Indigenous Groups Plan March Against Bolivian Government in Defense of the Environment

Members of the moxeño, yurakaré and chimané indigenous groups of Bolivia plan to march on August 15th in rejection of a decision made by Bolivia's president Evo Morales, to build a highway running northward from the Chapare region of Cochabamba (Bolivia's coca growing region) to San Ignacio de Moxos, in the northern state of Beni. The highway will destroy part of the TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park) where they live.

Isiboro Sécure National Park is located on the border between the Bolivian states of Cochabamba and Beni. It is home to 15% of known flora species in Bolivia. In addition, as an indigenous territory and national park the government is bound by a "prior consultation" law that requires the government to discuss its plans and reach an agreement with native peoples before any major project can begin within their territories. The inhabitants of the TIPNIS are not in agreement and have, for over a year, demanded the government consider an alternate route.

In 2008, Evo Morales declared "the right for no ecosystem, animal or plant species, river or lake, to be eliminated or exterminated due to the actions of human beings".

In September 2009 members of the moxeño and yurakaré peoples fought against illegal settlers who had invaded the TIPNIS, burned the forest, and were planting coca. The Police and Armed Forces were sent to intervene.

In May 2010 they met and passed a resolution to rotundly reject any plan for a highway through the national park or their territory.

In March 2011 the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights published a report indicating that native peoples were not being sufficiently consulted about projects in their territories. Denis Racicot, UNOHCHR Representative in Bolivia, stated, "we have followed the case of the TIPNIS, and at the moment consultation over the environment is insufficient."

In April 2011 they denounced illegal deforestation, settlements and coca plantations in some areas of the TIPNIS.

The government stance is that the road is necessary to ensure regional integration and development. In a televised speech during the first days of August 2011, President Evo Morales stated that anyone who is against the building of this highway is an enemy of the state and against development.

This resulted in a strong reaction from the inhabitants of the TIPNIS. They state the Isiboro Sécure is protected under not one, but two categories: as an indigenous territory which, per the 2009 constitution promoted by Morales makes it an autonomous region, and as a national park, also protected by the constitution. They proposed four optional routes to reach Beni, but the government has rejected their proposals.

The Multiethnic Indigenous Territory (TIM), a territory inhabited by trinitarios, ignacianos, movimas, chimanés, and yurakarés between San Ignacio de Moxos and the TIPNIS, has denounced that they were not consulted by the government about the construction of the road, stating that the licence to construct it is, therefore, illegal. The inhabitants of the TIPNIS have added their support to this demand. The indigenous groups have collected signatures, marched and protested, made presentations at forums and seminars, and held other campaigns over the past year.

Adrián Nogales, Director of the SERNAP (National Protected Areas Service) has also declared his rejection of the highway.

"We denounce, before Bolivia and the world that the Bolivian government is violating the Constitution, Convention 69 of the ILO, the Environmental Law, the Protected Areas Regimen, and other Bolivian laws and international commitments, and plans to build a road illegally through the TIPNIS, which would cause the greatest ecological destruction in Bolivia's history. This is an attempt against the life and culture of the moxeño, yurakaré and chimané peoples who live in in the TIPNIS. Likewise, it will result in the extinction of fauna and flora species that are unique on the planet. It will irreparably damage the sources of several fundamental rivers, lakes, and areas of scenic beauty. We ask President Evo Morales to be consistent with the speech he gave about defending Mother Earth," states their website

Evo Morales inaugurated construction of the highway from Villa Tunari, in the Chapare region of Cochabamba, to San Ignacio de Moxos on June 3, 2011.

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