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Leader Of Cochabamba Water Struggle Detained

Oscar Olivera, the spokesperson for the successful campaign to REVERSE the privatization the municipal water supply of Cochabamba has disappeared since April 12 after 1,000 heavily armed members of Bolivian security forces dispersed peaceful marchers with tear gas, beating them, and confiscated their personal possessions around three p.m. today April 12.

It seems that the promise to reverse the privatisation after last year's bloodshed has NOT been fulfilled.

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Over 60 were illegally detained, and Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún announced that there was one arrest: unionist Oscar Olivera, a key leader of the movement to reverse water privatization by San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation in Cochabamba in April 2000.

The march to La Paz, called the "March for Life and the Sovereignty of Our People", left Cochabamba 9 April, to demand attention to a series of demands, some of them unfilled promises from April of 2000. Led by Olivera and others, the march was made up of over 600 peasants, workers, coca growers, and others, organized in a coalition called the Comunal. Marchers not detained have vowed to continue towards La Paz.

Today, the fourth day of the March, the Bolivian government violently interrupted the march in the highland village of Pongo. Facing tear gassings and beatings, the marchers fled to the mountains, while some 60 to 70 others were detained.

At present (9:00pm) the whereabouts of the illegally detained marchers is still unknown.

Father Luis Sanchez of the Cochabamba chapter of the Bolivian Permanent Human Rights Assembly has denounced the government action as illegal, insisting that it was an "illegal forced transport" and "illegal detention" of marchers. He and other human rights observers are beginning to speak of Olivera and other illegally detained marchers as "disappeared." Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún claimed at 8:30pm tonight that the only marcher arrested is Olivera, on charges of subversion and attempted murder. The subversion charge is for comments made by Olivera that he would like to see President Banzer leave office before his term expires in 2002 - a widely shared sentiment in Bolivia.

Today, Minister Fortún characterized Olivera as responsible for the scuffle, which is now being called a "massacre" of the police and "attempted murder." At the time of this writing the whereabouts of Olivera are unknown. Minister Fortún admits he is in government custody, but church leaders, human rights workers and press in Cochabmaba have been stonewalled by police and government officials, and Olivera has not been seen.

* * * ACTION REQUEST * * *

We are asking for letters and faxes to President Banzer of Bolivia, and Minister of Government Guillermo Fortún. EVEN IF OSCAR AND OTHER MARCHERS ARE RELEASED, IT IS IMPERATIVE THIS REPRESSION NOT GO UNCHALLENGED. Please adapt and send the following letter to the faxes noted below.

Dear President Banzer:

I am writing to express my concern and outrage regarding the treatment of the civilian marchers in the "March for Life and the Sovereignty of Our People", illegally detained 12 April, and among them Mr. Oscar Olivera. The manner in which they were detained and dispersed is both illegal and unconscionable. At present we understand that Mr. Olivera's and the marcher's whereabouts are unknown. We demand an immediate clarification, and guarantees for the safety and human rights of all the marchers and Mr. Olivera, and that Bolivian and international law be respected. We demand that all illegal detainees be immediately released. We denounce the obviously absurd charges against Mr. Olivera, contradicted by many press eyewitnesses. We expect such violations to cease immediately. We will be monitoring the situation closely.

Sincerely

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Please send faxes to: Presidente Hugo Banzer Suárez Palacio de Gobierno La Paz, Bolivia Fax: +591 2-391216

Min. de Gobierno Guillermo Fortún Ministerio de Gobierno Av. Arce No. 2409, esq. Belisario Salinas La Paz, Bolivia Fax: + 591 2-442589

In Canada: Embassy of Bolivia in Canada 130 Albert St., Suite 416 Ottawa, Ontario K1P5G4 Canada Tel.: (613)236-5730 Fax: (613)236-8237


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