UN warns Bolivia crisis could ‘spin out of control’ as death toll mounts
The United Nations has warned violence in Bolivia could “spin out of control” following recent skirmishes between security forces and coca farmers loyal to ousted President Evo Morales that have left nine dead.
Morales resigned under pressure from Bolivia’s police and military last Sunday after evidence of vote-rigging tainted his Oct. 20 election victory. He fled to Mexico two days after his resignation.
The leftist and charismatic former coca farmer has since called his ouster a right-wing “coup” and decried growing allegations of repression by security forces under interim President and former conservative lawmaker Jeanine Anez.
“The coup leaders massacre indigenous and humble people for asking for democracy,” Morales said on Twitter following reports of mounting deaths.
Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned escalating violence could usurp the democratic process.
“I am concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it ... with full respect for human rights,” Bachelet said in a statement.
The violence in Bolivia adds to growing unrest in the region, including in neighbor Chile, where protests over social inequalities boiled over into riots that left at least 20 dead. Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina have also seen widespread strikes, protests and riots in recent months.
Cochabamba ombudsman Nelson Cox said hospital records in the coca farming region showed the “vast majority” of deaths and injuries were caused by bullet wounds.
“We are working with the national ombudsman's office to conduct autopsies ... and seek justice for these victims,” Cox told Reuters.
More than 100 people were injured in the skirmishes, the ombudsman said.
Coca farmers in some protests were also heavily-armed, police said, carrying weapons ranging from handguns and boxes of grenades to home-made bazookas made from sawed-off pipes in sometimes fierce stand-offs.
U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups beginning on Nov. 17 to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections.”