By Ricardo Herrera Farell
Conflicting data and uncertainty are the trademarks of the community consultation in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, or TIPNIS. The process, which began July 29 and ends Dec. 7, will determine whether a 200-kilometer (124-mile) road will be built connecting Villa Tunari in the central department of Cochabamba, and San Ignacio de Moxos, in the northeast department of Beni.
While government officials say 44 of 69 communities there approve of the construction through the heart of TIPNIS and disagree with the notion of the park’s intangibility, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia, or CIDOB, which comprises the country’s Amazonian communities, insists that 32 of those groups weren’t consulted and opposed the construction, according to teams CIDOB sent out to verify the controversial consultation.
Prior consultation of TIPNIS inhabitants is established by Law 222, which the Legislative Assembly approved earlier this year thanks to ruling party’s majority of seats and which was proposed by the Indigenous Council of the South, or CONISUR, which represents more than a dozen of communities in the region in question. The law was meant to counterbalance Law 180, which establishes the inviolability of TIPNIS. The latter was the main achievement of an October 2011 march from Trinidad, Beni’s capital, to the city of La Paz, by approximately 700 indigenous people who were part of CIDOB and which the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, or CONAMAQ, supported.
Since 1990, the CIDOB has organized marches demanding social and territorial claims of indigenous peoples from eastern Bolivia. In April, the organization held its ninth march, this time to repeal Law 222. The group traveled the usual route, but had to face not only rejection and impediments from the government, but also difficult weather, disorganization and the death of four people in an accident. On July 11, after two weeks in La Paz during which the path to the government palace was blocked to them, and President Evo Morales refused to see them, the indigenous group retracted and took on a new challenge, this time within the nature reserve itself.
“Just as in the 9th march the government impeded our brothers from dialogue and [refused to] listen to their demands, the communities of TIPNIS are rejecting the consultation and won’t let it happen,” CIDOB president Adolfo Chávez told Latinamerica Press.
Judge and jury
The Ministry of Public Works, Services, and Housing is conducting the consultation through 15 mobile teams tasked with consulting the more than 12,000 indigenous people living on the Native Community Lands, asking whether they want the region to be intangible and if they agree to the third stretch of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway that would cut through the center of the reserve.
The role of the ministry as judge and jury has been questioned by representatives of the indigenous population in eastern Bolivia.
“There are a lot of irregularities in the consultation. They ask two or three families paid by the government and then that shows up as if they were a whole community. Moreover, there are ghost communities registered, like the community of Cachuela, which doesn’t exist, it’s barely a ranch,” Chávez said.
It’s important to note that CIDOB has always asserted there are only 64 communities in TIPNIS. Yet in the protocol document for the consultation, 69 communities are officially registered.
TIPNIS is represented by four groups, called sub centrals: TIPNIS, Sécure Alto, Sécure Bajo and CONISUR, and each has established its own alliances and projects, which has jeopardized efforts to stop the advancement of settlers — primarily coca growers who in recent years encroached on land in the region beyond the 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of the designated Polígono Siete, the area for settlement determined by the land reorganization that concluded in 2009. The indigenous people who oppose the new highway believe those settlers will be the project’s primary beneficiaries.
Still, Sub Central Sécure Alto and CONISUR believe the road will give inhabitants better access to social services, and they have become the government’s principle allies, which officials have rewarded with outboard motors, electric generators and communication systems. It’s an attitude that the Bolivian Episcopal Conference criticized in its statement “Charity and Truth,” published Sept. 17, believing it divides the region’s communities more and doesn’t advance straightforward dialogue toward a reasonable outcome for the conflict.
“We have followed with attention and concern the consultation in TIPNIS, relying on the eyes of pastoral ministers working in the region, and with the opinion of some delegates who visited and made contact with representatives of the different communities. The primary concern they expressed is the division among the inhabitants, between those who support the consultation and those who resist it,” the declaration read. “That division was fomented by ‘gifts’ or ‘recognition’ for the communities that support the consultation, or the establishment of parallel leadership in the indigenous organizations, a fact that increasingly threatens the harmony and peaceful coexistence of these communities. This situation challenges us as pastors called to preach and protect unity and help avoid any division.”
Carlos Fabricano, president of the Sub Central Sécure Alto, said, “The participation has been successful, we’ve completed 60 percent of the consultation to now, and 44 communities have said yes to the highway. CIDOB is falsifying facts and misinforming people. The only places where the teams weren’t allowed in were communities like Gundonovia, where some leaders are entrenched and speak on behalf of the entire community.”
But added to the inexactitude of the data and the clear division that the consultation generates is a proposal by Morales’s administration that promises to muddy the already murky waters over the issue: the possible relocation of residents from some communities that rejected the presence of the surveyors to Trinidad so they can be queried there.
“That would be a violation of indigenous peoples’ rights and a violation of international conventions in which Bolivia participates, but fundamentally it would be against Law 222 itself, which they passed and establishes that the consultation will be conducted in situ in the communities of three nations: the Chimanes, Yuracare and Moxo people of Trinidad,” said Chávez, adding with irony, “They would have to create another law to make up for the mistake.”