Defying the coronavirus quarantine, Thousands of Bolivians marched through La Paz on Tuesday to protest against the health, education and labor policies of the right-wing interim president Jeanine Áñez.
The demonstration, the largest since the pandemic reached the country in March, was called by the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), whose leader, the miner Juan Carlos Huarachi, declared that “the people are expressing their needs” by raising their voice of protest.
The march brought together some 4,000 people, According to estimates from journalists on the spot, and traveled about 12 km from the city of El Alto to La Paz, the seat of political power, both under quarantine due to the pandemic.
“We are supporting the mobilization of rural and urban teachers against virtual education and we ask the resignation of the minister (Víctor Hugo) Cárdenas,” said Huarachi.
Since the health emergency and confinement were declared in March, face-to-face classes have been suspended, and several schools, especially private ones, have implemented the virtual modality.
Minister Cárdenas tries to apply virtual education in public schools, but stumbles in rural areas and poor neighborhoods in cities with the lack of access to the internet or adequate devices.
“We are asking for free internet, because there are children who do not have a cell phone with internet and cannot study” at home, Feliciana Quesucala, 46, from El Alto, where Aymara migrants live, told Agence France Presse.
The protest covers “the situation of health, education and the massive dismissal that workers are suffering” because of the economic depression due to the quarantine, which was only relaxed last month, said Gustavo Arce, secretary of Education and Culture of the COB.
“We are also defending job stability, there are many dismissals, they have not respected their own decrees; and also because of the fall of our economy ”, declared Huarachi, who denounced layoffs in the public and private sectors despite a regulation issued to prevent them.
“What we want? Elections now ”, the protesters chanted, almost all wearing masks, alluding to the general elections on September 6, which Áñez has sought to postpone due to the pandemic.
Áñez, five ministers, the opposition president of Congress, Eva Copa, and other senior officials have contracted coronavirus. More than 49,000 people have been infected in the country, of which 1,886 have died.
The protesters arrived peacefully up to a distance of four blocks from the Plaza de Armas, which was guarded by police and military, and where the Government Palace and Congress are located.
Message from Áñez
Coinciding with the protest, President Áñez, who is in quarantine at her residence, recorded a television message in which she warned that Bolivia is facing a “very difficult time” due to the pandemic.
“We are in a very difficult moment, we are raising the peak of the pandemic, but I am sure that united among all, collaborating, we will move forward,” he said.
“In La Paz we all have to be united in this situation,” said Áñez, who assumed power in November, after the resignation of leftist president Evo Morales (2006-2019), with the sole mission of calling elections, but then decided run for president.
Áñez and other right-wing candidates, such as former President Jorge Quiroga, propose to postpone the elections until the pandemic subsides. According to official forecasts, Bolivia would have around 130,000 infected on the date of the elections.
The head of the COB also demanded in the march that the government authorize the use of chlorine dioxide for patients with coronavirus, an issue that has caused controversy in the country.
“At once, that the government make the Bolivian people know about a treatment protocol to combat covid-19 with the use of chlorine dioxide, ivermectin and traditional medicine and other drugs that are important. What’s more, it should be distributing for free to the population, ”said Huarachi.
A government scientific committee warned in June against the use of chlorine dioxide, a powerful oxidizing agent used as a bleach and disinfectant, but there are Bolivian regions that use it in patients with covid-19.