Representatives of three native groups in Bolivia started a 603-kilometer (375 mile) march yesterday from Trinidad to La Paz protesting against the construction of a highway through their Amazonian land. The road between the highland city of Cochabamba and San Ignacio de Moxos in the Amazon lowlands would cross the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park and self-governing territory since 2009. It is held in common by the Yuracaré, Moxeño and Chimán people.
The march—led by TIPNIS inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq)—challenges President Evo Morales’ plans to build the 305-kilometer (190 mile) road that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The two sections of the highway leading to and from the indigenous reserve are already under construction as a part of a $415 million-project mostly financed by the Brazilian government. The controversy surrounds the final stretch which has yet to undergo an environmental review and community consultation process.
The president of the Central de Pueblos Indígenas (CPIB), Pedro Vare, said the project was proposed ignoring the social and environmental costs it implies. “Evo Morales never visited the zone. He just got to the colonized area and he didn’t visit the forest where the indigenous people live,” Vare added. Native communities are worried the road will open access to the reserve to illegal loggers, cocaleros and narcotraffickers. The threat to biodiversity also undermines their survival as the inhabitants rely on hunting and fishing for food.
The government has insisted on the economic benefits of the project, highlighting it will provide a commercial link between central Cochabamba and the Amazonian Beni region. President Morales said “we [the government] will do the consultations, but I want you to know they won’t be binding. We won’t stop the projects just because the indigenous say so.”