Bolivia’s Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), an indigenous territorial reserve home to more than 12,000 indigenous villagers, is under imminent threat from a major highway development project.
Thirty-two miles of that project would tear through the heart of the TIPNIS, which is home to three dwindling indigenous cultures — the Tsimanes, Yuracarés and Mojeño-Trinitarios. The park is also believed to be the home of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.
The TIPNIS covers an area of over 4700 square miles, twice the size of Delaware. The park ecosystem is fragile and the highway project could cause widespread damage, contaminating the park’s three main rivers, opening large areas of forest to illegal logging and settlement, and altering habitats that are home to many endangered species and rare primates.
The highway development, the Villa Tunari – San Ignacio de Moxos highway, is part of a larger 182-mile trans-Amazonian highway and a priority project for President Evo Morales’ government. It is part of the Brazilian-led Initiative for the Regional Integration of South America, a vast network of 531 mega-projects including hydroelectric dams, highways, bridges, and electrical power systems.
While the Bolivian government claims to have conducted a “consultation” with potentially affected communities, the consultation was marred by criticism and inconsistencies, and fell woefully short of standards for Free, Prior and Informed Consent under national and international law. The communities allege that the government secured financing for the construction from the Brazilian National Development Bank before informing or consulting the affected communities. They then carried out a deeply flawed and illegal “consultation” after already deciding to proceed.
Indigenous opposition to the construction of the highway has been substantial and has been met with violent repression and retaliation by the Bolivian government. Since 2011, indigenous protestors have undertaken at least two multi-month marches (the VIII march and the IX march) to the capital, La Paz, to register their opposition. Both of these marches were met with repression and violence by government forces. During the first march, at least 50 people were injured at the hands of the police even as they were resting peacefully by the side of the road on a Sunday afternoon.
In March 2013, ERI assisted Bolivian indigenous leaders in presenting testimony about TIPNIS and the highway project to a thematic hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In July 2014, ERI joined with these leaders to present a brief to the IACHR in a merits case, which challenges this major highway project that threatens to cut across an untouched national park that is home to thousands of Amazonian indigenous people in Bolivia.