The angels of Chaparina

Pablo Solón

Who gave the order for the intervention of the indigenous march in Chaparina? Sacha Llorenti stomps “Eh, eh“. He answers with a slight smile “on that subject, the answer must be given by justice.”

Tear gas start to rain over the improvised camp built in Chaparina. Confusion, fear and anger take over the marchers who had been walking to the city of La Paz for 41 days, in rejection of the construction of the road that will divide the Isiboro Sécure National Park and the National Territory (TIPNIS) into two. Attack, fire! It’s 5:20 pm on September 25, 2011.

A small child faints from the gases. His sister doesn’t know what to do. A few meters away a man is hit with a wooden stick and thrown to the ground. The man tries to get up when four policemen grab him. Shit Indian! His tooth flies through the air. A thread of blood runs down his throat.

422 police officers tear apart the tents and loot the few food supplies of the marchers. Women and men are tied, their hands and feet with duct tape as if they had been won. Some try to resist. The stones and the bows and arrows can do nothing against the plastic bullets, the gas and the rage of the police. Some manage to escape and take refuge in the bushes. Others are dragged or forced to jump like rabbits with their feet tied. One of the marchers stands on his knees when a policeman pulls him by the feet to pile him up onto the other prisoners.

A mother looks for her baby. A policeman grabs her arm tightly. None of her explanations are heard. She tries to escape while the policeman shouts at her: You are a bitch, why do you bring your children here! To stop the mother from screaming another police gags her with scotch. The repression reaches girls, children, pregnant women, older adults and even health personnel accompanying the march.

On the road between San Borja and Yucumo await several police vans and four buses that were hired the day before. One of the marchers is thrown into the back of the van like he was a sack of potatoes. Meanwhile his son is carried by a policewoman who has tears of shame in her eyes. A powerless marcher asks: why is our government doing this to us?

At 7:00 p.m. the political cabinet meeting begins at the presidential residence. Government Minister Sacha Llorenti explains how the evacuation of the marchers is taking place successfully. Álvaro García Linera proposes that ministers travel to the different departments to do damage control. Evo Morales communicates by cell phone with the commander of the Air Force to have airplanes to transfer the marchers.

The buses leave with the detained. Cellphones are removed from those who try to send some kind of message. A crowd blocks the road. They are outraged by the repression and do not let the buses enter San Borja. Here they will not enter! The women who block the road begin to throw stones at the police. The cops respond with tear gases. In the midst of the confusion, young people from San Borja help some marchers escape. At 21:30 the police decide that buses leave back to Yucumo from where they continue their trip to the airport of Rurrenabaque. There, the population that is already aware of what is happening begins to organize to free the marchers. A representative of the Red Cross enters to see the prisoners who have arrived at 4:00 am and sutures an eight-year-old girl and another old person. The news outrages the population that decides to take the airport so that no plane leaves or lands.

Spontaneously the marchers begin to sing the National Anthem. The population gathered at the airport is determined: They will not be taken from here! Armed with sticks and branches, they manage to enter the landing track after suffering being hit with tear gas. A plane is approaching. Villagers place tires, barrels and everything they find in their path to prevent the plane from landing. The plane turns around. The cops have no choice, and they tell the prisoners to leave, but through the back door.

It’s 8:00 am on September 26, images of the brutal repression are in all the news. The Minister of Defense, Cecilia Chacón, resigns expressing her disagreement with the intervention of the march. Sacha Llorenti appears on television saying: “In the event that there has been some type of abuse in the legal and legitimate use of the police force, of course that abuse will be prosecuted and will be duly sanctioned… Emphasizing, reiterating that the action that has been carried out was an action with the sole purpose of preventing a clash between civilians.” The next day, Sacha Llorenti changes his version to be in tune with the statement of President Evo Morales who says he did not give the order and describes the repressive actions of the police as “excesses”. The outrage of public opinion is boiling. On the night of that September 27 Sacha Llorenti resigns as Minister of Government saying that he is “willing to sacrifice for this revolutionary process.” Almost a year later, on September 5, 2012, President Evo Morales appoints him as ambassador to the United Nations.

8 years have passed and so far the violent repression of the indigenous march in defense of the TIPNIS continues in impunity.

At the end of the eighties, Walter Solón Romero drew the series “Don Quixote and the Angels” when he saw the cynicism of the military who did not remember the crimes of the dictatorship. The message of this series is very reflective: the whole apparatus of impunity is impotent when memory takes over the people.

This narrative is based on the report of the Ombudsman’s Office regarding the violation of human rights in the Indigenous March in Chaparina (November 2011) and on statements and testimonies of people who witnessed the events described here.

Originally published in the Skyscraper Magazine of Pagina Siete, October 6, 2019.