Bolivia: Cochabamba social summit highlights contradictions

The Bolivian government is currently studying a bill to ban the sale of land to foreigners, Vice Minister of Land Edgar Apaza said Jan. 8. The proposal came from a social summit held in Cochabamba last month, which brought together lawmakers and representatives of popular movements. Apaza endorsed the proposed law, which would include penalties for those who attempt to disguise land ownership to skirt the ban. He stressed that Bolivia is obliged to pass such a law by Article 396 of the new constitution, which denies the acquisition of national lands by foreigners. Many of the best lands in the east and south of the country are in the hands of Brazilians and Argentines. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 7)

The meeting, officially the Encuentro Plurinacional, was held in Cochabamba from Dec. 12-14, “to deepen the process of change,” and is to resume this month in La Paz. While traditionally dissident organizations such as the Aymara federation CONAMAQ participated, Bolivia’s labor federation, COB, boycotted, as did the mineworkers’ union, FSTMB. The lowland indigenous organization, CIDOB, held its own parallel gathering in Santa Cruz to express dissent from government policies. (FM Bolivia, Jan. 8; Bolivia Information Forum, Dec. 21)

CIDOB’s principle grievance—opposition to a road through the TIPNIS indigenous territory—was addressed at the Cochabamba meeting. A cross-country march by lowland residents in favor the road project was timed to arrive in Cochabamba for the Encuentro, before continuing on to La Paz. The pro-road march, organized by the Indigenous Council of the South (CONISUR), left the jungle city of Trinidad on Nov. 15, and was met with a rally in its support in the central square of Cochabamba. News accounts variously refered to it as a “march” and a “caravan,” implying it may have had more assistance from accompanying vehicles than CIDOB’s anti-road march last year had—and certainly met with less interference from police and government supporters. CONISUR marchers demanded the government repeal Law 180, passed in the wake of the CIDOB march, which suspended construction of the controversial road. (El Mundo, La Paz, Jan. 8; Prensa Latina, Dec. 31)

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