Daily Archives: February 20, 2012

Waking from a dream in Bolivia: The TIPNIS victory that never was

by Nicholas A. Fromherz

Caption: Highlands indigenous leaders prepare for a hunger strike in Cochabamba, showing their support for the lowland tribes fighting against the road through TIPNIS. Photo credit: Nicholas A. Fromherz

On October 24, 2011, Bolivians breathed a collective sigh of relief.  After a two-month struggle, culminating in massive protests in front of the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Evo Morales signed a bill declaring the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure (TIPNIS) “untouchable.”

The controversial road connecting Villa Tunari with San Ignacio de Moxos would not pass through the national park and protected indigenous territory.  The peoples’ cry to defend TIPNIS had been heard; “Evo Pueblo” had lived up to his moniker, even if only under extreme pressure, and had listened to his constituents.  He even said so himself:  “The TIPNIS issue is resolved,” he declared. “This is governing by obeying the people.”

Or so we thought.  Though many were probably skeptical from the start, many others—myself included—thought the case was closed.  The government would still likely construct a road between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos, but the new law dictated that it would skirt the park.  That, not prohibition of a road altogether, had always been the goal.

As the last few weeks have shown, however, the victory dance was premature.  On February 10, 2012, President Morales signed a new law bringing back from the dead the possibility a road through TIPNIS.  Three-and-a-half months after declaring the park “untouchable,” Morales signed a law calling for a “prior consultation” to determine whether the road should go forward as originally planned. How did this happen, and how can we make sense of it?

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