Bolivia: government appeals to Amazon peoples not to march for autonomy

Bolivia's Minister of Autonomy, Carlos Romero, June 21 appealed to the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Oriente of Bolivia (CIDOB) to call off its cross-country march for territorial autonomy, to return to the dialogue table, and to "shake off" the interference of foreign-backed NGOs. CIDOB broke off talks with the government last week, and on the 21st launched a march from Trinidad, capital of the Amazonian department of Beni, to La Paz. CIDOB is demanding that the government accept its broader definition of indigenous rights than that in the new national autonomy law.

CIDOB asserts that indigenous autonomy includes the authority to modify departmental borders and the right to instate laws by traditional custom (usos y costumbres), not only by referendum as the law stipulates. The organization is also demanding the recuperation of alienated indigenous lands.

"The state has a debt to indigenous peoples," Romero acknowledged, "but we feel there are external actors who are intervening that seek to cause the social movements to confront the government... The indigenous organizations must begin to shake off these types of external meddling..." (Prensa Latina, ABI, June 21)

Relations between Bolivia and the US are still tense two years after the Evo Morales government expelled Washington's ambassador. In early June, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca announced "99% progress" in talks to restore full diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the US. But at the same time, President Morales threatened to kick out USAID. At the inauguration of a congress of coca growers in Cochabamba Jun. 5, Morales complained that the agency is financing NGOs that actively oppose the government. "If USAID continues working in this way, I will not hesitate to expel them because we have dignity and sovereignty, and we are not going to allow any interference," Morales said. (IPS, June 16)

Bolivia's autonomy law was passed May 24. It was immediately protested by the conservative governors of eastern Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija departments, who had been re-elected on April 4. The governors—