Feb 262012

Many thanks to Dario Kenner for allowing us to repost his blog here. We salute   disabled protestors in Bolivia! Solidarity!

24 February 2012

After 100 days and nearly 1,600 km around 100 disabled people arrived in La Paz yesterday demanding social benefits from the Bolivian state. They endured tropical heat, heavy rains and hailstorms on their march from the Amazonian city of Trinidad, via Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, to La Paz in the western highlands (map).

The Plurinational Assembly (Congress and Senate) is in the process of approving a Preferential Treatment Law that will give disabled people a social benefit of 1,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$146 / £93). The marchers have repeatedly said this is not enough and should be 3,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$437 / £278). However, not all disabled people agree with the demands of the march and in the city of Oruro they have accepted the figure of 1,000 Bolivianos which the government says will benefit 13,000 disabled people this year.

Yesterday afternoon the marchers tried to force their way into the main square in La Paz, location of the government palace. A government spokesperson condemned the violence and claimed there were groups present who provoked the clashes leaving 20 police injured. Bolivian media reports the police used tear gas and pepper spray. At least 10 people with disabilities were injured. The Ombudsman office said the marcher´s rights were abused and there was evidence they had been injured.

Last night the marchers had setup a vigil outside the main square (Plaza Murillo) and say they will go on hunger strike until their proposal for a law is approved.

Photos of the march arriving and clashes with police http://www.flickr.com/photos/49277734@N05/sets/72157629079961756

More information in Spanish: La Razón, Página Siete, Agencia Boliviana de Información.

Background information in English: The Guardian 11 January 2012.

[Below is an interview I did with one of the leaders of the march. Whilst this interview gives the point of view of the marchers it hopefully gives an insight into why there was a march and what it is like to be a disabled person in Bolivia  – Dario Kenner]

Interview: José Luis Lupa, Coordinator Disabled People of Cochabamba

Why did you march?

Police block disabled people from entering Plaza Murillo (credit: Dario Kenner)

Police block disabled people from entering Plaza Murillo (credit: Dario Kenner)

The march began on 15 November 2011. I have been marching since 10 January from Villa Tunari. Before that I was at the vigil in Cochabamba. The march began with 17 people and 128 have arrived in La Paz.

Originally we were demanding 3,000 Bolivianos a year. But now we have lost patience we are demanding for those in a really bad condition 5,000 Bolivianos, then in a bad condition 4,000 Bolivianos and for those in moderate condition 3,000 Bolivianos. But this is still to be discussed with the government.

For this year President Morales has said there will be 1,000 Bolivianos for those in a really bad or bad condition. You know that in your country disabled people have many social benefits. What we are demanding here is nothing if you think about costs like a wheelchair, transport, medicine, therapy. This does not factor in food, housing etc.

In our proposal for a law we are demanding that we receive our pension early because many people with disabilities do not live long enough to receive it. We should get it at 40 years for a women and 45 for a man instead of at 60.

We want social security for all disabled people, to not give it to all would be discriminatory. We want the government to guarantee we will all receive it from 2013 but President Morales has not done this so we carried on marching. The government started paying 1,000 Bolivianos on Wednesday to try and get people to leave our march.

What were the conditions like? How did you and your fellow marchers make it all the way to La Paz?

The 17 who started thought the government would not let them march more than three days. But after three, four, five days, two weeks there was still nothing from the government. We depended on the people. Sometimes when we passed through place the people had nothing but they shared their only glass of water with tears in their eyes. Or people gave us things as they passed us in their cars. Sometimes there was not enough food, we just had water and biscuits. But some people didn´t give us anything, they said this march is political, but it has never been like that. Where did we get the strength from? We have waited for four years for this government to act.

Representatives from the United Nations, the Ombudsmen and human rights organisations came to visit us. We sent them back. Why? Because instead of visiting us with their donations we told them they should be lobbying the Bolivian government to resolve our situation. The Ombudsmen promised us Plaza Murillo (main square in La Paz) would not be closed for when we arrived.

When we got closer to La Paz and started getting to the highlands some communities shouted at us, people who are more allied with the MAS (ruling Movement Towards Socialism party). We were furious when we got to one community after going through heavy rains, hailstorms and frosts and they rejected us. We got to El Alto at 2am in the morning, it was freezing. On our way down into La Paz many people welcomed us.

March by disabled people gets to La Paz (credit: Dario Kenner)

March by disabled people gets to La Paz (credit: Dario Kenner)

What happened today when you arrived? What did you see?

