Bolivian families turn to makeshift graves as cemeteries fill during pandemic

LA PAZ, Sept 3- Desperate families in Bolivia are turning to makeshift graves to bury their loved ones, with cemetery space at a premium as the coronavirus pandemic keeps the South American nation in its grip. Bolivia, which has one of the highest regional rates of extreme poverty, has struggled to free itself from the weight of the pandemic as political tensions…

LA PAZ, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Desperate families in Bolivia are

turning to makeshift graves to bury their loved ones, with

cemetery space at a premium as the coronavirus pandemic keeps

the South American nation in its grip.

Local officials said families were creating clandestinegraveyards or sneaking into the cemeteries of the capital, LaPaz, in early morning or overnight hours to dig unofficialgraves for their relatives.

“They want to bury on top of other graves. For example, theyuncover the grave and want to put the body a metre (3 feet)deep, not even 2 or 3 metres,” said Omar Arce, president of alocal council, adding that police were forced to move the bodieslater.

Bolivia, which has one of the highest regional rates ofextreme poverty, has struggled to free itself from the weight ofthe pandemic as political tensions simmer ahead of a generalelection.

Government officials said in August that cases acceleratedamong the population of 11.6 million after protests linked tothe postponement of the election until Oct. 18 due to the spreadof the virus.

Cemeteries in La Paz are now struggling to accommodate a580% increase in demand for new burials, according to ReneSahonero, a Health Ministry official.

Dealing with the clandestine graves is a heartbreakingdilemma for local authorities, who said many families had noother options for giving their loved ones a proper burial.

“Seeing the pain of the family, we cannot prevent theburial,” said police officer Rene Tambo, adding that police donot typically launch criminal investigations. “We have to thinkabout what is within people’s reach. We can’t force them to goto a cemetery.”

Bolivia has 117,926 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, withan official death toll of 5,200, although critics have arguedthat the government is underreporting deaths.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic to today, there hasbeen an excess in the number of deaths (in comparison withofficial statistics),” said public policy expert Andres Uzin.

With little more than 2,500 coronavirus tests daily,according to Uzin, the official numbers do not paint a fullpicture. He said an excess of more than 14,000 deaths had beenregistered by the Civil Registry Service.

“The government’s record is not reflecting the reality ofthe country,” Uzin said.(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Cassandra Garrison;Editing by Peter Cooney)

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