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Alliances Shift Over Contentious Bolivian Road Plan

Indigenous groups see a Bolivian government strategy to divide them ahead of a major march against a planned road.

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Critics accuse the government of dissembling in order to create the appearance that the upcoming “consulta previa” is indeed prior to any definitive action taken towards construction of the road, as required by international law and the Bolivian constitution. They note that while the loan agreement with Brazil to fund the road does consist of three “subcredits,” which may be separable, there is a single construction contract covering all three segments of the road, which cannot be unilaterally modified. The government says it's prepared to  pay any indemnity. Still, it’s unclear how or when (before or after the consulta) the construction contract and loan agreement will be modified.


Ironically, the  United Nations Human Rights Commission stated this week that cancellation of the OAS contract is not required for a legitimate consulta. But the consultaalso cannot be imposed unilaterally on sectors that are unwilling to be consulted (or, as in the case of the TIPNIS communities, who have pledged to resist its implementation). Under current polarized conditions, says the Commission, a legitimate consulta cannot take place.

While their own ranks are divided, lowland indigenous groups have formed a broad coalition with the highland indigenous federation CONAMAQ (National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu), urban social movements, international networks (including the Guaraní of Brazil, Argentina, and potentially Paraguay), and unions represented by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) to participate in the April 25 march. Government leaders charge that the inclusion of outside sectors “distorts” the purpose of the mobilization, but the march’s agenda is not only to protect the TIPNIS but to defend indigenous, environmental, and human rights in Bolivia and elsewhere.  


A key force in this emerging alliance is the COB, which has threatened a general strike next week to pressure the government over its annual wage demands. The COB membership has been  at odds with its new (more pro-government) leadership over the TIPNIS issue. Some wonder if the COB’s position on the TIPNIS might ultimately be swayed by a promise of substantial government concessions. Whether the COB will use the TIPNIS conflict, like the Guaraní, to leverage its own sectoral interests, or will see those interests as better served by reinforcing its alliance with lowland indigenous protesters, could be critical to the outcome of the TIPNIS controversy.



Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and a former NACLA Research Associate with a focus on Latin American social movements and progressive governments, especially Bolivia.

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