LA PAZ (Reuters) – A major Bolivian union led a protest march in the highland city of El Alto on Tuesday, opposing a delay to the country’s presidential election as tensions mount over the vote that will decide the country’s political future.
Thousands of people joined the march organized by the powerful Bolivian Workers’ Center (COB), an umbrella group representing various industries. They carried banners criticizing the conservative interim government, which read “We demand elections” after the ballot was pushed to Oct. 18 due to the coronavirus.
The vote, a re-run of a fraught election last year that sparked violent protests leading to the downfall of long-term leftist leader Evo Morales, is a tussle between the country’s socialist party and a fragmented conservative flank.
Morales, exerting his political influence from exile in Argentina, has called for the election to be held on Sept. 6 as previously planned. The electoral tribunal postponed the date because coronavirus infections are expected to peak in coming months.
“The problem in the country is not coronavirus, the problem is this incapable government that has not paid attention [to the pandemic] in a timely manner,” said COB union head Juan Carlos Huarachi.
The march ended in a council of workers declaring an indefinite general strike and mobilizations all around the country.
The COB said the interim government of led by presidential candidate Jeanine Añez had used the pandemic to extend power and persecute supporters of Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS).
“If we join together as miners, peasants, the middle class and El Alto, we can be explosive,” said Huarachi.
Yerko Núñez, the minister of the presidency, responded to the demonstrations by accusing MAS presidential candidate, Luis Arce, and union leaders of committing “crimes” against public health by promoting the mobilizations.
“Let it be clear, the leaders of MAS, the coca growers of Chapare, the Bolivian Workers’ Center and all those who called for this mobilization will be solely responsible for infections that occur and the collapse of the health system,” he said.
Bolivia has recorded over 70,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with over 2,600 deaths.
(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Aurora Ellis)