Indigenous from TIPNIS fail to stop highway construction
Government will initiate referendum in communities favoring construction.
Indigenous Bolivians from the Amazon region, who began a 600-kilometer (370-mile) march towards La Paz at the end of April, returned to their communities in the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, or TIPNIS, on June 11, after failing to achieve their goal of meeting with President Evo Morales and convincing him to withdraw his support for the construction of a highway that will cross the National Park.
“We leave saddened but with our heads held high,” said Fernando Vargas, leader of the indigenous communities in the TIPNIS. “We will continue our struggle here at the park and one day history will show Morales’ betrayal.”
According to the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia, or CIDOB, an organization that groups all of Bolivia’s Amazonian peoples, the highway that will link Villa Tunari, in the central department of Cochabamba, with San Ignacio de Moxos, in the northeastern department of Beni, will cause deforestation and an invasion of coca-producing settlers. More than 60 communities of Yuracare, Chimán, and Moxo origin live in the TIPNIS.
The president rejected the complaints of Amazon indigenous communities, pointing out that “some demonstrations are understandable. It is our obligation to listen to [demands], we are listening, but some [demands] seem [more like] ambitions, whims, and worst of all, [the demands] are being used by opposing groups.”
Indigenous Bolivians from the Amazon region marched for the second time in less than a year in defense of the TIPNIS. In August 2011, they mobilized to demand the cancelation of the project, and in October they were successful as President Evo Morales passed Law 180 of Protection of the TIPNIS, which establishes the intangibility of this territory and prohibits the construction of any highway in the area. The law temporarily halted the construction of the highway.
However, at the end of December, the Indigenous Council of the South, or CONISUR, representing some TIPNIS communities, marched in favor of the highway’s construction, pointing out that it will improve their towns’ access to healthcare and education. In response, Morales passed in February Law 222 for Consultation of the Inhabitants of the TIPNIS, through which the approval to build the highway is sought.
The referendum, which will begin at the end of July, has been described by most of the indigenous communities in the TIPNIS as “rigged,” and they announced that they will impede its execution. The 306-kilometer (190-mile) road, which will be built by the Brazilian construction company OAS, will cost US$420 million and will be mostly financed by Brazil. —Latinamerica Press.