Law to consult indigenous communities on TIPNIS road

14 February 2012

Dario Kenner, La Paz

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On Friday evening President Evo Morales officially enacted the law to begin a consultation process to see if indigenous communities want a road project to go through the TIPNIS – an area that holds the status of indigenous territory and national park. The approval of the law has generated a lot of controversy and confusion in Bolivia and abroad. The law was approved following the arrival of a pro-road march led by the organisation CONISUR representing indigenous communities inside and outside the TIPNIS indigenous territory.

It might seem strange that a law confirming the right of indigenous people to be consulted about a project affecting their land is being rejected by the same indigenous movements that marched against the road between August-October last year. In fact the exact reason they were marching was because they had not been consulted- as reported on this blog in September 2011.

President Evo Morales (credit: Dario Kenner)

President Evo Morales (credit: Dario Kenner)

The indigenous communities inside the TIPNIS who oppose the road (broadly grouped together under the TIPNIS subcentral and Sécure subcentral affiliated to lowland indigenous movement CIDOB – more information) argue any consultation now will not be prior, as set out in the Bolivia Constitution and international normsbecause the road is already being built and the contract was signed with Brazilian company OAS in 2008. Also they point out the consultation will not be in good faith because President Morales has already said the road must be built (detailed explanation of right to prior consultation). They interpret the law on consultation as a direct attempt to reverse a law approved in October 2011 by President Evo Morales that bans any road going through the TIPNIS. The Bolivian governments desire to build the road is no secret.

This is why the indigenous communities in the TIPNIS opposed to the road along with CIDOB have said they will march again. Indigenous movement CONAMAQ (which represents Aymara and Quechua peoples from the western highlands and central valleys) and the Trade Union Congress (COB) have also said they will join the march. No one knows for sure the route or when it will start but it could be in March. If another march starts there could be counter marches by the cocaleros –  the key support base of President Morales. The Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) warned President Morales that if the law on consultation was enacted it could lead to conflict.

The exact content of the law (in Spanish) is analysed in detail in the latest NACLA blog that explains why consultation must be prior, “in good faith” and who can participate.

To get an idea of the different perspectives here are some quotes from recent speeches by President Evo Morales, Vice President of CIDOB Nelly Romero and an interview I did with respected anthropologist Xavier Albó.


[Selected quotes from speech immediately after enacting law on consultation, evening Friday 10 February 2012]

Some marched against the road, others marched demanding the construction of road. Who is right? The law (protecting the TIPNIS) was imposed on us. Some reject the road, some want it. The best thing is for the people who live there to decide if they want or do not want a road. This consultation is the most legitimate, democratic and constitutional step to take.

I have hard there are those who reject the consultation. Those who reject consultation reject the Constitution, international norms and agreements such as ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was part of that struggle that took over 30 years for the UN to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples. Finally the rights of indigenous peoples around the world were recognised in  2007. The right to consultation is part of these rights. The Bolivian people need to know that Bolivia was the first state that ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as law.

They reject the consultation because they will lose. I cannot understand how regional and national leaders can be so isolated from their grassroots bases (who elect them). These leaders need to go and explain to their grassroot bases why the issue of “untouchable” (intagibilidad) and why the law (banning the road in TIPNIS). If the result of the consultation is to reject the road then the law (banning the road) will be respected.

I am almost sure the march last year was more by NGOs and not by the indigenous brothers who live in the TIPNIS. If the result of the consultation is to reject the term “untouchable” and build the road then the NGOs that financed and organised the previous march will look bad to their funders. This is why some NGOs reject this law (on consultation). I call on those NGOs to go there and explain the law (banning the road) if the leaders (of the march against the road) can´t do it. The role of a leader is to respond to their grassroots bases and not to NGOs. The grassroots will decide.

There are economic interests, especially the NGOs, and political interests. When we go forward with state companies to generate income for the Bolivian people such as YPFB (state hydrocarbons company) some oppose it. I want to say that they want to undermine and undermine. But when I finish my mandate in 2014 they will say: “Where is the road, where is the bridge, where is the industrialisation?”. But for now they just oppose for any reason. I have the responsibility to condemn before the Bolivian people that with these manipulations they want to undermine.

