PONGO, Bolivia — Around 2,000 Bolivian Indians neared La Paz Tuesday on the penultimate day of a grueling, weeks-long march to protest government plans to build a highway through an Amazon nature preserve.
"We have no confidence in the Bolivian government. All they do is lie," said Fernando Vargas, leader of the demonstrators, gasping for breath as the group approached the highest-altitude capital city in the world.
The marchers, including women, children and elderly people, left the northern city of Trinidad in mid-August and have endured heavy rains, low temperatures, difficult mountainous terrain and police brutality during their 600 kilometer (370-mile) journey.
Earlier this month, President Evo Morales agreed to postpone construction of the roadway, a delay that was later approved by Bolivia's legislature.
But the protesters are seeking assurances that the project -- or at least the Amazon portion of it -- will be scuttled for good.
The Brazil-financed road was to have run through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory, leveling an ancestral homeland inhabited by 50,000 native people from three different native groups.
These isolated peoples from the humid lowlands are not from the main indigenous groups that make up most of Bolivia's population, the highland Andean Aymara and Quechua.
The lowland people fear their traditional lands may be overrun by landless highland farmers.
Work on the highway, which had been due to be operational in 2014, began in June, although not on the segment running through the protected national park.
"If work begins, we will fight in the forest until death," said indigenous leader Adolfo Chavez.
Hiking with the protesters on Tuesday were tourists, journalists and volunteers providing support.
"Solidarity gives us the courage to continue," said Castulo Noe Biri, 51, whose feet were in agony after weeks of hard walking.
The marchers moved slowly, with blankets wrapped around their shoulders, struggling against the cold and altitude aiming to reach the town of Urujara, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the capital.
On reaching the dizzying heights of Col de La Cumbre, some 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea-level, the marchers were welcomed by Amazonian Indians bearing scarves and traditional bags as gifts.
To prevent altitude sickness, young children, women and the elderly traveled by bus to Urujara to spend the night at lower altitude.
"I chew coca leaves, drink cocoa, swallow pills. I do everything," to avoid altitude sickness, said Pamela Vargas, 35, one of hundreds of original marchers from Trinidad.
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