We know from recent history when indigenous peoples stand up and defend their rights, they face the risk of violent repression. That is exactly what we saw, sadly, in Bolivia this past Sunday.
Since his inauguration in early 2006, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has cultivated an international image as a staunch defender of indigenous peoples’ rights and of Mother Earth. His government incorporated international indigenous rights norms into the 2009 constitution and hosted an international climate conference in 2010, among other actions.
In the last month, however, indigenous communities from the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory(TIPNIS) have been marching in protest against a planned road that would pierce through the heart of their Amazonian reserve. Tensions have risen in recent weeks as they walked hundreds of kilometers from the Amazonian lowlands toward La Paz, culminating last Sunday with a violent police eviction of camping marchers.
The scene was reminiscent of excessive use of police force against indigenous marchers in neighboring countries. Given that Bolivia’s President is himself of indigenous background, however, we have higher expectations. The government of Evo Morales should exemplify full respect for the rights of local indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent around major development projects that are going to gravely impact their environment and way of life.
Of course, I am shocked to see how the marchers have been tear-gassed, fired on with rubber bullets, and beaten by Bolivian police. Join me: Send a letter to the Bolivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, telling him concrete action is desperately needed if President Morales wants to maintain his international image of a rights defender.
For TIPNIS and the defense of Bolivian indigenous peoples’ rights.
Andrew E. Miller