Indigenous leaders who represent the Comité Técnico de la Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB) will meet with the Bolivian government today to discuss implementation of the ley corta, which cancelled construction of the controversial Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos road in the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS). In October, President Evo Morales signed the ley corta—which declares TIPNIS a protected zone where no economic project can take place—after protesters and a congressional commission failed to solve their disagreement over construction of the road.
At the meeting, it is expected that Indigenous leaders will express their fear that President Morales will modify the ley corta and not respect its original structure. Rafael Quispe, representative of the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Marcas del Qollasuyo (Conamaq) said Indigenous leaders will demand that President Morales and Vicepresident Álvaro García Linera step down if the ley corta is not respected. Quispe and other leaders reacted after César Navarro, the viceminister for coordination of social movements, said last week that the national government will “consider every request to modify the ley corta,” which leaves the door open to change the law. Navarro added that TIPNIS inhabitants do not represent the demands of other social groups that support building the road between the departments of Beni and Cochabamba.
The local government of Beni has designed an alternative project that would allow the road to be built without undermining the Amazonian territory’s environmental and social integrity. “The proposal suggests building the road around the TIPNIS,” said Yanine Añez, senator of Convergencia Nacional.
The Brazilian government—the main financial source of the project—has argued through its Ambassador in La Paz, Marcel Biato, that “it is in our [Brazil’s] interest to find an alternative that accommodates political, developmental, and environmental concerns.”
After negotiations with a legislative dialogue commission failed over the weekend, Indigenous protesters from the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) restarted their march toward La Paz today. A month ago the Amazonian natives started a 603-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to protest the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) highway that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The protests emerged in response to concerns over the lack of prior consultation regarding the potential environmental and social impacts resulting from the $415 million-road—a project mainly financed by the Brazilian government. The protesters now demand that the entire contract be nullified.
The dialogue commission was proposed after September 25, when President Morales tried to end the march. Following orders from the government, around 500 police officers used tear gas and truncheons against marchers who were in the city of Yucumo, 350 kilometers (217 mile) from La Paz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and his deputy resigned as a result. Yoriko Yasukawa, the UN local representative, lamented the events and made a call to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
The meeting between Mendoza and TIPNIS protesters resulted in a four-article bill that will suspend the construction of the second stretch of the road until the native communities are consulted. Unsatisfied over the bill—which needs to go to the Senate for approval—Indigenous protesters rejected the proposal and now demand that the contract be nullified through a law. “We want all laws that gave way to this project to be abolished; we want to start all over again,” said Fernando Vargas, an Indigenous leader.
This happens at the same time that more than 2,000 people—mainly coca growers—march from Calamarca (60 kilometers south from La Paz) to La Paz in support of President Morales and against the TIPNIS communities. César Navarro—vice minister for the coordination of social movements and the person who mediates the relationship between the government and pro-government unions—said the march “will deepen the process of change and tell President Evo he’s not alone.” In an interview with TeleSur, Navarro insisted that “behind the TIPNIS demonstrations there are other political interests from people in and outside Bolivia.”
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.”
The Bolivian government accused Peruvian President Alan García on Monday of auctioning Peru’s natural resources to transnational companies and repressing his country’s indigenous population.
The accusations from Iván Canelas, Bolivia's presidential spokesman, were made in response to a statement from García over the weekend that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez orders Bolivian President Evo Morales to verbally attack Peru. Canelas authored a piece in a Bolivian state-run newspaper claiming that García intervenes in other country’s foreign affairs to detract attention from Peru’s internal problems.
Morales has long condemned the García government’s decrees ending certain restrictions on mining and oil drilling in regions inhabited by native Amazonian people. On December 30, the Peruvian Awajún leader responsible for coordinating an investigation into the June deaths of 33 indigenous protesters said he would not sign the final report because it was biased. The protesters were demonstrating against the opening of rainforest land to oil, mining and logging companies. International analysts are also concerned that the root causes of the conflict that took place between indigenous protesters and police near Bagua have not been addressed.
Venezuela’s foreign ministry also issued a statement denouncing García for provoking regional division.
On a visit to Colombia yesterday, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that Bolivia would seek to re-establish formal diplomatic ties with Peru as soon as possible. In a statement, Mr. Choquehuanca attributed the change of stance to popular demand saying, “Our peoples want harmonious relations...government officials must obey our peoples’ wishes.” A deterioriation in relations led to Peru recalling its ambassador to Bolivia on Tuesday.
This was in response to comments earlier this week by Bolivian President Evo Morales, describing the Peruvian government’s response to recent unrest in the Amazon as a “genocide” caused by free trade. Prior to recalling its ambassador, Peruvian Foreign Minister José Garcia Belaunde labeled Mr. Morales “an enemy of Peru.” Other Peruvian officials have suggested that Bolivia was interfering in Peru’s domestic affairs by actively inciting protests by indigenous groups that have so far left at least 34 people dead.
A warming of the rhetoric between the two Andean neighbors could be a first step toward improving the bilateral relationship which some experts believe “has never been so bad.”