Bolivia to open protected areas to oil industry?
On June 5, the Governing Counil of Ayllus of Cochabamba, a coordinating body of traditional indigenous authorities, met in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to denounce what they charged are plans by Vice President Álvaro García Linera to open the country's protected areas to oil and mineral interests. The statement said the government is preparing "new incentives for companies to begin intense exploration in oil areas that are superimposed on the national parks and on our ancestral territories and titled TCOs," or Original Communal Lands.
The meeting came after the independent Bolivian Center of Documentation and Information (CEDIB) issued a report naming 27 protected areas it said the government has opened to oil or gas development in the rainforest east of the country. The report charged that under President Evo Morales, the area of Bolivia under concession to hydrocarbon interests has grown from 2.8 million hectares in 2007 to 24 million in 2012. The report quoted a comment by García Linera to an international conference on investment in Santa Cruz in May implying that ecological protection is part of an imperialist conspiracy: "A good quantity of this strip where the gas and petroleum is was declared parks in neoliberal times, curiously; this was done to safeguard these resources for people from abroad, from the north, from above..." (CEDIB, Economia Bolivia, June 6; Economia Bolivia, May 23; Erbol, May 6)
CEDIB also noted the irony that the controversy comes just as García Linera was flying to New York to be a featured speaker at the Left Forum, where he presented his new book, The Geopolitics of the Amazon. The contradiction was also noted by certain dissident-left factions at the annual affair, who protested García Linera's headlining presence.
On May 1, President Morales expelled the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from Bolivia for allegedly fomenting divisions within the country's social movements in order to destabilize his government. Announcing the move at a May Day rally in La Paz's central Murillo Plaza, Morales said, "Today we will only nationalize...the dignity of the Bolivian people." The announcement came just days after Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Morales can run for a third presidential term in 2014, despite a two-term limit imposed by the new constitution. Morales argued that his first term, before the new charter was drafted, should not count. (NACLA Rebel Currents blog, May 11; Hispanically Speaking News, May 2)