Interviews: Bolivian indigenous leaders from CONISUR and CIDOB on TIPNIS conflict

5 February 2012

Dario Kenner, La Paz

Updates on Bolivia: Twitter: @dariokenner / Facebook:

The conflict over whether a road should be built through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory is entering a new phase. The pro-road march led by indigenous organisation CONISUR (an indigenous organisation representing communities inside the TIPNIS indigenous territory and outside of it in an area called Poligono 7) arrived in La Paz on 30 January 2012 demanding the reversal of a law approved by President Evo Morales in October 2011 banning the road – the law was the result of an anti-road march led by members of indigenous communities inside the TIPNIS and indigenous movement CIDOB between August and October 2011.

Since the CONISUR march got to La Paz it has at moments looked likely the law prohibiting the road will be reversed. On 2 February Vice President Álvaro García Linera announced the Bolivian National Assembly (Asamblea Plurinacional) would begin to draft a new law jointly with CONISUR. CIDOB have already said several times they will begin another march if this were to happen.

The focus in the last few days has been on the proposal by CONISUR along with the Presidents of the Senate and Congress (who are members of the governing MAS party led by President Evo Morales) to approve a law on prior consultation of indigenous peoples. Who should be consulted and how has generated plenty of debate.

In trying to understand the current conflict I spoke to indigenous leaders of both CONISUR and CIDOB.

Gumercindo Pradel, head of CONISUR (Cacique Mayor)

Pro-road CONISUR march on its way to La Paz (credit:

Pro-road CONISUR march on its way to La Paz (credit:

Why are you marching for a road through the TIPNIS?

Because those communities live there and suffer. Not like those leaders who want these people to stay in the jungle and not progress. Meanwhile they live happily in the city, they have good education and health services, they do not lack anything and have a good house. It makes me and my brothers sad. 45 days of marching and we still keep going, we do not obey those leaders who are an embarrassment. And this has led to us losing a child, that child had a history. This gives us more strength to fight for our rights [the child died on 4 February due to respiratory problems].

Can you explain why CONISUR want a law on consultation?

At 3pm we will have another meeting on the project of a law. Why do we want a law on consultation: because we do not want to have that bad image of leaders like Fernando Vargas (President of the TIPNIS Subcentral), Pedro Nuni (indigenous congressmen), and the congressmen Adolfo Chávez (head of CIDOB).

There are other people who still live in the jungle and they need to be consulted. Because those who speak are the owners of the territory. Those who live in the territory suffer. I want to go forward so that my poor brothers can progress so that in the future the next generations can be professionals and have good education and health services. We want good infrastructure. We want to have a good house like those leaders who have betrayed us and de-recognised us.

Who does CONISUR represent?

There are four languages present on this march: Moxeño-Trinitario, Yuracaré, Tsiman and Moxeño. This is who needs to be respected, not those people who live in Santa Cruz. We do not need to ask for permission from CONAMAQ or from CIDOB. Not all of CIDOB are bad, it is the main leader who is not good.

Does CONISUR represent communities inside the Poligono 7 and from the indigenous territory (TCO)?

There are communities there. Wherever those leaders are from or wherever they are they are always Yuracarés (indigenous peoples). No one can de-recognise me, wherever I am I speak my language, no one can de-recognise me like Fernando Vargas has done.

Do you have any final comments?

I hope that our voice is heard internationally and within the country so that they support this humble march that has now lost a child. I hope that they support us in our demands.

Anti-road march arrives in La Paz October 2011 (credit: Dario Kenner)

Anti-road march arrives in La Paz October 2011 (credit: Dario Kenner)

Lucio Ayala, Secretary of Land and Territory (Tierra y Territorio) of lowland indigenous movement CIDOB that represents 34 indigenous nations (mainly in the Amazon)

What does CIDOB think about the Plurinational Assembly working with CONISUR to write a new law on TIPNIS?

We are very worried by the attitude of the government after we marched to defend our rights and for a law to protect the TIPNIS indigenous territory. The intention is to revoke law number 180 in defence of the TIPNIS. We are in a state of emergency.

If the law is revoked the people will rise up, all civil society. From out last meeting of the National Commission (council of the CIDOB) in January there is a mandate to call a Ninth March if law 180 is revoked (the August – October anti-road march was the “Eighth March”). This is the immediate action we will take as CIDOB, in coordination with CONAMAQ (highland indigenous movement) and civil society.

When would the Ninth march begin?

There is no date yet. I think Adolfo Chávez (head of CIDOB) and the other commissions who have gone to visit the TIPNIS will be back in a two weeks. In a week and half we will have a clear position and decision on when to call (convocar) the Ninth March.

Who are CONISUR and who do they represent?

Well CONISUR is an organisation allied to the government. It is a cocalero (coca grower) organisation. It is an organisation that abuses the rights of indigenous peoples. It is in the Poligono 7 that was part of the Isiboro Sécure National Park. They have a personal interest for personal development. They demanded the INRA (National Institute for Agrarian Reform) and government give them individual land titles which means they have nothing to do with the TIPNIS.

We as indigenous peoples demand collective land titles. Our work and way of life are collective. We defend collective rights. So CONISUR is not part of the structure of indigenous peoples. It´s worse, they go against the interests of indigenous peoples and do not defend their rights. So we de-recognise that this organisation says it is indigenous. They are indigenous but against the rights of indigenous peoples.

When the anti-road indigenous march got to La Paz there were tens of thousands of people on the streets to welcome the march. Will civil society in cities across Bolivia support you?

We hope they will. Each community and province we visited when we marched has asked CIDOB to lead this new march. We know we have support. We think there will be even more support than there was for the last march.


More information

NACLA blog covers the CONISUR march. Also includes news on what appears to be closer links between CIDOB and Rubén Costas, right-wing opposition Governor of Santa Cruz who was instrumental in orchestrating (often violent) opposition to the Morales government between 2006 and 2008. Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict Continues: Fanning the Flames of Discontent

Bolivia Diary: Bolivian government close to reversing law that prohibits road through TIPNIS national park

3 Responses to “Interviews: Bolivian indigenous leaders from CONISUR and CIDOB on TIPNIS conflict”
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  1. […] Dario Kenner from Bolivia Diary interviewed indigenous leaders who are against and in favor of building a road through the […]

  2. […] arguments are under debate. As La Paz-based blogger, Dario Kenner shares on his blog [en]: The focus in the last few days has been on the proposal by CONISUR along with the Presidents […]

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