Bolivia: government divided on Amazon road project

Bolivia's Vice-Minister of Government Alfredo Rada was asked by a reporter from TV show "Levántate Bolivia" June 25 how he viewed the controversial highway that would cut through the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in light of Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the dangers of climate change. Implicitly referencing the repression of protests against the highway in 2011, which resulted in suspension of the project, Rada responded: "At the time I considered, and still consider, that TIPNIS has been one of the errors of the government." (ANF, June 25; ENS, June 18) Just weeks earlier, President Evo Morales made a statement indicating that the highway project would be revived. At a ceremony marking the 45th anniversary of founding of Villa Tunari municipality, Cochabamba, which would be a hub on the new highway, Morales said: "This road, compañeros, will be realized." Alluding to the neighboring jungle department of Beni as a stronghold of the right-wing opposition, he added: "First, it will liberate Beni. Second, it will bring greater integration between the departments, we are convinced of this." He claimed the project has the support of the governments of Cochabamba and Beni departments, both now controlled by Morales' ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). (La Razón, June 25)

In another move signalling a development thrust into Bolivia's Amazon basin, on May 20 Morales issued Supreme Decree 2366, authorizing hydrocarbon exploitation in the country's national parks and other protected areas. The decree stipulates that impact studies must be preformed for the development projects, and that 1% of revenues from the exploitation be slated for administration of the protected areas. (La Razón, May 26) In fact, 11 of Bolivia’s 22 protected areas are overlapped by existing gas and oil concessions to transnationals including Brazil's Petrobras, Spain's Repsol, and France's Total. Since the "nationalization" of hydrocarbons in 2006, these companies have operated through joint ventures with YPFB, the state energy company. Lands opened to gas and oil companies has vastly expanded under Morales—up from 7.2 million acres in 2007 to 59.3 million in 2012. But activity in the protected areas has been largely stalled due to the lack of a regulatory framework for extraction. (NACLA via UDW, June 23)