Indigenous people in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia are preparing to set out Aug. 15 on the long overland march to La Paz to protest plans for a trans-oceanic highway to be built with the backing of the Brazilian government. The march will depart from Trinidad, the capital of the northeastern department of Beni. The decision to launch the protest march follows a breakdown of talks between the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB) and the central government. The protest march seeks to protect some 15,000 people belonging to the Yuracaré, Trinitario and Chimán indigenous groups living in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), to be traversed by the road. The Brazilian firm OAS is about to begin construction on the stretch of the highway linking San Ignacio de Moxos, Beni, to Villa Tunari, in Cochabamba. The highway is to eventually continue to Arequipa, Peru. The indigenous peoples of the TIPNIS are prepared to use “bows and arrows” to halt the project, said CIDOB leader Pedro Moye.
The Aymara indigenous organization CONAMAQ also held a protest in La Paz in solidarity with the CIDOB march. CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe accused Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, who has been outspoken on environmental issues, of hypocrisy. “Morales isn’t a defender of Mother Earth,” he told the Associated Press. “His rhetoric is empty.”
The Morales government, for its part, accuses the protesters of bad faith. Presidency minister Carlos Romero told Cuba’s Prensa Latina, “When the government wants to dialogue, no mobilization is necessary.” Luis Sánchez, president of the Bolivian Highway Administration, said that no construction would be undertaken without consulting indigenous inhabitants of the impacted areas. (AP, IPS, Erbol, Aug. 14; PL, Aug. 12; La Razon, La Paz, Aug. 10)