Bolivian Protesters Take Ministers Hostage in Defense of Brazil

The border between Bolivia and Brazil has been closed since midnight, April 18, and remained closed Wednesday, April 19. Demonstrators closed the road between Arroyo Concepción in Bolivia and Corumbá in Brazil.

The demonstrators are protesting the refusal of the Bolivian government to permit a Brazilian consortium, EBX, to build a steel mill.

According to local Brazilian officials, no Brazilian police are involved in the demonstration, which is taking place on the Bolivian side of the border.

Besides blocking the border, protesters took the Bolivian ministers of Planning, Carlos Villegas, Economic Development, Celinda Sosa, and Mining, Walter Villarroel, hostage in the city of Porto Suarez, located some 100 kilometers from the border with Brazil.

Later reports are that the ministers were all rescued without anyone being injured.

The ministers were taken hostage by protesters who have been demonstrating in ten Bolivian municipalities, demanding that the Bolivian government permit a Brazilian holding company, EBX, to build a steel mill in the Germán Busch of Santa Cruz province.

The official Bolivian position regarding the EBX endeavor was expressed by the vice minister of Government, Rafael Puente, who said:

"The company is clearly illegal and they want to implant [a steel mill] in an area where such activity is expressly prohibited by the Constitution."

The area, according to the minister, is a forest reserve and he went on to say that the government would not bow to pressure from the population of Porto Suarez as that "would mean a violation of the Constitution."

In a note, EBX Siderurgia de Bolivia S.A., a Brazilian-controlled holding company which seeks to build a steel mill in Provincia Germán Busch de Santa Cruz, in Bolivia, says that the enterprise is "completely sustainable, in that it uses only local natural resources, and ecologically friendly."

The note goes on to say that it is, contrary to what the vice minister of Government, Rafael Puente, says, a legally constituted firm, duly registered in Bolivia where it pays taxes.

The note explains that EBX is active in mining, metals, energy, forestry, water and sanitation.

EBX complains that the government of Evo Morales has not given it an opportunity to explain its steel mill project and that local authorities have made it difficult for the firm to get an environmental license. EBX goes on to say that the project was discussed at length with the former government of Bolivia.

The EBX steel mill project will cost an estimated US$ 268 million and create 620 direct jobs and another 5,000 indirect jobs.

Agência Brasil

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