March by disabled people gets to La Paz
24 February 2012
Dario Kenner, La Paz
Updates on Bolivia: https://twitter.com/dariokenner
After 100 days and nearly 1,600 km around 100 disabled people arrived in La Paz yesterday demanding social benefits from the Bolivian state. They endured tropical heat, heavy rains and hailstorms on their march from the Amazonian city of Trinidad, via Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, to La Paz in the western highlands (map).
The Plurinational Assembly (Congress and Senate) is in the process of approving a Preferential Treatment Law that will give disabled people a social benefit of 1,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$146 / £93). The marchers have repeatedly said this is not enough and should be 3,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$437 / £278). However, not all disabled people agree with the demands of the march and in the city of Oruro they have accepted the figure of 1,000 Bolivianos which the government says will benefit 13,000 disabled people this year.
Yesterday afternoon the marchers tried to force their way into the main square in La Paz, location of the government palace. A government spokesperson condemned the violence and claimed there were groups present who provoked the clashes leaving 20 police injured. Bolivian media reports the police used tear gas and pepper spray. At least 10 people with disabilities were injured. The Ombudsman office said the marcher´s rights were abused and there was evidence they had been injured.
Last night the marchers had setup a vigil outside the main square (Plaza Murillo) and say they will go on hunger strike until their proposal for a law is approved.
Photos of the march arriving and clashes with police http://www.flickr.com/photos/49277734@N05/sets/72157629079961756
Background information in English: The Guardian 11 January 2012.
[Below is an interview I did with one of the leaders of the march. Whilst this interview gives the point of view of the marchers it hopefully gives an insight into why there was a march and what it is like to be a disabled person in Bolivia – Dario Kenner]
Interview: José Luis Lupa, Coordinator Disabled People of Cochabamba
Why did you march?
The march began on 15 November 2011. I have been marching since 10 January from Villa Tunari. Before that I was at the vigil in Cochabamba. The march began with 17 people and 128 have arrived in La Paz.
Originally we were demanding 3,000 Bolivianos a year. But now we have lost patience we are demanding for those in a really bad condition 5,000 Bolivianos, then in a bad condition 4,000 Bolivianos and for those in moderate condition 3,000 Bolivianos. But this is still to be discussed with the government.
For this year President Morales has said there will be 1,000 Bolivianos for those in a really bad or bad condition. You know that in your country disabled people have many social benefits. What we are demanding here is nothing if you think about costs like a wheelchair, transport, medicine, therapy. This does not factor in food, housing etc.
In our proposal for a law we are demanding that we receive our pension early because many people with disabilities do not live long enough to receive it. We should get it at 40 years for a women and 45 for a man instead of at 60.
We want social security for all disabled people, to not give it to all would be discriminatory. We want the government to guarantee we will all receive it from 2013 but President Morales has not done this so we carried on marching. The government started paying 1,000 Bolivianos on Wednesday to try and get people to leave our march.
What were the conditions like? How did you and your fellow marchers make it all the way to La Paz?
The 17 who started thought the government would not let them march more than three days. But after three, four, five days, two weeks there was still nothing from the government. We depended on the people. Sometimes when we passed through place the people had nothing but they shared their only glass of water with tears in their eyes. Or people gave us things as they passed us in their cars. Sometimes there was not enough food, we just had water and biscuits. But some people didn´t give us anything, they said this march is political, but it has never been like that. Where did we get the strength from? We have waited for four years for this government to act.
Representatives from the United Nations, the Ombudsmen and human rights organisations came to visit us. We sent them back. Why? Because instead of visiting us with their donations we told them they should be lobbying the Bolivian government to resolve our situation. The Ombudsmen promised us Plaza Murillo (main square in La Paz) would not be closed for when we arrived.
When we got closer to La Paz and started getting to the highlands some communities shouted at us, people who are more allied with the MAS (ruling Movement Towards Socialism party). We were furious when we got to one community after going through heavy rains, hailstorms and frosts and they rejected us. We got to El Alto at 2am in the morning, it was freezing. On our way down into La Paz many people welcomed us.
What happened today when you arrived? What did you see?
When we were half a kilometre from the Plaza Murillo our main leaders said to everyone “hold on, we are going to be peaceful and not violent, we are just people who want to go around the square and say we do not want the law because it will not help disabled people, we want our law that guarantees the social security for 2013, that´s it.” Then we were going to go somewhere else and rest. That was our mission, for our law, not the governments law, to be approved.
Yesterday the Vice President and the Ombudsmen said the square would be open. We were four blocks away. We wanted to enter. Then the clash started. Us against them. Them against us. We got through the first police cordon but could not get through the second because there were a lot more police. For me the main question is: Why are they scared? Why do they block the square? Is Morales spending the money on himself that is meant to be for us? (video of clashes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=T44cpuS2spM)
Articles 70,71 and 72 of the Bolivian Constitution set out that the state must give direct benefits to disabled people. Also there is the International Convention of Disabled People, Law 1678, and Supreme Decree 2487. There are many norms that benefit disabled people but none have been applied, they are just bits of paper.
The government says we are unproductive and are no use to the country. But why do they do not give us the opportunity to show if we have a value or not? In Europe, as you know, disabled people are great engineers and have great potential. Why can´t we do that here? We just want the chance to study and do training. But we don´t have that opportunity in Bolivia.