Bolivia: New Road Contract Ramps Up Stakes in TIPNIS Conflict

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

On October 6, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a new construction contract for the first segment of a controversial highway that would bisect the TIPNIS Indigenous Territory and National Park, ramping up the stakes in the conflict as indigenous resistance and community divisions continue.

The contract covers the 28-mile road segment leading to the park’s southern border, one of three sections comprising the original highway contract with Brazilian company OAS (see map).  Construction on this segment was halted last April when Morales revoked the entire contract, leading Brazil to withdraw its $332 million loan covering 80% of the $415 million project.

While the cancellation was officially justified on the grounds of construction delays and other irregularities, it also lent an image of  legitimacy to the government’s community consultation process, which is required (by the Bolivian constitution and international law) to take place prior to any decision or action advancing the road. The consultation process, which began last July and is scheduled to end December 7, covers only the middle portion of the road that would divide the indigenous territory.

The new $32.5 million contract was awarded without a competitive solicitation to EBC, a state-owned contractor, and AMVI, a community enterprise owned by three cocalero union federations. Funding will be provided from the federal Treasury.

According to the government, the no-bid contract was justified by the need to complete OAS’s unfinished work before the rainy season and by AMVI’s unique experience with regional construction issues. For lowland indigenous groups who oppose the road, it’s just another example of government support for the pro-road cocalero sector (as well as a conflict of interest for Morales, who remains as president of the cocalero union federations).

The new contract ups the ante in the TIPNIS conflict as indigenous resistance, to both the consultation process and its apparent results, continues. The government insists that it has consulted 48 of 69 communities in the TIPNIS, with 47 approving the road, providing a strong two-thirds mandate. TIPNIS leaders dispute these results, citing their own surveys showing that 52 communities reject both the road and the consulta. Ongoing resistance, including river blockades centered in the community of Gundonovia, has paralyzed the consulta in the park’s northeast section. In San Ramoncito, located near the center of the park, a consulta brigade arriving by helicopter was prevented from entering the community.

As the consulta lurches towards its official deadline, the government has struggled with different end-game strategies for dealing with the resistance. Earlier this month, Morales announced that it was “no longer important” to complete the consulta, since the government’s 2/3 mandate would be “sufficient.” Senate president Gabriela Montaño concurred that the government can’t force dissenting communities to be consulted.

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