Nicholas Fromherz to guest post on the Bolivia TIPNIS debate

by Rhodri C. Williams

Land issues in Bolivia made their debut on TN last Fall, when a dispute over President Evo Morales’ plan to run a road straight through the center of the the  Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS in Spanish) came to light. Commentators fastened on the seeming irony of Bolivia’s first emphatically indigenous head of state’s decision to compromise the integrity of indigenous land without even observing the constitutional necessity of prior consultation. At the time, I contrasted the problem of lack of democratic accountability in simultaneous land riots in China with the problem of overreliance on majority rule in Bolivia:

The rationale for recognizing the territories of indigenous peoples is typically the need to protect them – as minorities – from the effects of democratic decision-making processes they can never win. This is what makes both the failure to consult with the affected communities in advance and the proposal for a referendum now more than dubious. Even at the regional level, a majority can surely be found that would prefer commerce with Brazil to the less tangible benefits of living next to some of the world’s last functioning indigenous societies. At the national level, support for the road may be even stronger. Mr. Morales may be indigenous, but he is also an elected politician.

 As subsequent analysis would in fact demonstrate, “indigenous peoples” are no more a monolithic category in Bolivia than minority groups are anywhere, and many of the key backers of the road were also indigenous groups with diverging economic agendas and political links to the President. Accordingly, even as protesters forced the government to negotiations by October, the outcome of the issue remained uncertain. At that point, I quoted an interesting commentary in Foreign Affairs chronicling the “tremendous damage” the mishandling of the TIPNIS issue had done to President Morales’ credibility. Unbeknownst to me, the author, Nicholas Fromherz, was a fellow blogger at South American Law & Policy. When Nicholas later picked up on a TN piece on Colombia, I began to realize how much good, locally informed analysis is out there on the TIPNIS controversy.

As a result, I am very grateful to Nicholas for agreeing to post on TN with an update on TIPNIS that will pull together some of the threads from the various media and blogosphere sources Nicholas covers. To update the story a little since TN’s last coverage, South American Law has chronicled the progress of the protesters, their arrival in La Paz, Morales’ initial acquiescence to their demands, and the adoption of a bill in late October quashing the road project. However, by December proponents of the road had organized, leading to legislative reconsideration of the TIPNIS bill and a decision by Morales to revisit the issue in consultation with all affected parties. Nicholas also provided an analysis of the requirement to consult in the Bolivian Constitution, linking it with broader research he is undertaking on whether resettlement standards should require actors to merely seek or actually secure informed consent.UPDATE: Please see Nicholas’ guest-posting here.

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One response to “Nicholas Fromherz to guest post on the Bolivia TIPNIS debate

  1. Thanks for the opportunity and kind introduction. I’m really looking forward to sharing some thoughts and, hopefully, fresh information with your readers.

    As a bit of a teaser, I had a great conversation this morning with a sociology professor here in Cochabamba. His read of the situation, which I’ll be sure to incorporate, highlights the importance of cultural and historical factors in understanding how this all came to pass. More soon . . . . Thanks again!

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