Second march against TIPNIS road nears La Paz

11 June 2012

Dario Kenner, La Paz

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The second march against the TIPNIS road project is currently in Caranavi, around 200 km from La Paz. The marchers, who represent indigenous movements from the TIPNIS, the Amazon and Andean highlands, set off at the end of April and have already covered around 400km. Movements aligned with the Evo Morales governments such as the coca growers (cocaleros) had said they would block the march from entering Caranavi but were unsuccessful, as local residents welcomed the marchers. While the context has changed since the first march last year, the main demand remains the same – that a road does not go through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory.

The marchers invited President Evo Morales and his government to dialogue on 25 May in Chaparina (on the 8 month anniversary of the police repression of the first anti-road march near to Chaparina) but Minister of Government Carlos Romero said the government would not dialogue under the condition the law to consult TIPNIS communities on the road  be repealed, and that many of the demands had already been resolved.

He also pointed out the lack of consistency between different spokespersons of the march on the circumstances required to begin a dialogue. A dialogue could start in Caranavi, but again Minister Romero said there must be clarity on the marchers’ conditions.

(As they neared Chaparina a marcher gave birth to twins. You can read her amazing story here in Spanish).

First march in defence of the TIPNIS, October 2011 (credit: Dario Kenner)

First march in defence of the TIPNIS, October 2011 (credit: Dario Kenner)

I have heard through the grapevine that the state will begin the consultation process in the TIPNIS in early July. Whether the process will actually start is open to question given indigenous leaders from the TIPNIS who oppose the road say they will not allow it to go ahead. The controversy over this consultation continues.

The government has been using adverts on the radio and TV for months saying the consultation process is “democratic and applies the right of indigenous peoples to prior consultation enshrined in the Constitution”. It is ironic because the first anti-road march began because the Morales government did not comply with its obligation to carry out a prior consultation with TIPNIS communities on whether they want a road through their territory. The road is a single project and therefore once work began at both ends the right to prior consultation was violated despite road building not starting inside the TIPNIS (background). The road contract with Brazilian company OAS was cancelled in April.

Another condition of a prior consultation is that it has to be in good faith, a requirement that raises questions given the Morales government has already said it wants to build the road (June 2011) and continues to say this. TIPNIS leaders also claim the government has been giving out “presents” to communities inside the TIPNIS such as boat motors and electricity generators.

In March I saw a copy of the consultation procedure the government is working on for the TIPNIS. If the consultation the government wants to do in July is based on this document then the way the question is framed for the indigenous communities is deliberately confusing to mix up the issues of whether the area is “untouchable” (ie. if indigenous communities can have management plans to use their environment) and if a road should be built.

Hunting in the TIPNIS (credit: CIDOB)

Hunting in the TIPNIS (credit: CIDOB)

Last week delegations from pro-road groups such as CONISUR and the second anti-road march met with representatives of the Organization of American States during the OAS meeting in Cochabamba, but there were no concrete outcomes from these meetings.

Even though this second anti-road march has received a lot less coverage nationally and internationally this will probably change as it gets closer to La Paz. The main issue occupying the country since April were the strikes by health workers but they ended on 19 May when they reached an agreement with the government. The march (reported to be around 700 people) could arrive in La Paz in the next two weeks but it is difficult to predict as it depends on weather conditions and the small chance of a dialogue with the government.

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Further reading

Detailed background on TIPNIS issue.

Interview with a spokesperson of the march explains why they are marching again.

Interviews from February with pro-road and anti-road groups.

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