President Evo Morales officially signs off TIPNIS law

25 October 2011

Dario Kenner, La Paz

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On 24 October President Evo Morales signed off the law that prohibits building a road through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory. After a march by indigenous movements from Bolivia´s Amazon in opposition to the road project got to La Paz last week President Morales made the historic decision to accept their demand.

I was in Plaza Murillo (central square in La Paz) until 12am on Monday with the media and hundreds of marchers as the ceremony took place inside the Presidential Palace in front of us. The approval of this law has been heralded as the crucial act that solves the TIPNIS conflict that has polarised the country since 15 August when the indigenous march began.

However, the tone of the speeches made by both the indigenous leaders and President Morales suggest this conflict is not completely over. While the main issue of whether a road goes through the TIPNIS has been resolved for now there are wider topics that are still unresolved.

One example is the fallout from the police repression of the indigenous march on 25 September when it was nearly 300km from La Paz. Indigenous leaders Fernando Vargas (President of the TIPNIS Subcentral) and Adolfo Chávez (President of lowlands indigenous social movement CIDOB) were very critical of the lack of justice and of the Morales government for not taking responsibility for what happened. After 4 weeks we still do not know who gave the order despite Vice President Álvaro García Linera saying the government knew who gave the order but could not reveal who it was.

Today the majority of the indigenous marchers left La Paz today to go back to their communities. Over the next few weeks the impacts of the Bolivian government’s decision to not build the road will become clearer. It will take time to fully understand the new political landscape but what is certain is Bolivia´s social movements (whether pro the MAS government or not) will be mobilising again soon to pressure for their demands to be met.

25 October 2011: Summaries of the speeches at the ceremony in the Presidential Palace

Fernando Vargas leaves the Presidential Palace after the ceremony (credit: Dario Kenner)

Fernando Vargas leaves the Presidential Palace after the ceremony (credit: Dario Kenner)

Fernando Vargas, President of the TIPNIS Subcentral

Our march was to defend Mother Earth and indigenous rights. I say to President Evo Morales Ayma he is the first defender of Mother Earth internationally, he needs to be that here. To the Ministers of the state you need to be coherent with what is said at international level.

To each marcher I say: we marched in 1990 to defend our territory and dignity (this march was fundamental to put indigenous rights on the agenda in Bolivia and one of the consequences was the recognition of the TIPNIS as an indigenous territory) and 21 years later we march to defend that territory. This is the heritage of all Bolivians and this territory fulfils environmental, economic and social functions.

The term intangibility is to defend the most fragile ecosystems in the national park, to preserve the sacred places. These scared places must be for today and always. These sacred places permit the cycles of life of the ecosystems. This is important for us to enjoy these ecosystems today and for our children and their children. This national park is for all Bolivians and as an indigenous territory is a common good for all Bolivians. But intangibility does not mean that we can´t use anything. The term intangible does not go above the right to use the territory because territory is a right where indigenous peoples can use and enjoy natural resources as is set out in the Constitution. We want to express this so the Bolivian people. Some said this term that it could not be touched.

To deputies and Senators I say we need to work together to build this country, conserving nature, ecosystems and Mother Earth. This will mean we will be able to breathe pure air and protect our water systems. This is why the Bolivian people and the people of La Paz welcomed us (last week). As the march we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. We need to build peace, humanity and the principles of this Plurinational State. The Constitution needs to be implemented. This is the only way to build this country.

Adolfo Chávez, President of lowland indigenous movement CIDOB

Thank you to all the Bolivians who supported us in defending our Casa Grande (Mother Earth). We left on 15 August from Trinidad without knowing what we find on the way to La Paz. Don´t see us as enemies, we are brothers in flesh and blood. We want to continue living in peace in our territories. We are not offensive, we are brothers. Thank you to the citizens of La Paz, all of Bolivia, and our brothers from Caranavi. We say to all Bolivians let´s continue to build this Plurinational State that is of all Bolivians. Maybe some committed mistakes but others took advantage of the march (in reference to right wing opposition political parties). Ministers you need to work in good faith alongside the indigenous peoples.

To the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces and Commanders in Chief of the national police: If you do not know anything about what happened (on 25 September) then this humble march has brought you masking (tape used to cover mouths of those detained) and hand cuffs. Why when everything happened did you not say immediately that you had nothing to do with this? It is easy to blame others between human beings, and those who commit errors try to justify what they did.

After 65 days of marching we will return to our native lands with the guarantee that this Plurinational State is giving us through this President and the Plurinational Assembly.

We are sure that territorial management and Buen Vivir (the model to “Live Well”) can co-habit in our territory and in all of Bolivia. It cannot be that tomorrow the leaders of the TIPNIS are in prison for what they do (for using and managing resources within the national park which depending on the interpretation of the word intangible could be seen as illegal). I hope it is not like that and it is not misinterpreted. We want to go with the hope of living with nature and our Casa Grande (Mother Earth).

We need to work together and understand each other. Here is the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples (CIDOB) with the 34 indigenous nations with CONAMAQ (highland indigenous movement). We left together (on 15 August from Trinidad) saying this Constitution, that is of all Bolivians, needs to be respected. This caused a reaction in all of Bolivia and abroad. A lot of things that were said about the march were no true and so we had to come out and use the media to say this. This is a triumph for all Bolivians, young people and the elderly. This effort is of all the Plurinational State.

