LA PAZ – Groups of merchants on Monday burned the customs offices in the western Bolivian city of Oruro and others marched in several regions to show their rejection of an anti-smuggling measure being considered by the Senate, the media said.
The offices in Oruro were set ablaze with firecrackers, according to the reports.
In addition, thousands of retailers protested in the downtown sections of the country’s main cities – La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz – against the “very harsh and unfair” legislation.
The lower house last Thursday gave the green light to the new General Customs Law, which – among its assorted elements – provides for the seizure of the property of people found to be involved in smuggling and increases the prison sentences that can be imposed on such individuals to 10 years.
The law will punish smugglers as if they were drug traffickers, said administration officials.
Officials and businesses say that smuggling brings in profits of up to $1.5 billion for the criminals each year in Bolivia.
The demonstrations in La Paz and Cochabamba were peaceful, and in Santa Cruz the leaders of the protests forced other businessmen to close their shops to ensure that the maximum number of people joined the march.
The protesters accused the government of Evo Morales of not knowing the needs of the sector and of acting against them.
“The government must soften, it must speak with us. We know the sector, we know what hurts (the economy) and what doesn’t,” the leader of the businessmen in La Paz, Francisco Figueroa, told the media.
Leaders of the sector will meet on Tuesday with government officials to analyze the protesters’ demands, but they are also scheduled to continue their demonstrations the following day.
Figueroa said that they will also block the customs entry points along the country’s borders, and he threatened to stage a march from Oruro to La Paz to increase pressure on the administration. EFE