Bolivian Reserve Spared…for the Time Being

Erasmo Calzadilla

La marcha indigena para salvar el Tipnis. Foto: fmboliviatv

Now that I have a computer, and sometimes even a few odd moments connected to the Internet thanks to a borrowed account, I take advantage of every resonating political occurrence to learn about the hot spots and topics in this convulsed world.

Recently I’ve had my eye on that piece of the Bolivian Amazon known as TIPNIS (the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory), whose very existence is threatened by the construction of a roadway.  Related to this, I wanted to share some interesting things I’ve read and a few personal experiences.

A little trip around Cuba

Every year I take a little trip through the backcountry of my island, therefore I’m aware of the tremendous difference that a road can make.  I could note this for the first time in the mountainous Escambray region, in the center of the country, and I also witnessed it in the busiest areas of the Sierra Maestra mountain range.

A road begins to dry up the spirit of each intricate region that it crosses.  It’s not a question of folklore, the social structure of locals and their view on the world crumbles with every inch of asphalt that’s laid, not to mention the direct and indirect damage to the environment.

I’m not a radical environmentalist or a romantic champion of the mountains, but when the mythological body of the natives dies, it’s very difficult to halt commercial exploitation.  In many places in this country, I’ve seen with my own eyes how even local residents can become irresponsible predators of their own environment.

Headin’ for Bolivia

Without going too deeply into what was happening, the arrival of Evo Morales to power in 2006 encouraged me tremendously.  My hope and joy were such that I withstood the ordeal of seeing the sympathy exuded by this leader of the coca growers for Fidel Castro: “The great grandfather and teacher of us all” (not a direct quote).  But because of this whole issue of the TIPNIS reserve, I’ve learned a ton of things that I don’t like one bit.

It seems that though Evo paints himself as an indigenous leader — saying that he adores Pachamama worship and throws his hands up in horror with regard to imperialism — when the moment of truth arrives he remains attached to the development model that he and the movement he headed once fought. (1)

A road planned and defended by the government will achieve integration, that’s true, but it will be the integration of the major powers and the transnational corporations (logging, mining and oil, as well as the producers of soybeans and coca – both for export and national consumption).  In return, this will dis-integrate inter and intra community relations, thus triggering a social crisis and leading to cultural genocide.

It’s known that each thoroughfare built in the forest opens the door to a range of irresponsible spoilers, from poachers to settlers and large international companies – or South American ones (we don’t have to go that far).  The president denies anything like this will happen this time, but who’s guaranteed of this in the future? (2)
This is also very dangerous from the environmental point of view because TIPNIS, one of the most bio-diverse park reserves on the planet, is the niche of many endangered and/or endemic species; moreover, its extensive natural forests are bio-regulators at the planetary scale.

News reports have focused on TIPNIS and it seems that the problem is focused there, but what is the destruction of 850 acres for a road compared to the 750,000 acres of Amazon rainforest destroyed each year in that country alone? (3)  The problem is more serious and systemic than what the media is presenting.

Dumping all this on Evo and his movement would also be foolish, in addition to very unfair.  The dynamics of what is being done by the new “progressive” governments of the Americas must be analyzed to understand why they’re failing to break with colonialism – though (apparently) trying.  We know that behind this are financial commitments, but how did such commitments become established!?  Greed?  Ignorance?  Unavoidable economic pressures?  No article that I read attempted an analysis in this direction.

Cuba’s official position towards the problem

As expected, the Cuban official press assumes Morales’s position to be correct and repeated his initial words: blaming USAID, the opposition and the US government.

While international public opinion hit the roof in response to the obtuse position of the Bolivian government, at the University of Havana a degree in political science was recently conferred on Evo honoris causa in a solemn ceremony covered by our press.

During his stay in Cuba, no one raised the slightest question before the cameras regarding this thorny issue, nor have there been any expressions of solidarity with the residents of TIPNIS, even when the police violently suppressed their peaceful march to the capital.

Then — overnight — Morales suspended the construction of the road and expressed his disapproval of violence.  So what was done by the Cuban press, the voice of the officialdom?  It stuck its tongue where it best fits.

Tomorrow the show around the TIPNIS reserve will end, but what will continue is the ongoing and not-so-spectacular daily attacks against indigenous communities, against the jungle, and against justice and life in general.

It would be great to harness the energy and the concentration of gazes to deliver a blow against all those involved in deforestation.  It’s an opportune moment to also ponder to what point we’re co-responsible for deforestation and other environmental problems that plague the planet.


1 – The fight was not just verbal.  In the new Bolivian constitution promoted by Morales and his movement, they legitimized the concept of Buen Vivir (Good Living), from indigenous imagery and practice, replacing “sustainable development.”

2 – Gisella Mussini, one of the researchers who represented Brazil at the last Climate Conference in Buenos Aires, said 75 percent of devastated forest areas are located along roads.  The famous Trans-Amazonian highway, built in 1971, became the perfect platform for bulldozers, which have razed 17.5 percent of the Amazon according to the World Wildlife Fund.

3 – The figure of 750,000 acres deforested each year in Bolivia was apparently provided by that country’s foreign minister, David Choque Huanca.


One thought on “Bolivian Reserve Spared…for the Time Being

  • Inviting the indigenous protesters of Bolivia onto Mesa Redonda and giving them a fair hearing would certainly liven up that tedious programme.

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