15 Arrested in Bolivia Protests

LA PAZ – Police arrested 15 union members Tuesday for damaging Bolivia’s labor ministry during protests to demand pay hikes bigger than the 5 percent increase mandated by President Evo Morales’ socialist government for workers in both the public and private sectors.

The protesters were detained after they set off dynamite charges at the doors of the ministry, the provincial police commander, Col. Ciro Farfan, told the press.

Protest organizers said two workers were injured in a confrontation with police.

Though tear gas drove protesters away from the labor ministry, they regrouped in downtown La Paz’s San Francisco Square, where they continued to battle police amid a general strike called by Bolivia’s biggest labor federation, the COB.

Union official Angel Asturizaga acknowledged to Efe that some workers went too far during the protest, but explained the excesses by citing protesters’ frustration with the conduct of several former labor leaders who now hold senior positions in the government.

Bolivia’s labor minister, Carmen Trujillo, is a past head of the union representing industrial workers.

Asturizaga said the march reflected the demand of Bolivia’s 300,000 manufacturing workers that Morales stop “looking after the wallets of private business” and mandate a much bigger wage increase.

The members of Asturizaga’s union, who earn an average of 700 bolivianos ($100) per month, want a 25 percent increase. They say the 5 percent raise decreed by the government would amount only to an extra $5 a month.

Besides the manufacturing workers, Tuesday saw peaceful marches by teachers, miners and health professionals in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Oruro, Trinidad, Tarija and Cochabamba.

The Morales administration says it must hold the line on pay in order to avoid inflation. EFE

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