LA PAZ – Leaders of the indigenous communities in southwestern Bolivia that recently lynched four allegedly corrupt police officers are demanding that the government suspend enforcement of anti-smuggling laws in a region bordering Chile, the press reported Thursday.
The Ayllus Guerreros, or Warrior Clans, of Potosi province want La Paz to grant them complete freedom to trade in contraband merchandise brought in from Chilean territory without any intervention by authorities.
In addition, after a peasant assembly they presented a document in which they also request “the application of and respect for community justice.”
La Prensa newspaper said the Indians will meet again on Thursday to discuss whether they will return the bodies of the four policemen lynched in the town of Uncia, something that so far they have refused to do despite the requests of the government.
The Indians said they had exercised “community justice” against the policemen, whom they accused of murdering a taxi driver and extorting from local peasants.
President Evo Morales sent two Cabinet ministers to the area on Monday to persuade Uncia residents to turn over the police officers’ bodies.
The Indian leaders offered to discuss returning the bodies if authorities agreed not to investigate the lynchings, but the government rejected the idea.
“There will not be any type of pardon or amnesty. Any crime of this kind has to be investigated, and those responsible (must be) tried and punished,” Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti said Wednesday. “It is absolutely non-negotiable.”
Bolivia’s national ombudsman, Rolando Villena, said Tuesday that the Indians, in accord with their customs, buried the officers’ bodies face down “so that the souls of those who had been killed would not persecute those who had killed them.”
Chief provincial prosecutor Sandro Fuentes, arrived on Wednesday in the area to try and “resolve the problem,” and he said that he will remain in the region until he achieves that.
Some Aymara and Quechua Indian communities of the Andean highlands say lynchings are part of the indigenous justice system that was recognized in the constitution enacted last year at the urging of Morales, but the government rejects that argument.
Officials say the recognition of traditional justice is not a license for vigilantism. The government also points to Bolivia’s constitutional ban on capital punishment.
The Warrior Clans are so called because of their nearly 200-year-long history of involvement in sometimes bloody conflicts over land, clashes blamed for roughly 10,000 deaths since 1830, though the most recent round of fighting was nine years ago, when 57 people died. EFE