President Evo Morales at rally 12 October (credit: Dario Kenner)

President Evo Morales at rally 12 October (credit: Dario Kenner)

[President Evo Morales signs the official papers enacting the law stopping the road through the TIPNIS]

President Evo Morales, Plurinational State of Bolivia

It is important for the indigenous brothers to reflect. In one media outlet I have heard that one female marcher when interviewed why she was there said “for the road”. Maybe it was a lack of information or a mistake, or maybe it was what she thought, or maybe she was confused but that is what was in the media.

Nearly 200 organisations in both departments (Beni and Cochabamba regions) have asked for the road to be built including businessmen, cattle ranchers, campesinos, transport owners and other social sectors. The most interesting of which is a document from the Sécure Subcentral, the indigenous communities who live on the banks of the Sécure river. They sent a letter last week asking for the road to be built. The Indigenous Council of the South (CONISUR) have sent handwritten letters to the President and others. The first demand is the building of the road. It has many stamps on it. The second point is the building of the road. And the last point is also about the building of the road.

With all the documentation we have I am surprised when they say all of us the brothers from the TIPNIS are here. I just got a new declaration dated 4am on Monday 24 October 2011 from the communities in the south of the TIPNIS. There was an extraordinary meeting of leaders (corregidores y caciques), members of the council and grassroots of the Yuracaré indigenous community on the Isiboro river. It resolves “We are in a state 0f emergency because of the infringement of our rights and opportunity for development because of the approval of this law”. We have these documents. I want to say that the marchers must have used a lot of effort to do their march, I know what that is like because I have also marched. This is why it is not a personal interest of the national government but the demand from both these regions for the road.

Some ask what is behind this road and the contract with this company (Brazilian company OAS). Unfortunately some media outlets, like always, try to distort but they are wrong, they might or might not recognise this. I want to clarify as always there are always some political groups who want to take advantage of this. They tried but failed. I was surprised that on Wednesday or Thursday they shouted “Villarroel, Villaroel” near to the Plaza Murillo (Gualberto Villarroel was other thrown in 1946, killed and his body hung from a lamppost in the Plaza Murillo). Some said to string him up like Villaroel in the Plaza Murillo. I know these are not the sentiments of you indigenous marchers but look how they tried to take advantage of this. Some interests wanted to take advantage of this march.

Some say this is about environmentalism and development. I don´t know a lot about this but I do know the Isiboro Sécure (national park). And I want to say to you there is a lot of poverty there. I will not lie to the Bolivian people, so many brothers are abandoned, and it is because of the lack of our presence. How to solve this will always be the debate. In the cabinet even some Ministers were surprised when I told them about the situation. This is why I say some of the indigenous brothers who live inside the TIPNIS and to those who do not know but marched we are fulfilling the demands.

On the topic of intangibility don´t blame me, I did what the marchers wanted. When comrade Adolfo referred to the subject of intangibility maybe it can be interpreted in different ways, but this was not an invention of Evo Morales or the cabinet or the Plurinational Assembly. I was surprised when we called on the brothers from the Plurinational Assembly to discuss the law and there was some confusion about the term intangibility.  I want to say to the comrades at the grassroots that as the law has been approved tonight now it will be enacted (signed off).

Usually when a law is approved by the Plurinational Assembly it is enacted a few days later, why delay. But because the march was arriving I waited for you to arrive before acting (on enacting a law approved last week that did not explicitly prohibit the road as the law enacted on Monday does). When you were near to La Paz I sent a letter to comrade Adolfo Chávez in case it was necessary to review the law to jointly make comments and come to an agreement. My desire was to then present this to the Plurinational Assembly. By Wednesday there was no answer.

On Thursday we called a meeting with our grassroots comrades in the Vice Presidency (building) because the Presidential Palace unfortunately does not have much space. At least 40 or 50 can participate in the Vice Presidency. We always say this. The media know when there are meetings with 40 or 50 or 60 the meeting is in the Vice Presidency. As they rejected this we tried to meet here (Presidential Palace) on Thursday evening. Unfortunately it was not possible for us to understand each other. You will know who wanted there not to be a meeting, who wanted to damage this march. I don´t think it was you brothers.

With regard to the Isiboro Sécure park our obligation as the state with all its institutions is to listen to the people. The law is enacted so a road never goes through that park and so the park is respected.

Rafael Quispe, leader of highland indigenous movement CONAMAQ reaction to President Morales speech:

What has to be said is there is a great deal of pain. In the framework of democracy there has to be respect for the elected President but there is also pain. Not just because of the attack on the 25 September but since the start of the march, during all of the march, discrimination, humiliation, phone tapping. All of this was aimed at de-legitimising many of the leaders saying they were (illegally) selling land or wood. We suffered this with neo-liberal governments, they attacked us. We were used to it because it was a neo-liberal government but not with an indigenous government.

3 Responses to “President Evo Morales officially signs off TIPNIS law”
  1. InsightSur says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but they haven’t canceled the project, just that it will run through TIPNIS.

    • boliviadiary says:

      The road project can now not go through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory. Brazilian compay OAS who the contract is with are currently looking at alternative routes outside the TIPNIS. Hope that helps, Dario Kenner

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] memorializing the about-face as an act of law.  Dario Kenner of Bolivia Diary has the full story here.  As Dario notes, there are still many unresolved issues, including the investigation of police […]

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