TIPNIS march very near to La Paz / interview with indigenous leader Walberto Baraona
17 October 2011
Dario Kenner, La Paz
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The march by indigenous movements in defense of the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory is getting very close to La Paz and should arrive this Wednesday (detailed background on why the march began). The aim of the marchers is for the government of President Evo Morales to change its position and not build a planned road through the TIPNIS.
Today I went to see the marchers as they continued their ascent into the highlands. Their march began on 15 August in the Amazonian city of Trinidad. When I found the over one thousand marchers it was raining and we were in cloud.
As the march made its way it passed water coming down from the valley above.
This was the view on the other side of the valley.
The march made a brief stop so someone further back could receive medical attention for the altitude.
The march advanced at a steady pace up the winding roads.
The views of the valley as the march continued on its way were breathtaking.
After starting at 8am the marchers finally reached their camp at around 1pm where they will stay until tomorrow morning.
Interview with indigenous leader Walberto Baraona
Walberto Baraona, 28, is Mallku of the Environment for the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ). He is a member of the Quechua indigenous peoples and lives in the indigenous territory of Qhara Qhara Suyu in the Western highlands. Walberto is the leader wearing the red poncho and holding a flag on the right in the picture below.
Why are you marching?
Indigenous peoples have struggled for a long time to get respect for their collective and individual rights. These rights are recognised by our traditional forms of organisation in our ancestral territories. Our rights are guaranteed in the Bolivian Constitution and international norms. We are here to defend our rights to self-determination and to our land and territory. Consultation has to be before any legislative or administrative norm affects our territory. The arrogance of this government is generating discontent and a reaction from the indigenous peoples and civil society.
Marching is a tool of the indigenous peoples to demand respect for our rights but without hurting anyone. We are showing people we do not agree with this government´s policies.
Inside the march there are always people who want to divide us. This is the most difficult thing for us as the leaders of this march to solve. We have to give people the correct information inside the march. By giving the correct information to the Bolivian people this gets us support.
We are close to La Paz. The government has to change its mind. The President (Evo Morales) said he would not go to our march so we are going to La Paz to discuss the 16 demands (see part two of this article). We will not be humiliated. The President said we were marching to undermine the judicial elections but we have been careful and the elections have happened. Now it´s time to deal with our demands. The demand on TIPNIS (for a road not to go through the indigenous territory and national park) needs to be resolved.
The government approved a law but this did not meet our demand, it is only a temporary suspension (of the road). As the indigenous march we completely reject this law and demand the contract (with Brazilian company OAS) is annulled. Our law must be passed.
What impact will the results of the judicial elections have on the TIPNIS conflict?
The people have said we have had enough of the government’s arrogance. The government needs to listen to the people. It needs to listen to the indigenous peoples and civil society in the cities.
Now, instead of not governing by obeying the people, the government needs to obey the people.
Do you think the Bolivian government will change its mind on the road project?
That is our demand and we hope it will. Everything needs to start from zero. Consultation must be before construction on the road.
What will you do if the government does not change its position?
When we arrive in La Paz there will be a big mobilisation. We are building alliances now but without changing our platform of 16 demands. There will be a meeting of indigenous peoples and people from the city to push forward the process of change.
You have been on this march since it began on 15 August, that is over two months ago, from the tropical Amazon now to the cold of the western highlands. What has your experience been like?
This is a responsibility. It is difficult to acclimatise to the tropics with the mosquitoes. You get very tired and have blisters. Sometimes you march without eating. You have to ask for help and water where you can. This is the first time I have marched from the lowlands to the highlands. Even if you get blisters or your feet hurt it makes our demand more valuable. We are fighting for everyone, not just ourselves. You have to endure the cold, the rain, the heat and hunger. We will not betray the cause.