Bolivia: A new indigenous march

Around 2,000 indigenous people are involved in a 21-day, 600-kilometer-long March for Mother Earth.

Speaking at a Global Forum on Life and Environmental Justice in Cancun (Mexico) last December, Bolivian President Evo Morales urged to redress the current world environmental situation to save the planet.

He has been promoting, however, the construction of a road through indigenous land and a national park (Isidoro Sécure). This area is known as TIPNIS.

The latest population census in 2001 showed that there were 12,000 people living there. The park covers 1.2 million hectares and provides habitat to 108 mammal, 400 bird, 53 amphibian, 127 invertebrate, and 3,000 flora species.

Marchers left Trinidad, the capital city of Beni department, on August 15. This city is located 130 meters above sea level and has an average temperature of 21 degrees Centigrade. They plan to get to La Paz, which is 3,650 meters above sea level and has an average temperature close to eight degrees, and speak to President Morales.

Peaceful protesters include 120 children and youngsters, and 11 pregnant women. They are all concerned about the new road and further violation of their rights over the land and to self-determination.

“Farmers and coca growers are looking for parcels of land, but the Socialist Movement opposes such a thing. We want President Morales to reconsider his aggressive, racist, discriminatory attitude against our people,” said Justa Cabrera, president of the National Confederation of Indigenous Women.

TIPNIS was declared indigenous territory under Decree Law No. 07401 of 1965 and national park under Supreme Decree No. 22610 of 1990, shortly after a First Indigenous March for Land and Dignity was staged.

This land, however, has been coveted by Andean settlers involved in coca cultivation. Kantuta Lara, an anthropologist who has been living in the area for over 10 years, told SEMlac that the government had established “a red line” in 1990 to discourage new settlements there.

“Two years later, settlers led by Morales and another indigenous leader (Marcial Fabricano) re-defined the line to prevent further colonization efforts,” she added.

Lack of financing, but plenty of support

Reporter Yola Mamani announced that indigenous people of other regions of the country have joined the march.

"They take some rest during daytime and march on at night. Women cook and men hunt and fish,” she added.

“The government said we are being financed by international NGOs, but that is not true. We are drinking water from rivers and eating only rice and noodles every day,” she indicated. “The President even said that we are just tourists,” she noted.

Local organizations are launching support campaigns and collecting food, medicines and money for the marchers.

No dialogue

The new road is expected to go from Tunari Village in Cochabamba to San Ignacio in Beni.

The construction project calls for 418 million dollars to be supplied under a Brazilian credit. It was awarded to OAS (a Brazilian company) in 2008, and no consultation was held with the indigenous people concerned.

They have tried to speak to the President, but he has refused to do so, disqualified their protest, and accused them of working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Several ministers, however, have promoted consultations, but they have failed because indigenous demands include education and healthcare as well.

The President reportedly asked young men to go to the area and make indigenous women fall in love with them to get their blessing for the project. “He should apologize for that,” one of them stressed.

Impacts of the road

“The road will negatively affect the environment and make the park vanish within 20 years,” Lara said.

“It will have a cultural impact because it will prevent them from following agricultural and fishing traditions,” she added.

“And it will also have a social impact since it will radically change ways of life,” she concluded.

Urban mobilization

Young people in La Paz have provided marchers with support. They have organized demonstrations and accused the President of treason.

Other organizations have participated in vigils in front of the Brazilian embassy in Bolivia to demand an end to the joint road construction project.

They plan to organize another 250-kilometer march so that both get to La Paz together in late September.

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