Bolivia: indigenous opposition to Amazon highway fractures

With the Ninth Indigenous March, called to protest construction of a road through the Isiboro SĂ©cure National Park Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), now resting at Caranavi, in the Yungas region of La Paz department, a new blow to the movement was registered June 8 as leaders loyal to President Evo Morales affected a change of leadership in the main organization behind the march, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB). After an “extraordinary assembly” in Santa Cruz, 10 regional CIDOB leaders announced that they had voted to “disown” the organization’s president, Adolfo Chávez, for “violating” internal norms. They said a Grand National Assembly of Indigenous Peoples (GANPI) would be held in 30 days to chose a replacement for Chávez, the main leader supporting the Ninth March.

The announcement was issued by Rosendo Alpire, leader of the Central of Ethnic Peoples of Santa Cruz (CPESC), which hosted the assembly. Chávez responded that only the GANPI—bringing together leaders from throughout the Bolivian lowlands—could legitimately remove CIDOB’s president, and that he will not recognize the “illegal” decision of the extraordinary assembly. Johnny Cárdenas, president of Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), an NGO that supports the Ninth March, responded that the only violators of indigenous norms are those leaders “servile to the regime,” who have divided CIDOB at a critical moment. (OpiniĂłn, Cochabamba, June 13; La RazĂłn, La Paz, ABI, LainformaciĂłn, Bolpress, Erbol, June 8)

In evidence of yet further splits, CPESC secretary Ramiro Galindo, denounced Bertha Bejarano, leader of the Central of Mojeño Ethnic Peoples of Beni (CPEMB ), after the news broke that he had been arrested in Brazil on drug-trafficking charges.”To be a leader, captain or chieftain [cacique], we have to observe a moral, dignified and wise line, and this is not what Bertha Bejarano has done.” On the Ninth March, Adolfo Chávez, TIPNIS regional leader Fernando Vargas, and congressional Indigenous Bloc leader Pedro Nuni declined to comment on Bejarano’s arrest. Speaking of these three leaders, Galindo added: “They are the same… they are a few scoundrels that mislead our brothers. I do not understand how a person with a criminal record can be the applauded by these leaders.” It should be noted that Bejarano has not been tried or convicted yet. (FM Bolivia, June 12) Bejarano had denounced the removal of Chávez as “an act of the government.” (Servindi, June 11)

The Unitary Confederation of Campesino Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB) last month issued a statement saying all its affiliates were going on a “permanent state of emergency” in response to the “conspiratorial attitude of the opposition”—citing the Ninth March. (ABI, May 16)

Fernando Vargas and other road opponents met with Organization of American States secretary-general Miguel Insulza during the recent OAS summit in Cochabamba, calling upon him to “use his position” to assure that the rights of the indigenous peoples of the TIPNIS are not violated. (Latinamerica Press, June 7) Evo Morales, speaking at the summit, meanwhile had harsh criticism for the OAS human rights commission.

See our last posts on Bolivia and the struggle for the Amazon.

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