October 20, 2011

TIPNIS Arrives in La Paz

MABB © ®

Source of the photo.

The political activity is starting to make headlines again in Bolivia. The Morales government has been entangled in a confrontation with a group of indigenous people over the construction of a road that would cut right through their territory. What makes the problem even more complicated is that the territory is a natural reserve called, by its accronym, simply TIPNIS (in English is roughly translated to Isiboro Serure Indigenous Territory National Park). The territory lies between two rivers with the names Isiboro and Secure. Here is the wikipedia article in English and here, what seems to be the website of a group of people in opposition to the government in Spanish, but it has some useful information on the park itself.

The conflict began with the government deciding to go ahead with the construction of the road, which would cut through the national park. One problem is that the park was declared indigenous territory and thus it (at least in the heads of the indigenous who live there) belongs to the indigenous who live there. Another problem is that the government itself was the one who promoted this movement towards indigenous territories. Obviously, not thinking enough on what that would mean. An additional problem was that the indigenous felt they were not consulted on the decision, since there is a process in such cases. At least, there is one when it comes to natural resources.

So, in open disagreement with the government and in a confrontational strategy, the indigenous groups decided to march from Trinidad (the capital of the Beni department) to La Paz (the seat of government); a march that would last 66 days and would cover more than 600 kilometers. Here in Erbol there is a chronology of the march in Spanish.

Yesterday, Wednesday, October 19, at 1500 hours the march arrived at the doors of the government building. This was surprising because generally these types of marches are not allowed to reach the government palace. But, they did, and after that they proceeded to concentrate in the traditional place, the San Francisco plaza, which is some minutes walk from the government palace.

The march was received by the paceno population with enthusiasm and significant support. The video above, sourced from the Youtube channel from Boliviaenvideos, shows how the people lined up along the streets to show their support for the march. The Boliviaenvideos channel also has the 15 minute video of the main speech in San Francisco. But, it is all in Spanish.

But, what is the significance of all this? In my opinion, the government is being confronted with the realities of government now. In contrast to the times when Evo Morales was a maverick union leader who struggled against governments from the opposition, now the government of Morales has to govern, and that is the price it is paying. These are just the realities of government. In every decision a government makes, there are many who are in favor and there are many who are against. The problem is that the decisions a government takes almost always directly affects the lives of the people. In many cases, there are really winners and losers.

The significance for the government is that, as we have just seen, this problem with the TIPNIS group, has turned out to be a defeat in the ballot box. Arguably, this conflict has been the most prominent cause Evo Morales, who up to now had won every election, lost in last sunday's judicial elections. In addition to that, the loss of legitimacy in the eyes of many is a problem that has slowly been growing. The government came to power using, among many, a discourse in favor of "taking care of the mother earth". What does this conflict show, is its disregard for the mother earth. That is, regardless of whether the road is necessary for the development of the country or for the incorporation of many villages along the way or to create employment along its path, the message sent is that the government does not care about mother earth and it is selling out its principles.

This is a real dilemma for the Morales government. I can hardly think of a way in which the government can come out winning or even even from this conflict.