By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
POTOSI, Bolivia — In a public meeting, members of five indigenous communities in northern Potosi, Bolivia, admitted to lynching four police officers on Sunday. Responding to accounts that the officers were tortured and killed, indigenous leaders described them as “thieves disguised as police.” The leaders said they would not hand over the bodies until the police conduct an investigation into the alleged “murder” by police of several area residents that took place months ago. They also accuse the police of stealing seven cars from their community and voted to retain the bodies until those cars are returned.
The BBC reported that Potosi Police Chief Orlando Avila said his officers could not enter the area because “there were sharp shooters stationed all along the highway” threatening to kill anyone trying to retrieve the bodies. Avila estimated that about 10,000 people were mobilized to prevent authorities from entering.
Members of the indigenous clans accused the four hanged officers of charging between $200 and $1,000 to ignore the smuggling of cars from neighboring Chile. At a local meeting on Wednesday, one indigenous leader announced, “Brothers, we did not kill police officers, we killed thieves disguised as police officers.”
The slain officers belonged to a unit responsible for tackling car theft in neighboring Oruro province. They may have been in Potosi on a search to recover stolen vehicles. Many indigenous residents believe the officers were in Potosi to extort car smugglers. It is also possible that the indigenous members who killed them mistook them for criminals in a route commonly used by smugglers.
Avila said he wants to arrange a meeting with indigenous leaders to begin an investigation of the lynching. Bolivia’s deputy minister for public safety, Gen. Miguel Vazquez, said that the government’s current priority is “to calm” the population in Uncia.
The indigenous communities of Aymara and Quechua Indians are called the Ayllus Guerreros, or Warrior Clans, because of a 200-year history of bloody conflicts over land. Each of the five clans has about 8,000 to 10,000 residents in the area where the officers were lynched. Clashes among these groups have been blamed for about 10,000 deaths since 1830. The most recent violence occurred nine years ago, resulting in 57 deaths.
For more information, please see:
Latin American Herald Tribune–Bolivian Indians: Lynched Men Were Thieves, Not Police–28 May 2010
BBC–Indigenous Group Lynches Four Policemen in Bolivia–27 May 2010
UPI–4 Police Officers Lynched in Bolivia–27 May 2010