The Brazilian government expressed its displeasure yesterday at Bolivian President Evo Morales’ decision to revoke the contract of a Brazilian construction company to build a controversial highway through the Amazon. According to the Brazilian newspaper Valor Económico, Morales’ announcement on Tuesday that he would rescind Construtora OAS’ contract to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway “was poorly received in the Brazilian government, which considers it a sovereign decision but not a positive one from the point of view of Brazilian investors in that country.” The newspaper also said the subject would likely come up when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with Morales later this week at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Morales suspended construction on one part of the highway last fall, following a series of protests over the road’s planned path through an Indigenous rainforest known as the Parque Nacional y Territorio Indígena Isiboro-Secure (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory—TIPNIS). He announced on Tuesday his plans to annul the contract to build the other two sections of the highway, saying during a news conference that “the company hasn’t complied” with the terms of their agreement and that it had “suspended construction without justification or authorization.” Morales did not say if construction of the highway would continue without OAS or if the company would be compensated.
Funding for the project was due to come largely from Brazil’s national development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), which had approved a $332-million loan for the project that Brazil hoped would link the Brazilian Amazon to Peruvian and Chilean ports on the Pacific coast. Bolivian Minister of the Economy and Public Finance Luis Arce Catacora on Tuesday declared that the loan’s interest rate was too high and that Bolivia could “likely obtain other sources of financing...with better terms for Bolivia.”
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.”
More than 1,500 Indigenous Bolivian protesters arrived in La Paz on Wednesday after a 603-kilometer (375 mile), 66-day march demanding that President Evo Morales renegotiate the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) road that is slated to traverse the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).
Hundreds of supporters in the Plaza San Francisco received the Amazonian demonstrators chanting, “The TIPNIS is untouchable, Bolivians own the TIPNIS,” while distributing food, water, flowers, and blankets. La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla, who supports the protestors, welcomed the marchers and presented them with symbolic keys to the city.
Organizers of the months-long protests are demanding that the government permanently abandon the joint Brazil–Bolivia project, at least along the proposed route. Morales today invited the protestors to discuss their grievances in the office of Vice President Álvaro García Linera, after earlier statements by Minister of Communications Iván Canelas indicated the presidential palace is under construction and not an appropriate place to receive the group.
Protest leaders in response have rejected such claims and insisted they won’t leave until they talk to the president. “The President has told us he waits for us in the presidential palace. We’re here and we won’t move until he sees us,” said Indigenous leader Fernando Vargas.
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.”