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March across Bolivia: putting land rights to the test

October 2011

Thousands of indigenous people are marching 526km across Bolivia from the Amazon to the Andean capital La Paz to protest plans to build a road cutting through indigenous land.

Christian Aid partners work throughout the southern Amazon region to help communities avoid and manage conflict; and supporting many families to make a living from the forest in a sustainable way.

Bolivia marchIn 2009, the Mojeño-Ignaciano, Yuracaré and Chimán indigenous groups received the title to the land they live, farm and hunt on. Their territory is over a million hectares and forms part of the national park and indigenous territory TIPNIS. 

For more than a decade, Christian Aid partners have helped indigenous groups in this area to organise themselves, understand their rights and responsibilities and ultimately to get official land titles from the government. It seemed as if the many years of struggling for the right to their land was over but this government plan to build a road through the indigenous territory is the first test of the ownership.

The road would make this part of Bolivia much more accessible, which brings both benefits and drawbacks. Hopes are that it would make the region more integrated with the rest of the country, facilitating business and industry.

But there are fears that easier access into the national park and indigenous territory would increase both logging of valuable woods and coca leaf production in the area. The TIPNIS are not against the road, just against it going through the national park.

The plan to build the road and the subsequent march against it has become a huge and divisive political issue in the country. Some groups are in favour of the road and have attempted to block the route of the march.

Forty one days into the march, police intervened, arresting indigenous leaders. A number of people were injured, and footage shows police putting tape over activists’ mouths. Children fled in fear and one child is reported to have died.

Christian Aid partners across Bolivia have denounced the violence. A number of members of the government have resigned in the wake of the disturbances, and the marchers have regrouped and will continue on their way.

'We still do not know who gave the order for the police to act’, says Dario Kenner from Christian Aid partner Bolivia Climate Change Platform.

This is despite Vice President Álvaro García Linera revealing that he knows who made the order but is not prepared to go public with this information. Our partner hopes an investigation will clear up these unanswered questions soon. 
 
Christian Aid works with both campesino (peasant farmers) and indigenous groups in the Amazon -  both are vulnerable to abuse and are affected by poverty.

There is potential for conflict between the two groups. The campesino communities who don’t have access to land in this area see the forests as untapped potential for cultivating new crops and establishing new settlements.

Whereas the indigenous have a different view of this land - their way of life seeks to live in harmony with the flora and fauna in the forests and preserving the biodiversity for future generations.

The proposed road will cut through their territory and will threaten their way of life.

We hope that conflict management skills and the work of Christian Aid’s partners will help to ensure that a peaceful solution is found to the issue. 

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