[QODLink]
Americas
Bolivians march against development plan
Activists begin 375km walk to oppose 'environmentally destructive' but government-supported highway development.
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2011 00:22

Bolivian indigenous activists have started a long protest march from the Amazon plains to the country's capital in against a government plan to build a 306km highway through a national park in indigenous territory.

"This march will end in La Paz, so that the government understands and thinks about changing its attitude and changing the route of the highway project," said Fernando Vargas, one of the leaders of the protest, as he and at least 500 others started the 40 day, 375km walk from Beni to La Paz on Monday.

The $420m road, largely financed by Brazil, would link the plains of Beni to the Chapare, a sparsely populated region where Bolivian President Evo Morales began his political career as a coca farmer.

The national park, called TIPNIS, is also a self-governing area that gives legal indigenous autonomy to local communities, a right given by Bolivia's widely supported 2009 constitution.

TIPNIS is home to endangered fresh-water dolphins and blue macaws, along with other wildlife, but environmentalists estimate that the road would erase more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) of rain forest over two decades.

To prevent the road from being built, at least three different indigenous groups who who live in the TIPNIS are prepared to use "bows and arrows" against any interlopers, said Pedro Moye, a leader of the CIDOB association of indigenous peoples of eastern Bolivia, which says it represents 800,000 of Bolivia's 10 million people.

Hypocritical 'ecolocide'

Morales has gained notoriety as an environmentally friendly leader and Bolivia's first indigenous-identified president, which is significant for many locals because the country has a higher per capita indigenous population than any other Latin American country.

Less than a year ago, Morales told Al Jazeera that he is opposed to environmentally destructive development practices that are common in 'indistrialised' countries.

"[Those practices are] leaving the world without ecology. I called it ecolocide, which will lead to genocide," he said.

Organisers of the march have said that they are reacting Morales' hypocritical stance on climate change and environmentalism, pointing to his promoting of natural gas development and oil exploration.

"Morales isn't a defender of Mother Earth. His rhetoric is empty," said Rafael Quispe, leader of the main indigenous organization in Bolivia's highlands, Conamaq.

As a result of the conflict, Morales has lost a significant amount of support from his constituancy and put the president on the defensive ahead of national judicial elections in October.

Paralysed by strikes

To coincide with the march, strikes and road blockades were called in two other areas of the country. 

On Monday, El Alto, a massive, mostly indigenous city neighbouring La Paz, and home to the country's largest airport, was paralysed by a strike. Roads leading to the city were cut off by protesters. 

The southern Bolivian town of Potosi was also at a standstill because of a 24-hour general strike over demands for greater government investment in local businesses.

Morales has accused these various social movements of creating upheaval for purely political motives.

"When there is no dialogue, it means that there is political intent," he said, blaming a "spirit of conspiracy" for the coincidence of multiple flashpoints simultaneously throughout Bolivia.

In June, Morales angered indigenous activists by saying the road would be built through the Isiboro Secure indigenous territory and national park "whether they like it or not".

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Featured
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.