Bolivia: judicial crisis over Amazon road project

Bolivia’s Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (TCP), the nation’s highest court, has called as a body for a sitting justice to resign following his statements accusing the executive branch of interfering in a case concerning prior consultation with indigenous peoples on the disputed highway to be built through the Isiboro Sécure National Park Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). TCP president Ruddy Flores issued the statement calling for resignation of magistrate Gualberto Cusi, a traditional Aymara leader from Ingavi province, La Paz department. The TCP officially refuted statements by Cusi that Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllón and ruling-party lawmaker Héctor Arce had put pressure on the court. The statement warned that charges could be brought against Cusi over his “defamations.” (Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Aug. 15; La Razón, La Paz, Los Tiempos, Aug. 14; Gualberto Cusi Mamani website)

The TCP ruled July 14 that the indigenous inhabitants of the TIPNIS must be consulted before the road project can move ahead—but failed to state definitively whether Law 22, passed earlier this year to facilitate the consultation, provided sufficient protocols. The ruling was hailed by the government, but decried by opponents of the road project, who say Law 22 does not meet standards for a free and legitimate consultation. (La Razón, July 14)

Cusi also faced calls for his resignation from conservative sectors in Bolivia earlier this year, after he admitted “reading” coca leaves to help him make decisions. Cusi told a TV interviewer that he used the traditional divination technique to help guide his judgement, but denied that he let the readings dictate his rulings. Cusi become a member of Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal last year when judges were controversially elected by public vote for the first time. “I think justice has hit rock-bottom, it is shameful and he should quit,” opposition congressman Roy Moroni told El Deber newspaper in response to Cusi’s admission. (BBC News, March 15)

The TIPNIS issue continues to divide Bolivia’s indigenous movement. On July 31, the National Commission of the Indigenous Confederation of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB) announced that the organization’s former director Adolfo Chávez, a leading opponent of the road project who was removed earlier this year, has now been expelled from CIDOB entirely, along with five other former leaders. The National Commission accused Chávez of corruption and physical attacks on his opponents, and called upon the public prosecutor, the Fiscal General, to open an investigation. (Cambio, La Paz, AVN, July 31)