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The Bolivian Amazon: the indigenous people deserve to live

Located in the Bolivian Amazon, the indigenous people of the Tipnis region are at the centre of a debate following the passing of a law for development that seeks to integrate the zone with the rest of the country.


amazonas mariposa pixabay libertadCarmen Esquivel


La Paz – The Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Sécure (Tipnis) is an area of one million 236 thousand hectares, located between the departments of Beni and Cochabamba, where the Chiman, Yuracaré and Mojeño Trinitario indigenous peoples live.

There are around 14 thousand people spread around 68 dispersed communities that make a living mainly from fishing, agriculture, livestock and harvesting.

Due to the density of the communities and the lack of roads, there is a lack of basic services such as drinking water, health and education, as we could see on a tour of the region.

River transport is the main means of transport, but travel can take hours or even days and rivers are not navigable at all times of the year.

Hence the decision of deputies in that area to promote a law to improve their living conditions, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly and announced by President Evo Morales during a mass protest in the city of Trinidad.

barco y barquero amazonas atardecer noche pixabayThe 266 legislation on the Protection and Integral Development of Tipnis, proposed by the indigenous parliamentarian Ramona Moye, was adopted following a conference in 2012 where 58 of the 68 communities advocated for its approval.

Under this legislation, the inviolability of Tipnis is eliminated, making it possible to build the San Ignacio de Moxos-Villa Tunari road, which will connect the department of Beni with Cochabamba and, therefore, with the rest of the country.

However, the legislation generated a profound controversy due to the rejection of some environmental organizations and, above all, of opposition politicians who manipulate the issue and present themselves as protectors of the environment.

One of them is the ex-head of state Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), according to which this legislation “would jeopardise the future of water and oxygen of the country”.

“Mesa has double standards because he claims to be a defender of the indigenous people, when as a leader and ally of neoliberal governments he did nothing in favour of these regions,” said the leader of the indigenous peoples of Santa Cruz, Jacinto Murua.

Parliamentarians of the opposition Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity) filed two appeals of unconstitutionality against the law and demanded to stop its application.

amazonas rio pixabayFor deputy and analyst Víctor Gutiérrez, the opposition has not bothered to investigate or study seriously the problem around Tipnis, because their only interest is to close ranks against the government, regardless of whether or not they have good reason.

In this region, the rate of infant and maternal mortality is high, especially due to an excessive incidence of acute respiratory infections and because most births take place at home.

Doctors of the Mi Salud program that travel to that territory through the rivers, indicate a greater prevelence of diseases such as leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, anemia, parasitosis and acute diarrhoea associated to the consumption of contaminated water of the tributaries.

Although there are treatments to cure leishmaniasis, Tipnis still uses practices such as the use of hot irons to try to kill the vector and close the wound.

This is the situation which led to the debate and approval of the new law in the Legislative Assembly.

In analysing the regulations, we must start from the fact that it arises from the indigenous people of the Tipnis and not from any ministerial or parliamentary entity.

AMAZOna cuentos fantasia pixabayAnother aspect to be taken into account is that the idea of building the road dates back many years, since the possibility of carrying out this work was already under consideration from the government of Hernán Siles Suazo (1982-1985).

At the center of the controversy is also the issue of inviolability, contemplated in Law 180, which prohibits the execution of any project in that area.

Legislation 266 on Tipnis, promulgated by President Evo Morales, aims at the protection, integral and sustainable development of Tipnis, in harmony with the rights of Mother Earth.

(Translated by Shanika Whight – – Photos Pixabay

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