Bolivia: A Week At the Barricades

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

It’s been a busy week in Bolivia, with major mobilizations by indigenous peoples in the Amazon, civic groups in Potosí, and neighborhood organizations in El Alto. Despite the government’s allegations of conspiracy, what’s striking about these protests is the diversity of their protagonists and agendas, and the shifting alignment of interests coalescing around each set of issues.

An estimated 1,000 indigenous residents of the TIPNIS reserve, together with supporters from the lowlands indigenous federation CIDOB and the highlands indigenous group CONAMAQ, began the 300+ mile trek from Trinidad to La Paz to protest the government’s plan to build a highway through their territory. Many arrived to the march by canoe TIPNIS march participants. Credit: La Razónor on foot. Participants include veterans of the historic 1990 March for Dignity and Territory along the same route, as well as a new generation of younger activists—such as Anahí Dignidad Lider, born 21 years ago during the march and bearing its name.

A number of groups that stand to benefit from the road formally registered their support for it this week, including the Chapare cocalero federations, Cochabamba factory workers, small business groups, and municipal associations, and elected officials of Via Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos at both ends of the route. But some allegiances were surprising. A faction of the Yuracarés, one of the three major indigenous groups in the park, endorsed the road, while the Beni Departmental Workers’ Central and the Beni Civic Committee, which vigorously opposed indigenous land titling in 2008, sided with the protesters.

In a significant development, the national peasant confederation CSUTCB, which has consistently backed the government in its recent conflicts with popular movements (including the Gasolinazo), announced its opposition to the TIPNIS route. Still, some CSUTCB cocalero leaders who support the road have threatened to organize counter-mobilizations to block the march along the way. (The cocalero federations are also members of the CSUTCB.)

Some government officials suggested this week that alternative routes bypassing the park may be considered. Others maintained that “construction of the highway will save the park,” by establishing a stronger state presence to deter illegal loggers and narcotraffickers. The government has called on the protesters to dialogue, and insists that the march is unnecessary. The protesters say they will meet in La Paz or along the route, but only with President Evo Morales.

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