Ongoing protests by indigenous groups in Bolivia over a major road building project in the Amazon illustrate the tough choices facing President Evo Morales’ government as it tries to satisfy the competing demands of different indigenous sectors and to balance economic development with conservation.
A protest march of 5,000 people led by the Southern Indigenous Council (CONISUR) has just arrived in La Paz to demand that the government press ahead with long-standing plans to build a controversial road through the Isiboro-Secure reserve – known as Tipnis – in the Amazon rainforest.
The CONISUR marchers largely consist of Andean indigenous peoples who comprise President Morales’ core support base and are seeking to colonise the Tipnis reserve. They say that the road will bring economic benefits to local people and also allow them better access to food and medicine. The protestors briefly clashed with police yesterday as they tried to enter the main square in La Paz where the presidential palace is located.
The government had however cancelled the planned 190 mile road just last year after a rival indigenous organization, representing groups native to the Tipnis area, the Indigenous People Federation of Bolivia (CIDOB), had held their own protest march and demonstration. They had argued that the road would accelerate de-forestation of the Amazon and damage their way of life.