LA PAZ – Six Indian lawmakers in Bolivia went on a hunger strike to pressure President Evo Morales into passing a reform that will permit ethnicities in the future to occupy more than a quarter of seats in the lower house of Congress, legislative sources said on Saturday.
The strike began Friday night in the lower house with the participation of lawmakers from ethnic groups that won their seats in the general elections last December representing the ruling Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, party.
Lawmaker Pedro Nuni, a representative of the Amazon peoples, told reporters that the hunger strike is an attempt to get the number of special seats in the lower house set aside for indigenous ethnicities to be increased from the current seven to 37, out of a total of 130.
Of the 37 seats, 18 would be for the representation of Indian peoples in the east and 19 for those in the west, according to the strikers’ demands.
A bill that would effect that change is currently being debated in the lower house.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, an Aymara Indian like Morales, met Saturday with the strikers to hear their demands and subsequently transmit them to President Morales, with whom it is possible they will also meet in the next few hours, according to Nuni.
“A lot is said about indigenous peoples – our constitution says a lot about indigenous peoples, but none of it is respected,” he said.
Nuni also said that the fasting supports the march of more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) to La Paz that over 500 Indians began a week ago in the Amazon region of Beni to demand the consolidation of indigenous autonomies in the country.
Since Monday the march has gone 92 kilometers (57 miles) and is headed first to the city of Santa Cruz and will then go on to La Paz.
President Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has accused the Indians of being manipulated by the U.S. Agency for International Development in order to damage his government, an idea that has been denied by ethnic groups and the U.S. Embassy.
A few days ago, Aymara leaders of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu also threatened to encircle La Paz and Congress if the MAS fails to take action on their request to increase the number of seats for the nation’s indigenous peoples.