior to the fatal clashes Interior Minister Chávez said he hoped the people who were blocking the work of the democratically elected Mayor would change their behaviour. Minister of the Presidency Carlos Romero said the role of the government “was only to mediate”. He also denied the government was responsible saying the police were never ordered to use firearms. Romero said an investigation would confirm who had used firearms and that those responsible should be imprisoned for the maximum period of 30 years.
Currently residents of Yapacani are blocking the road between Cochabamba in central Bolivia and Santa Cruz in the east. They are calling for the Interior Minister, Minister of the Presidency and the local police commander to resign.
Update 17 January 2o12:
The situation in Yapacani has calmed down. The Inter-institutional committee who opposed the return of Mayor Carvajal have signed an agreement with the government. This includes to conduct a thorough investigation to determine how the three people died and to give compensation to their families. In return residents of Yapacani have agreed to stop blocking the road between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
For more information see: Andean Information Network article: “Police role in bolivian municipal clash must be thoroughly investigated”
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