BOLIVIA – President Evo Morales is meeting this week with indigenous Amazon basin lowland residents from Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) to discuss the plans for a controversial highway that would run through their homeland, compromising both themselves and the fragile ecosystem there.
Protestors have set up in a university gymnasium, which is being used as a temporary accommodation for around 1,000 natives who walked over the course of two months from Trinidad to La Paz to protest a highway through their ancestral homeland.
Observers with the Organization of American States and the Union of South American were also present at the meeting. The discussions are aimed at asking the 33,000, predominantly indigenous, residents if they want a highway that would cut through their reserve.
The project made headlines in June when escalating tensions boiled over into a violent six-day riot. This led the Bolivian government to acknowledge they had committed “several errors” in the project and prompted the talks.
Talks will last for a month with results expected in two months, officials said. Morales’ government is eager to carry out the highway project, which is being funded with US$ 332 million by Brazil. It is to link with a network of highways linking the landlocked country to both the Pacific through Chile and the Atlantic through Brazil.
Initial suggestions to divert the highway around the reserve have been deemed too expensive and pressure to call of the project entirely has been progressively escalating since last year.
A major concern about the impact of the road is its potential to accelerate deforestation, which has been significant since waves of colonization began arriving to TIPNIS area in the 1970s. A study of the project by the Program for Strategic Investigation in Bolivia (PIEB) concluded that the road would markedly accelerate deforestation in the park, leaving up to 64% of TIPNIS deforested by 2030.
A technical report submitted by the Bolivian Highway Administration (ABC) established that the direct deforestation caused by the road itself would only be 0.03%. Similarly, President Morales has spoken of a 180-hectare deforestation, an area equivalent to a rectangle 180 km long and 10 m wide.
According to the Associated Press, Amazon natives fear that landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people from the Andes mountains, Bolivia’s main indigenous groups and Morales supporters, would use the road to flood into the area and colonize their land.