When we were half a kilometre from the Plaza Murillo our main leaders said to everyone “hold on, we are going to be peaceful and not violent, we are just people who want to go around the square and say we do not want the law because it will not help disabled people, we want our law that guarantees the social security for 2013, that´s it.” Then we were going to go somewhere else and rest. That was our mission, for our law, not the governments law, to be approved.

Yesterday the Vice President and the Ombudsmen said the square would be open. We were four blocks away. We wanted to enter. Then the clash started. Us against them. Them against us. We got through the first police cordon but could not get through the second because there were a lot more police. For me the main question is: Why are they scared? Why do they block the square? Is Morales spending the money on himself that is meant to be for us? (video of clashes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=T44cpuS2spM)

Articles 70,71 and 72 of the Bolivian Constitution set out that the state must give direct benefits to disabled people. Also there is the International Convention of Disabled People, Law 1678, and Supreme Decree 2487. There are many norms that benefit disabled people but none have been applied, they are just bits of paper.

The government says we are unproductive and are no use to the country. But why do they do not give us the opportunity to show if we have a value or not? In Europe, as you know, disabled people are great engineers and have great potential. Why can´t we do that here? We just want the chance to study and do training. But we don´t have that opportunity in Bolivia.

Source : http://boliviadiary.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/march-by-disabled-people-gets-to-la-paz/

Jan 282012

It started this morning with Adam Lotun on BBC Breakfast

After the starting point at Holburn, protestors stopped traffic at Oxford Street – from ITN News. Sam Brackenbury speaking into microphone held by Howard Jones.

Video from The Guardian by John Domokos which cannot be embedded- watch it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2012/jan/28/welfare-reforms-protest-oxford-circus


Report from The Guardian

Protesters in the West End campaign against the government’s welfare reform bill. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Disability campaigners have blocked one of central London‘s busiest road junctions with a line of wheelchair users chained together in the first of a series of protests against government welfare cuts.

The demonstration – which brought much of Oxford Circus to a standstill for more than two hours – was the result of an alliance between disabled groups and UK Uncut, which has staged similar protests against corporations accused of avoiding tax.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), while UK Uncut provided advice on how to stage an eyecatching, media-friendly event and brought along several of its own supporters.

The direct action began just before midday when a group of wheelchair users lined themselves along the northern edge of Regent Street, blocking traffic in both directions. The wheelchairs were chained together, and then chained to railings on either side of the road.

Within about 20 minutes, with traffic stationary and congestion spilling over into other streets, around 300 people were standing at the junction, chanting, playing drums and waving placards against the welfare reform bill, which is currently going through parliament.

After the road had been blocked for just over an hour, police asked over a loudhailer that the protesters move, which they refused to do. Eventually, at around 2pm, they unchained themselves and left voluntarily.

Planned cuts to the disability living allowance under the bill could see 500,000 disabled people losing money, the charity Mencap said.

Many of the disabled people taking part said they had never before joined a demonstration but felt angry at both the proposed cuts and the associated rhetoric from both ministers and the media.

“The tabloids have created this idea that we’re scroungers or fakers,” said Steven Sumpter, a 33-year-old who left his home in Evesham, Worcestershire, at 6.30am to join the line of chained-up wheelchair users. “This has allowed the government to do this – I think disabled people are seen as a good scapegoat.”

Merry Cross, from Reading, Berkshire, said disabled people needed to work together to get their voices heard. She said: “We’re seen as quite an easy target. We’re not a natural community – we don’t necessarily live in the same places, and we can find it hard to get together. That makes it easy for the government to think they can target us.”

Changes to the disability living allowance were likely mean her losing care assistance at home, Cross said, adding: “I’ve had it continuously for 20 years and now, when I’m 61, apparently I can cope fine without it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Josie, 52, from Hampshire, who asked not to give her full name, said her disablity, which has left her with limited mobility and near-constant pain, was caused by a fall onto a concrete floor at work 10 years ago.

“I was doing three jobs until my accident and I was a keen hill walker,” she said. “But with the injuries from the fall I can only work part time. I’m probably going to have to give them up now because the cuts will mean I get less help.

“I’ve never been on a protest before, but the government’s plans make me so angry.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the government remained “absolutely committed to supporting disabled people”, spending more than £40bn a year on support.

He said: “Households where someone receives disability living allowance will be exempt from the benefit cap, and we are giving local authorities an additional £190m over four years to ensure vulnerable people are supported through the housing benefit reform, so we are not expecting people to become homeless.

“The introduction of the universal credit, from 2013, will see a simpler and fairer system of support for disabled people.

“More importantly, there will be no cash losers at the point of transition to universal credit, and disabled adults in greatest need and severely disabled children will receive more support than now.”

From Socialist Worker

Disabled people block roads in central London against Tory cuts


From Sky News

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street (video )