Along the TIPNIS Road

Along the snaking and vertiginous path of Bolivia’s infamous ‘Death Road’, a group of more than two thousand indigenous marchers wind their way towards La Paz.

For two months an ever-increasing column of indigenous Bolivians bearing flags, arrows and often their children has been trekking from Bolivia’s lowlands to the highlands of the country’s capital and the seat of Evo Morales’ government.

Gobierno obedecerá voluntad de indígenas a pesar de consecuencias económicas

The indigenous column has been marching for two months

They’re protesting plans by the president’s ruling MovimientoTowards Socialism (MAS) party to build a major road through the middle of the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) – their native home.

The government says the 298km (185miles) highway would provide a vital link between isolated communities and will help fund the national social programme which forms part of its ‘Process for Change’.

However, the marchers claim they were not consulted before the contracts were signed – as per the new Bolivian constitution introduced in 2009, which guarantees land autonomy to all native communities.

On August 15, after several failed attempts at dialogue, a thousand strong group set out south on the 500km (311 mile) journey from Trinidad to deliver their demands directly to Parliament.

Since then their number has almost doubled.

Much of the support has come since the 25 September when their peaceful march was violently repressed by around 400 state police.

Great swathes of the country were galvanised overnight.

Sixty days into their march, as they set off from the small village of Yolosa deep within the Bolivian mountains, students, activists and even ex-government ministers had joined their ranks.

The leaders of some of Bolivia’s main indigenous lobbies were also there for the final leg.

Patricia Illimuri, the president of the Centre of the Indigenous Peoples of La Paz (CPILAP) left a month-long vigil in the centre of the capital to walk the final 85km with the group.

“As one of the directors I just had to be here,” she said.

“I had to be here with the indigenous base, alongside our brothers and sisters.  They’re marching for their rights, for their lands and for the park. And now the Bolivian people are showing us real solidarity too. ”

‘In Mourning’

But between them and the capital lay the notorious “Camino de la Muerte” – Bolivia’s so-called death road, where at least 18 cyclists have died in the last 12 years.

Small crosses, many of them already beginning to disappear within the rank vegetation, dotted the roadside, each a solemn reminder another death.

But among the long file of marchers a different sort of memorial was visible.

Javier Collar solemnly carries a black flag in memory of his lost leader

Javier Collar, a fifty year old man from Santa Cruz who described himself as “just another indigenous marcher”, dutifully carried a large black flag over his left shoulder.

“The Chiquitanos [an indigenous tribe from the east of Bolivia] are in mourning,” he explained with tears filling his eyes.

“At the beginning of the march one of our young leaders, Eddy Martinez, died in a plane crash on his way to join us. Eight out of nine of the passengers died that day and he was one of them. The flag isn’t just our way of remembering him, but feeling that he’s here with us too,” he added.

Two other children – one 8 and one 13 – have died in accidents along the route and two women have suffered miscarriages.

On Friday, as they tackled the steep climb underneath a punishing midday sun, a further six women fainted and had to be given emergency medical attention.

However, Mrs Illimuri explained that the marchers hadn’t lost their high spirits.

“We’re tired, but we’re organised, united and strong enough to make it to La Paz, “ she stressed.

The marchers will certainly need strength:  a long and arduous climb along unforgiving terrain still awaits them.

‘Children Barefoot’

Before they get to La Paz, they face at least two nights in the foreboding Cumbre – the summit high above the city.

At nearly 13000ft (3692m) above sea level, nights frequently fall several degrees below zero.

Tres mujeres embarazadas y tres niños fueron internados en Hospital La Merced

Two women have suffered miscarriages along the way

Leon Galindo, one of many activists who joined the march, explained the sense of apprehension among the camp:

“Most of these people are from the lowlands and the change in pressure is affecting them a lot,” he said.

“There are a lot of minor injuries because many of these people are walking in just flip flops. There are over 120 kids with us, most of them babies or small children and many of them don’t even have shoes, they’re walking around barefoot.” he added.

Government Concessions

Despite the many difficulties they still face, the marchers refuse to be swayed from their course.

In recent days the government has ceded considerable ground and rushed a so-called ‘Short Law’ through Senate.

The new legislation grants the indigenous TIPNIS communities prior consultation – the question that lies at the heart of this debate

On Friday, the vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera went further still and promised that the government would honour whatever decision the indigenous people made in that consultation.

However, the indigenous leaders say they will continue their march.

Adolfo Chavez, the president of the Confederation of the Indigenous People of La Paz (CIDOB), which was one of the main social movements that helped bring MAS to power in 2005, told the BBC:

Adolfo Chavez says the time for dialogue with the government has past

“We’re demanding that Evo Morales’ government comply with the Constitution which all Bolivians have approved.  It’s too late for them to be offering us a consultation now, they’ve already violated the rights of the indigenous people. We’ll go home when our demands are met in full and until then we’ll just keep on.”

The next few days will be as taxing for the marchers, as they will undoubtedly test the government.

The marchers are due to reach La Paz on Tuesday. After 64 long days their arrival will be crucial.

And on Sunday, the Bolivian people will go to the polls to elect of local magistrates for the first time.

The result of both will be pivotal for the future of the Evo Morales’ government and its ability to claim it still has a genuine mandate from the Bolivian people.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: