Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia Confront Police Violence

A violent confrontation occurred between Bolivian police and indigenous peoples from the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) who have been marching in protest against the construction of a highway through the heart of their Amazonian reserve.

Police forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, clubs, and pepper spray on men, women, and children who were peacefully protesting the Government's plans to build a road through their ancestral territory. The government has acknowledged breaking up the march but claims they did not order the use of force.

Defence Minister Cecilia Chacon resigned in protest at the police action, with Interior Minster Sacha Llorenti and his deputy Marcos Farfan stepping down on Tuesday.

Indigenous President, Evo Morales, was elected in part by claiming to be a defender of indigenous rights and our precious Mother Earth.

Indians and conservation groups are opposed to the Brazilian-financed highway crossing the TIPNIS because of the environmental damage the project will cause and because they fear an invasion of illegal loggers and coca growers.

The stated goal of the project is to link the Brazilian Amazon with Pacific ports in Peru and Chile.

We ask that the Bolivian Government give consideration to exploring alternative routes that do not violate land under protection within the TIPNIS. In addition we encourage President Morales to include the indigenous peoples of the TIPNIS in discussions about land use in accordance with the Bolivian constitution.

It is important to inform President Evo Morales that the international image of Bolivia is at stake if he does not honor the Bolivian constitution and his own indigenous peoples rights, supported within international human rights law. Local indigenous peoples deserve the opportunity to provide informed consent regarding major development projects that will impact their environment and their way of life.

We are calling upon the international community to demand that President Morales and the Bolivian Government:

  1. stop the violence immediately
  2. conduct a full investigation into these crimes
  3. account for and release those detained
  4. hold those who gave the order for Sunday's violence be held accountable
  5. listen to the voices of the people and stop road construction immediately

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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.