Bolivian government close to reversing TIPNIS law
18 January 2012
Dario Kenner, La Paz
Updates on Bolivia: Twitter: @dariokenner / Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BoliviaDiary
Despite approving a law just three months ago stopping any road going through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory the B0livian government is on the verge of controversially continuing in its plan to build the road. The government, led by President Evo Morales, approved the law on 24 October 2011 after a two month long march of around a thousand indigenous peoples against the road arrived in La Paz (background on TIPNIS conflict including positions for and against the road).
The Plurinational Assembly (Congress and Senate) approved Law 180 on 24 October. A few days ago it was formally introduced for further discussion on the parliament´s agenda. The intention is to modify the law to build the road through the TIPNIS. It is unclear how long this process will take but it could happen soon.
Modifying the law is a very real possibility because since the 2009 general election the governing Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party has enjoyed a two thirds majority in the Plurinational Assembly (Congress and Senate) and controls the executive branch. However, it might not be quite so straightforward because several indigenous MAS represenatives in the Congress have said they will no longer vote with the MAS.
It is no coincidence the Morales government is now attempting to reverse Law 180. A march led by indigenous communities in the south of the TIPNIS represented by CONISUR (Indigenous Council of the South) is expected to arrive in La Paz very soon. Around a thousand have marched since 20 December 2011 from the edge of the national park to demand the reversal of Law 180 and for the road to be built through the TIPNIS (for more information see Bolivia Diary article on the CONISUR march and interview with expert on TIPNIS Sarela Paz).
The current situation may come as a surprise to outside observers who thought the TIPNIS conflict had been resolved. But within Bolivia it has been very clear the conflict was not over (Indian Country– December) and the Morales government never wanted to approve the law prohibiting the road (as reported on this blog in November). Here are a few examples:
- The government never ceased in its verbal attacks on the main leaders of the anti-road indigenous march.
- In what can be interpreted as a form of revenge for having to approve Law 180 the MAS controlled legislature ensured the law declared all activities in the entire TIPNIS national park “untouchable”. The anti-road march did want TIPNIS to be “untouchable” in relation to the road which is why they marched. But they never wanted legislation that would stop them from continuing with sustainable management (gestión integral) of the TIPNIS (comprehensive NACLA article covers this debate). Let´s be clear: It makes no sense for the anti-road indigenous march to demand a law that would mean they could no longer “touch” their own territory and ancestral land which they live from.
- Reliable sources confirmed that in November prior to the COP17 climate change negotiations in Durban President Morales gave an ultimatum to the members of the Bolivian negotiating team telling them that they had to agree to support the road through TIPNIS, or they would not be allowed to represent Bolivia at the climate summit. In recent years Bolivia has strongly defended indigenous peoples and the environment at these talks.
As well as making the TIPNIS “untouchable” Law 180 essentially ratified elements already enshrined in other legislation such as the 2009 Constitution and the Supreme Resolution in 2009 that confirmed the TIPNIS as both an indigenous territory and a national park.
The core issue is prior consultation because it determines whether the government´s planned road can or cannot go through the TIPNIS. The objective of the process of free, prior and informed consultation is to achieve an agreement with the communities in a specific indigenous territory. However, it is too late because a contract was signed with Brazilian company OAS in 2008 and the road is already being built before consulting with the indigenous communities of the TIPNIS.
So if Law 180 is reversed the Bolivian government could go ahead with continuing to build the road (which has already begun at each end) through the TIPNIS but this would be in violation of the right to prior consultation.
The reaction by indigenous movements CIDOB and CONAMAQ as well as those sections of society who supported their march is unpredictable. CIDOB have publicly mentioned the possibility of another march. Meanwhile the coca growers – the key support base of President Morales – have threatened to start their own march if Law 180 is not modified allowing construction of the road.
If the law barring the road is reversed it may plunge Bolivia back into the political crisis experienced between August and October 2011, when the anti-road march made its way to La Paz. It remains unclear why the Bolivian government is putting so much at stake given it already passed a law barring the road.
2008 – Bolivian government signs contract with Brazilian company OAS to build the road (link in Spanish to contract)
2009 – New Bolivian Constitution approved in a referendum (link to the Constitution in Spanish) enshrines indigenous peoples right to prior consultation on projects affecting their territories (Article 30, 343, 352). This right is already enshrined in interntional agreements ratified in Bolivia such as ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
2009 – President Evo Morales gives collective land title to indigenous groups living in TIPNIS, covering 1,091,656 hectares (Supreme Resolution 230292).
June 2011– Road building begins and President Morales publicy states “Whether they want it or not, we are going to build this road“, (29 June)
August 2011 – Members of indigenous movements CIDOB and CONAMAQ begin march against the road.
September 2011 – Police repression against the march (25 September).
October 2011 – March arrives in La Paz and Morales government passes law prohibiting road.
November/December 2011 – Controversy about whether the TIPNIS is “untouchable”.
December 2011 – CONISUR pro-road march sets off from south of TIPNIS towards La Paz.