Interviews: Bolivian government decision to not build road through TIPNIS

22 October 2011

Dario Kenner, La Paz

Daily updates on TIPNIS conflict at Twitter: @dariokenner

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In a press conference yesterday President Evo Morales said the road project his government has been determined to build will not go through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory. This is a dramatic change in policy. It comes after a two month long march by indigenous movements against the planned road that arrived in La Paz two days ago.

Yesterday I was inside Plaza Murillo and spoke with Rocío Quispe and Adolfo Chávez who were on the two month long march in defense of the TIPNIS. Outside the square I saw Pedro Montes, Executive Secretary of the COB. I also phoned MAS Senator Adolfo Mendoza for his opinions.

Roció Quispe, female leader of highland indigenous movement CONAMAQ

How do you feel after marching for two months and hearing President Morales say the road will not go through the TIPNIS?

I am happy we achieved our goal. All we did was not in vain. It has been a big sacrifice to get this. Look at me I am malnourished.


Adolfo Chávez, President of lowland indigenous movement CIDOB

What do you think about the proposal from President Morales?

It needs to be worked on. In our proposal it is not just an indigenous territory but also a Protected Area. The people will always need to be able to present proposals to the legislature or to the executive branch.

Why did you march?

We do not want the TIPNIS to be destroyed by growing coca or illegal loggers. We live in harmony with nature. By looking after our environment we help the rest of the world.

I have marched with an arm injury (from a car accident before the march). I have had to combine marching with getting it checked. I am not here as Adolfo, I am here as a marcher.

For over 500 years we were discriminated against. Now we are in a phase of integration between the cities and the countryside. Between indigenous peoples, campesinos, colonisers (migrant settlers) and social movements in the countryside and in the cities small and medium businessmen among others. We are all important within a framework of respect between each one. This is what we want to consolidate to contribute to laws that are being passed at a very fast pace.

Has your relationship with the Morales government changed after this march?

Yes it has changed a lot. We marched, we suffered. When we get to La Paz we got a warm welcome from the people of La Paz. The government needs to understand that individual and collective rights need to be defended, both these rights that are in the Constitution have been violated. A lot of time needs to pass to develop a proposal for working together.

You marched for two months. Was it worth it?

Yes it was worth it. I didn’t think this would need to happen with an indigenous government for there to be reflection between all Bolivians. Any government, if it is indigenous or not, that violates the rights of indigenous or non-indigenous peoples will see that the people will respond.

In terms of relations between the government and social movements: Is this a government of the social movements?

Up to a certain point it was like this in the first government (2006-2009). But in the second government (2009 – present) there is lack of coordination between the authorities and population to participate together in writing laws. And with what happened on 25 September (when police violently intervened in the march) this is no longer an indigenous government.

Bolivian Plurinational Assembly (credit: Dario Kenner)

Bolivian Plurinational Assembly (credit: Dario Kenner)

Adolfo Mendoza, Senator for the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party led by President Evo Morales

What do you think about the proposal put forward by President Morales?

The proposal by the President is not only the basis for dialogue; it also looks for solutions to the other 15 demands. His proposal needs to be discussed in the Plurinational Assembly. With this announcement the President has dealt with the pressure from those who wanted to destabilise this government (in reference to right wing opposition political parties). He has shown what an indigenous President can do. This is not the end of the debate on free, prior and informed consultation. Some of the leadership of the march rejected consultation when we offered it. It is dangerous for some leaders to reject the rights of others.

Last week the President announced a debate on a new agenda to implement the Constitution. This conflict is more than just about TIPNIS. It has opened up a debate on a new agenda.

Does this announcement solve the TIPNIS issue?

I have a different view from others. I think the change to Article 3 (stopping a road going through the TIPNIS) is a solution to the conflict. There should not be any more protests when the main issue is solved.

Some things are not said about inter-ethnic relations (between the three indigenous groups who are the owners of the TIPNIS territory: the Mojeño, Yuracaré and Chiman peoples). The TIPNIS Subcentral, mainly the Mojeño indigenous peoples, took the lead in the march. They were very clearly against the road. But there are others who are also owners of that territory with different views such as the Sécure and Isiboro Subcentrals – both affiliated to CIDOB. CONISUR also has different views. (CONISUR represents 12 indigenous communities in the south of the national park. The community leaders who marched against the road project represent the Sécure subcentral (14 communities) and the TIPNIS Subcentral (37 communities). This makes a decision on the TIPNIS indigenous territory complicated. Not many people say it but there are differences between these groups.

When will the law be approved?

We do not know yet. There are procedural formalities to go through. I think we have to discuss the law as soon as possible. (It is now likely the law will be debated on Monday 24 October in the Plurinational Assembly)

How will the TIPNIS conflict affect other autonomous indigenous territories and Protected Areas in Bolivia?

In Bolivia autonomous indigenous territories are recognised by the Constitution. One thing is for an indigenous territory to be recognised as autonomous. It is another to manage that territory. I have my doubts about using the word intangible. This word affects the self-government of an indigenous territory by the indigenous people that live there. Usually the word intangible affects an area of a Protected Area. But if it applies to an entire indigenous territory it could be interpreted as the indigenous peoples who live there are simply park rangers.

Is the MAS a government of the social movements?

There is a new political pluralism in Bolivia with different positions. The TIPNIS issue shows the agenda is defined by the social movements and not the political parties. The social movements are the motor of this process. This issue also shows the conflicts between and within the social movements.

See full interview with Adolfo Mendoza from 14 October.

Pedro Montes, Executive Secretary of the COB (Trade Unions Congress)

What is your reaction to the announcement by President Evo Morales on TIPNIS?

This should have been done at the start, not now. We are arriving at the same result. I think that our authorities need to be more agile and operational because when there are delays in these kinds of conflicts sometimes the authority and responsibility of the government before the population is undermined. This is a wakeup call to fulfil and respond to the demands of the workers of the country.

Is the TIPNIS conflict solved for the COB?

Until a law is approved in the Plurinational Assembly and enacted by the government it is not solved for us.

Will the mobilisations continue until the law is approved?

Yes they will. We are coherent. We will be monitoring the situation and will pressure until the law is approved. I think we will participate in the vigil. We are in a state of emergency and will continue in this state of emergency.

Will the COB be part of these protests, will you participate in them?

The COB is the only institution that defends all Bolivian workers, affiliated and non-affiliated. This is why Bolivia is a very special country. Not like other countries that have one, two, three, four, five or six national directorates. We will work to defend the demands and rights of all Bolivian workers.

President Morales said in his press conference this morning he was obeying the people. Do you think he is obeying the people?

He has always had this discourse. But any discourse should not just be theoretical. It should be practical.

What is the process of change in your opinion?

This is a government slogan. For us it is the October Agenda (from 2003), the struggle that brought down (President) Goni Sanchez de Lozada.

The government has called for a debate in December. Do you think this debate should be now or in December?

Exactly. Instead of being more agile and operative he leaves it for December, for nearly a month or more. If we are going to do something let´s start it and move forward.


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