Elections Revive Bolivia’s Controversial TIPNIS Highway Plan

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

As Bolivia’s election campaign moves into full swing ahead of the scheduled October 12 vote, President Evo Morales’s controversial plan to build a highway linking the country’s Andean and Amazonian regions has resurfaced. Last week, Senator Julio Salazar of the ruling MAS (Movement Towards

Socialism) party confirmed that the on-again, off-again road  TIPNIS march arrives in La Paz, October 2011 (La Razón; used with permission).that would bisect the TIPNIS indigenous territory and national park is indeed slated for construction between 2015 and 2020, according to the party’s recent electoral manifesto—optimistically entitled “Juntos Vamos Bien Para Vivir Bien” (“Working Together To Live Well”).

The announcement adds a new twist to the ongoing TIPNIS saga—the most divisive conflict of Morales’s nine-year tenure (see Emily Achtenberg in NACLA’s Summer 2013 Report)—as Morales seeks his third presidential term.  Pitting pro-road campesino and cocalero sectors (the traditional bastions of MAS support) against lowland indigenous groups seeking to defend their ancestral lands, the conflict has ruptured the alliance among five national social movements that originally brought Morales to power in 2005. It has profoundly altered Bolivia’s political landscape, while exposing the challenges and contradictions of protecting indigenous and environmental rights in an extractive, developmentalist economy that prioritizes territorial integration.

Despite these broad ramifications, the TIPNIS highway itself has not been a prominent feature of the electoral campaign to date. In April 2013, Morales announced that the road would be “on hold” until extreme poverty in the TIPNIS is eliminated, an anticipated three-year strategy that appeared to defuse the conflict until after the election. Subsequently, both Morales and Vice President Alvaro García Linera publicly acknowledged their misgivings about the political viability (but not the geopolitical merits) of the highway project, and the government’s flawed process for community consultation.



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