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 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.