I call on social movements, international entities, the Ombudsmen (Defensor del Pueblo) to go there to the TIPNIS. They  just give their opinions from their desks and from the cities. They should go and see how our brothers live. Everyone knows best but they do not live there.

Some say this law is unconstitutional. If it is then don´t just complain about it, go and present a case to the Constitutional Tribunal. How can a law where the people decide yes or no be unconstitutional? Whatever they say there is extreme poverty there. Going to the TIPNIS it hurts to see how they live.

Now when we want to resolve these problems there will always be some of our brothers who ally with the eternal enemies of the indigenous movements. This is not new. In our struggle against the (Spanish) colonisation and during the Republic there were always those who abandoned us and betrayed us. One day the new generations will judge if we had the correct policies. You will decide if it was wrong for us the Bolivian government to want to build the road between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos through the consultation. If we were wrong we will of course respect this. The people will have the last word.

I know the effort you have made. Do you know comrades that we are accused of organising this march? (by CONISUR) I was always against the march from the start. I say this publicly even if they laugh. A march is a big sacrifice. The social movements showed their solidarity. There will always be people who want to accuse us of things, they do not want us to resolve the poverty of the brothers who live in the TIPNS.

I want the Bolivian people to know that the real indigenous peoples are those who are patient, do not offend anyone, are staying in the coliseo (sports hall) and not undermining the people of La Paz. The march (by CONISUR) came here to negotiate with the Plurinational Assembly, not to protest or go on hunger strike.

NELLY ROMERO, VICE PRESIDENT OF CIDOB (lowland indigenous movement that represents 34 indigenous nations mainly in the Amazon)

[Selected quotes from speech at launch of book by Fundación Tierra on TIPNIS march, evening Friday 10 February 2012]

The 1990 march was historic, when the indigenous peoples of the lowlands marched for their dignity, their territory and respect for indigenous peoples. And now the Eighth march was again to demand the respect of indigenous peoples and defence of the TIPNIS.

In June 2011 we concluded in our Fourth Commission (councilof CIDOB) that we had presented our demands many times to local, regional and national level government but they were never answered. That discrimination, humiliation we have lived, mocked as always, we have shown courage; we have once again shown those who govern us that indigenous peoples also have the capacity to propose and to improve our lives.

It is not easy, as a woman, as a poor person, disabled and to be a leader, but here we are showing at the national and international level the extent of the humiliation by this President with an indigenous face, a heart of stone and a Yankee mentality in the way they repressed us on 25 September 2011, this will never be forgotten or erased thanks to this book.

Nothing has ever been given to us on a plate; it has always been with a lot of sacrifice that we have achieved things for our communities.

During the march we hoped that the cabinet the President has were really our brothers who should respond to our needs as native indigenous peoples in good faith. But during the march we saw how they patronised us, when a Minister who is meant to be of Justice with a patronising smile asked us “what do you want?”. We saw how they treated us. When in theory they came to dialogue with us they lied to the Bolivian population, they said we were intransigent, liars and blackmailers. In reality they were the real blackmailers.

They humiliated us by saying we were savages and illiterate. But there is not a worse illiterate person who does not want to read our constitution like has happened. The right to consultation is very clear in the constitution but what has happened? It is a sin to be indigenous. We have seen this, like what they did to us yesterday in Plaza Murillo (around 100 protestors opposite the Plurinational Assembly were removed from the main square in La Paz by police, they were protesting the approval of the law on consultation). We are realising that in Bolivia there are citizens with privileges and others who do not have their rights. First and second class citizens. Our congressmen are fifth class (CIDOB has several indigenous congressmen who have formed their own bloc in Parliament),

It is an embarrassment that first they approve the law 180 (banning the road) and now they want to annul it with the law on consultation. Seeing the police yesterday when I was in Plaza Murillo it reminded me of the injuries and grief of children, mothers and elderly people we suffered on 25 September. It is a sin for us to demand respect for the rights that are enshrined in law.

