LA PAZ – At least 17 people were injured, between security forces and civilians, and another seven were arrested in a police operation to clear the highway between La Paz and the Bolivian Amazon, which had been blocked for 12 days by peasants, officials said.
The clashes occurred after police cleared away three roadblocks on the highway and entered the village of Caranavi – in a district of La Paz province known as Los Yungas – where peasants met the officers with “gunshots,” national police commander Gen. Oscar Nina told a press conference.
Police responded with tear gas when four officers – including the police chief of La Paz province, Col. Ciro Farfan – suffered gunshot wounds, while another three endured contusions.
Nina added that after the clash, a number of individuals destroyed and set fire to police headquarters in Caranavi.
La Paz province’s public safety director, Col. Rosalio Alvarez, said that five men and two women were arrested and taken to the city of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital.
For his part, the leader of the Caranavi road-blocking protesters, Daniel Villanueva, told local media that at least 10 peasants were wounded and said that police had opened fire on them.
More than 700 agents were deployed Friday to Los Yungas to clear the route, closed by peasants demanding that Bolivian President Evo Morales install a plant for processing citrus fruit in Caranavi instead of locating it in the neighboring area of Alto Beni.
For his part, Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti told reporters that the conflict was sparked by “the private interests of some leaders” who turned a personal grudge into a public incident.
He added that one of the promoters of the violence is Luis Acho, who worked at a state office that received money from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration before Morales became president in 2006.