Some 150 disabled people taking part in a 234-mile trek to La Paz, arrived in the rural Andean town of Caracollo as they step up pressure on the Bolivian government in a bid for an increase in their state benefits to combat the poverty that is facing the country’s disabled community. Setting off in wheelchairs and on crutches, the protesters want the government to increase their current 1,000 boliviano (£102, $144) annual stipend to a 500 boliviano monthly benefit. The government has already rejected the increase, but the protesters are continuing defiantly.
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“The government offered dialogue but they also told us that there is no money for us. They explained that they, the ministers, don’t know what’s going on. We think this is a lie. There is money. They don’t want to give us the stipend because they dislike us. The government needs to understand that the disabled are people. We are humans,” said protest leader, Maxima Aldunate Mamani.
The cross-country protest is in its 11th day but demonstrations over the issue have been taking place for several weeks, with some going to extremes by allowing themselves to be enclosed for days inside a tiny brick enclosure and suspending themselves from bridges in their wheelchairs. Now they have La Paz in sight, the location of the executive and legislative branches of the Bolivian government, as they seek to step up pressure on President Evo Morales.
Conditions are tough as the protesters wind their way up the Andes’ dizzying altitudes towards La Paz. An assistance vehicle follows demonstrators on their route in case first aid is needed. According to the protesters, President Morales promised greater assistance to the country’s marginalised disabled community before they set off. They say he has not fulfilled his promise.
The media has reported that the government had allocated some 40 million bolivianos for the disabled. But the pool has been divided into two groups – half has been paid out as a monthly stipend and the other half has been used for funding projects for the disabled.