Once again we realise how they have used us native indigenous peoples to get into the positions they are in. Now they criticise us saying we are right wing, but the right wing is in the government, disguised. When they criticise the NGOs the President is ungrateful, he needs to remember he is where is he because of them.

We thank the Bolivian population for their unconditional moral and material support for the Eighth march. We will have a meeting of the National Commission on 22 and 23 February to organise the Ninth march. The rights of indigenous peoples are not to be discussed or negotiated, they are to be respected. It was a huge sacrifice to do the march; we will defend the TIPNIS with our lives.

This Ninth march will not only be in defence of the TIPNIS, it will be in defence of the rights of all of the Bolivian population that are been abused today. We thought it was just us the indigenous peoples who were discriminated against, but I think today all Bolivians are witnesses to this that the cocaleros are privileged, and where is Bolivian civil society as a whole? So we have said we will not just march for TIPNIS, it will also be for the 16 demands of the march.

I want to thank the media for their coverage because what did Canal 7 (state TV channel) say at 5.30pm on 25 September? It said it was just a simulation what happened in Chaparina. But that simulation is captured in this book and so I thank Fundación Tierra.

This discrimination, humiliation and mockery we have suffered means we need to resist and I think we have always resisted and never given up. This is why we will do the Ninth march even if it costs us our lives.

I would like to humbly thank you, I am Guaraní, with great pride and humility I would like to thank you for your unconditional support and now I call on you to do it again and join the Ninth march.


[Interview: 10 February 2012]

What do you think about President Morales enacting the law on consultation tonight?

Xavier Albó

Xavier Albó

We are now in a different phase. I think they are still trying to do something that they do not know how to get out of. They go this way, they go that way, and they get stopped and then go backwards. It is very difficult.

What one can doubt a lot is the sincerity of all this when they say they want to do a consultation because everything is aimed at building the road, that is the aim. They look for one way to do it and if that does not work they look for another. I think this is doomed to fail. And if it does work then it will be obvious it has been so dressed up that it will not work.

What the consultation would do is actually advance in the reglamento [regulation of the law banning the road]. The reglamento would answer what the consultation is about such as whether the area is “untouchable” or not. From what I see I don´t think it [the consultation] will work. Those who should be consulted will not be consulted.

I heard today someone say “the CIDOB need to be persuaded”, I replied “what do they need to be persuaded about, it is not them who need to be persuaded, it is you”.

The heart of all this apart from the contract and everything is that Evo is a cocalero. He has struggled for coca as a leader.  This is part of his life. If I ever thought Evo could hear me I would say “it is a wise person who can change their mind”.

There are people in the government who are very dear to me, I can´t mention their names, they are stuck in this.

Within Bolivia one of the victims of this process is the famous Unity Pact (Pacto de Unidad) that took a lot of effort to establish, the five main social movements. It had its problems from the time of writing the Constitution.

I heard an interview on Radio Erbol today with ex-Ambassador to the United Nations Pablo Solón about the importance of the discourse on Mother Earth, I agree with him.

I believe instead of there being a Ninth march (the Eighth march was between August and October 2011 against the road) there should be a Ninth symphony, a meeting of music, cultures and visions to reach an agreement to respect Mother Earth.

At this stage what do you think the solution is? There is a government determined to build the road, indigenous movements CIDOB and CONAMAQ who say they will march, and the cocaleros who demand the road? How can this be resolved?

Keep working and talking. Once someone said to me even as bad as the opposition are maybe the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party would need to lose some of its absolute 2/3rd majority (won in 2009 Presidential and Legislative elections) to make them dialogue more. Maybe this is the way forward. There is a film I can´t remember the name of that showed how those in power lose sight of what is happening. I have not lose hope, I feel prophetic in saying that.

Interviews with Xavier Albó in newspaper La Razón (Spanish): 12 February 20124 February 2012.

2 Responses to “Law to consult indigenous communities on TIPNIS road”
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  1. […] Dario Kenner of Bolivia Diary has a great post on this topic, including an interview with anthropologist Xavier Albo and translations of speeches […]

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