By Maria Adela Crespo Arauco, Programme Officer, Bolivia
Twenty years ago, part of the ancestral lands of the Tsimane was given to timber companies and cattle rangers by the Bolivian government. There was much concern that at the end of those 20 years in 2011, the state would not return these lands to the Tsimane. Indeed from 2011 to 2018 these lands were occupied by illegal settlers as well as the timber companies that remained in the area.
However, after 7 years of exerting pressure, the indigenous territorial organisation TIM (which includes the Tsimane as well as three other indigenous groups living in the area) with the support of Christian Aid's, long term partner CIPCA, ensured the indigenous people´s land rights are respected and an agreement was signed by the government to return the lands to the indigenous groups living in this territory.
Perseverance pays off
All parties have worked for more than 20 years in the region and throughout have supported the strengthening of indigenous organisations and their leaders in the defence of their territories. This victory is the result of TIM´s perseverance and advocacy, capacity to negotiate with the state, timber companies, cattle rangers and other illegal settlers. CIPCA played a key role too, providing legal assistance and advice to indigenous leaders.
To ensure this process was successful and peaceful, the government organised round-tables with all those involved to plan the necessary evictions. CIPCA also attended these negotiations to support the indigenous communities in defending and negotiating their land rights. On November 21st 2018, leaders of TIM and national authorities of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) began the process of eviction.
This may take a few more months because the rainy season in the Amazon has already started but there will be no turning back now. This is a great victory not only for the TIM but for all indigenous organisations whose lands and territories are being threatened by timber and mining companies.