Three hotels near the Salar de Uyuni in Potosí were besieged and blockaded by Colchani villagers on Thursday, who demanded that the owners pay an annual “royalty” of $35,000. To put pressure on the owners, the villagers restricted the entry and exit of tourists to the area, and reportedly detained some during the Holy Week holiday.

In this regard, the National Chamber of Tourism Operators (Canotur) questioned these actions and warned that private investment was being put at risk.

A video posted on social networks shows that several vehicles were held up by locals at the entrance to this tourist area since Thursday morning. El Potosí reported that the blockaders’ demand was that the hotel owners pay “annual royalties” of up to $15,000. However, the owner of one of the affected hotels claimed that they were demanding $35,000.

“The inhabitants of Colchani have decided to take over one of the salt hotels, according to them, for non-payment and this is not so because they are demanding $35,000, an amount that is not feasible, for which we have sought conciliation, but they do not accept, and so they have taken over the hotels.

This is an outrage because they are attacking tourism and the companies we are trying to reactivate,” said the owner of the Cristal Samaña hotel, quoted by the Uyuni Andina website.

She denounced that the locals held a vigil with firecrackers and did not let the tourists leave. Furthermore, the payments they were demanding should be in cash and not in the form of construction materials, as they were once offered and rejected.

“We make a voluntary contribution that we give to the community, but now they are extorting us with an amount that varies according to the corregidor who comes in each year, and every year we have this problem. In 2019 they were asking for $25,000, for four hotels that we are here, it is $100,000, which is the amount that the community receives, and now they are asking for $35,000 per hotel, that is $140,000 that they are asking for”, denounced the owner of Samaña.

She added that they were charging from $1,500 to $2,000 and $3,000, up to $35,000, figures that were “unsustainable” for each of the local operators.

“How is it possible that they are asking for $35,000? Luna Salada was there on Wednesday with two cheques for $8,000 each, and they have not accepted, they want the $35,000, where is this money going, it should be investigated,” demanded the owner of Samaña.

On this issue, Canotur made a statement and rejected the siege of private companies and tourists, affirming that private investment was being put at risk and that the legal security of businessmen was not being respected. They demanded that the national and departmental authorities take measures to stop the violence.

“Taking into account these articles of the law that protect us as a sector, we ask the corresponding authorities, both departmental and national, to take the respective measures urgently to stop these acts that damage the image of the Plurinational State of Bolivia,” said a note published by Canotur, according to ANF.

The video showed the aggressiveness of the villagers against the carriers transporting the tourists, and they even threatened to take radical measures, including burning the hotels. The hotels affected were Luna Salada, Cristal Samaña, and Hotel Colque.

In a recording, one of the blockaders said that they sent a note to the tour operators, in which they warned that they were going to block the entrance to the hotels. However, they did not show any documents evidencing this.

The blockaders claim that they are owed money by the hotel owners, but the owners deny this and say that they have already made voluntary contributions to the community. The situation remains unresolved, with the authorities being called upon to intervene and restore order in the area.

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