Relative calm returned to the northern department of Pando on Sunday after Morales declared martial law there and troops dispatched from La Paz seized the airport and other facilities in Cobija, the departmental capital. But the threat of unrest persists in other parts of Bolivia, and political leaders in the tropical lowlands bordering on Brazil said they would resume protests if killings in Pando continued.
Morales said that the violence was a massacre carried out partly by "Peruvian and Brazilian mercenaries" hired by the governor of Pando, Leopoldo Fernández, who went into hiding to avoid arrest. In comments to local radio, Fernández denied that accusation, asserting that the deaths resulted from clashes between anti-government protesters and the president's supporters.
On Sunday, Juan Ramón Quintana, a top aide to Morales, told a local radio station that Fernández had been arrested, The Associated Press reported.
The violence points to renewed tension over Morales's attempts to redistribute petroleum royalties and to overhaul the constitution to speed land reform and create a separate legal system for Bolivia's indigenous majority. Most of Bolivia's natural gas and food is produced in the eastern lowlands, and those departmental governments have chafed at the president's proposals.
The polarization of the country intensified in August after Morales won 67 percent approval in a nationwide referendum over his policies, reflecting intense support for him in the rural highlands and in large cities like La Paz and Cochabamba. But governors in the eastern departments who urge greater political and economic autonomy from Morales's government were reaffirmed in their posts with similar margins.
"You have a conflict between a constitutional national power and a de facto regional power that can only be resolved by constitutional force," said Heinz Dieterich, a political analyst base din Mexico who writes widely on leftist movements in Latin America. "If Evo does not use the judiciary and the military, there is no way he can govern."
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