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Bolivia: TIPNIS Communities Divided As Road Consultation Begins

Cancel the Consultation, Stop the Road and save the environment
Bolivia: TIPNIS Communities Divided As Road Consultation Begins
August 5, 2012
Rebel Currents < https://nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents> [1]

Last week, the Bolivian government launched a highly contested community
consultation process on its plan to build a highway through the
Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS). Affected
communities responded with a range of creative tactics—some in support and
others resistance to the process—that underscore the deep divisions among

Over the next four weeks, 16 government-sponsored brigades are scheduled to
travel to remote regions of the vast reserve by canoe, foot, and horseback
to carry out the *consulta,* spending 1-2 days in each of 69 communities.
Each brigade will include two public officials, a logistical coordinator,
and three indigenous facilitators. Decisions will be made by the local
assembly in each community in accordance with its traditions and customs.
If all goes according to plan (which is unlikely), the results will be
reported by September 6.[image: 1170] Plan for consulta brigades. Credit:
La Razón

The *consulta* was inaugurated in Oromomo, a community located in the
northwestern section of the park close to the route of the proposed road
(see maps). Last March, Oromomo was the first TIPNIS community to benefit
from the government's gift of *outboard
motors< http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia.php?identificador=2147483961732>
[2],* delivered personally* *by President Evo Morales. Following this
visit, a pro-government faction took over the contested Sécure Subcentral,
the indigenous governing authority in which Oromomo participates, which had
previously opposed construction of the road.

Not surprisingly, the *consulta* in Oromomo concluded with a decision to
endorse the road. But the community added its own twist, conditioning its
support on an economic compensation package including health services,
education, and community development. "The road brings development, and
only if it's built will we be able to get the basic services we need," said
*Jhonny Ervi*,< link to www.la-razon.com
[3] an indigenous Oromomo authority.

By adding this proviso, the community sought to exploit the linkage between
the proposed highway and development that has been a central theme of the
Morales government's pro-road campaign. At the Oromomo ceremony
inaugurating the *consulta*, Environmental Minister Felipe Quispe presented
the community's upcoming decision on the road as a choice between remaining
in poverty or advancing through education and development. *Indigenous
authorities*< link to www.la-razon.com
[3] who signed an agreement with the government last month say they were
promised development programs and services in exchange for their support of
the road.

[image: 1171] Proposed road and communities. Credit: La Razon.Oromomo also
rejected the continued designation of the reserve as a protected
"untouchable" zone, a legal status secured by the first TIPNIS march last
October. A successful ecotourism program (generating $20,000 per month for
five TIPNIS communities, including Oromomo) was terminated by the Morales
government last year, based on the government's interpretation that the law
precludes even *sustainable development
initiatives*< https://nacla.org/blog/2011/11/11/bolivia-tipnis-untouchable-still-controversial>
[4] managed by park's indigenous inhabitants.

As *Amnesty International*< link to www.aininoticias.org
[5] has noted, the wording of the *consulta* reinforces this prejudicial
view, by asking communities to decide "whether the TIPNIS should be a
protected zone or not, in order to make possible the development of
activities of the Moxeño-Trinitario, Chimane, and Yuracaré indigenous
people, as well as the construction of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de
Moxos highway." AI has broadly criticized the *consulta* for "link(ing) the
development of the communities—including in health, education, and the use
of natural resources for subsistence—to the construction of the road,"
despite the fact that "the rights of indigenous people, such as health and
education, are an obligation of the state, independent of any highway
construction."[image: 1172] Consulta in San Miguelito. Credit: Erbol.

The second community to implement the *consulta*, San Miguelito, rejected
the reserve's "untouchable" status but also decided to oppose the road. The
decision surprised many, since this community, while affiliated with the
TIPNIS Subcentral which has opposed the road, is located in the southern
zone of the park adjacent to communities that are increasingly linked to
the coca economy, who support it. "We know that the road won't benefit us,
and therefore we have opposed it," said mayor *César
Davalos*< http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia.php?identificador=2147483961930>
[6], criticizing government officials for failing to fully disclose the
road's potential environmental impacts.

To date, a total of eight* consulted communities
*< link to www.la-razon.com
[7](mostly clustered in the park's southern zone) have officially decided
to support the road while two have opposed it. Another 18 have announced
plans to *actively
resist*< http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia.php?identificador=2147483962068>
[8] both the road and the *consulta*. The resistance is centered around
Gundonovia, gateway to the park in the northeast, where communities
have *blockaded
the rivers*< http://www.paginasiete.bo/2012-08-03/Nacional/Destacados/04Nal01030812.aspx>
[9] with barbed wire to impede the entry of additional brigades. At least
six port communities are currently blockaded, along with the San Pablo

Distant from the proposed road, these communities perceive the risks
associated with its construction as far outweighing any potential
development or service benefits. As *Fernando
Vargas*< link to eju.tv
[10], president of the TIPNIS Subcentral, explains: "We are defending our
territories so we don't disappear. We're fighting for our lives. We don't
want to depose President Evo; we only demand respect for our rights and

[image: 1173] Consulta in Oromomo. Credit: La Razon.TIPNIS leaders and
allied organizations are also pursuing *three legal
remedies*< link to www.lostiempos.com
[11] in different courts to block implementation of the *consulta* (one
claim has been rejected, but will be appealed). They argue that the Morales
government has failed to comply with the Constitutional Tribunal's order
issued last June (and recently
*reaffirmed*)< link to www.la-razon.com
[12], requiring the achievement of consensus with affected groups on the
process and content of the *consulta *so that it can proceed with mutual
respect*. *According to the government, communities that dissent from (or
resist) the *consulta *process or its results must abide by the *views of
the majority*< http://www.paginasiete.bo/2012-07-21/Nacional/Destacados/4Nac00121-03.aspx>
[13] under the Bolivian constitution. Indigenous leaders say the
*consulta*law requires the process to be conducted in accordance with
the traditions
of affected communities, who operate by consensus.

As tensions mount, all sides will take advantage of a brief respite as the *
consulta* is suspended for Bolivian Independence Day (August 6). For an
update on the *consulta* status by community, see *Fundación Tierra's
interactive map.
*< link to www.ftierra.org


*Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA's weekly blog
Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive
governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents [15]).*


- Bolivia < https://nacla.org/category/tags/bolivia> [17]
- consulta previa < https://nacla.org/category/tags/consulta-previa> [18]
- Evo Morales < https://nacla.org/category/tags/evo-morales> [19]
- Isiboro-Sécure < https://nacla.org/category/tags/isiboro-s%C3%A9cure>
- TIPNIS < https://nacla.org/category/tags/tipnis> [21]