11 May 2012
March is losing momentum
Dario Kenner, La Paz 11 May 2012
Updates on Bolivia: https://twitter.com/dariokenner
Representatives of indigenous movements CIDOB and CONAMAQ have been marching for two weeks against a road that would go through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory. This is the second march in under a year opposing the road (detailed background).
So far this second march has generated a lot less interest than the first march from August to October 2011 which made international headlines when Bolivian police used force to try and break it up in September last year. However, several underlying factors remain the same such as: the right of the TIPNIS communities to free, prior and informed consent not being complied with and the Morales government´s desire to build the road.
As this blog reported two weeks ago the context has changed since the first march. The Bolivian government has now cancelled the contract with Brazilian company OAS to build the road, there are divisions within the CIDOB (the main indigenous social movement involved in the march) and the government has delayed the consultation process on the road until June. All these factors weakened the momentum of the march even before it had begun. Also Fernando Vargas, President of the TIPNIS Subcentral (the key indigenous organisation from the TIPNIS), was ill and has only just joined the march in the last few days. His leadership was crucial to the success of the first march.
I have heard on the grapevine that even though there are fewer marchers (currently around 350 compared to the 1,000 on average during the first march) they are determined to continue and events such as the aggression and threats shown towards them by residents of San Ignacio de Moxos (who support the road project) when they passed the town on 8 May consolidate unity and collective will between the marchers.
Apparently there are currently 100 people from the TIPNIS on the march, including 22 community leaders (there are 63 indigenous communities in the TIPNIS). Despite many regional organisations (regionales) of the CIDOB signing agreements with the government prior to the march, reports are that the grassroots (bases) from these same areas are joining the march. There are also mixed signals of support and rejection of the march. Some groups such as the Landless movement (MST) have left while the President of the Guaraní Peoples Assembly (APG) is now on the march even though the APG for a long time did not have a consensus position on whether to join. Another regional organisation (CPIB – Central de Pueblos Indígenas del Beni) replaced their President today because he had signed an agreement with the government and had said the CPIB would not join the march.
Another factor distracting from the march within Bolivia are the almost continuous protests and blockades over the last month or so led by health workers and trade unions. These protests have been mainly affecting and occupying the daily life of people in the cities. The protests are by specific sectors for their own demands (such as salary increases and working hours for health workers) and are not a coordinated movement. But as long as they and the anti-road march continue there is the potential for them to link up even though it is more likely the sectorial conflicts will be resolved before TIPNIS issue is. Every so often over the last two months there have been declarations of support from the trade unions for the anti-road march.
At the moment there is no denying the march is much weaker than the first time. We have to wait and see how the march develops and also what happens with the other protests across the country to really know what impact this second anti-road march will have. But as long as the march continues it is more likely to pick up more support on the way. This could be for logistical reasons as it becomes easier for certain groups to reach the march but also it will pick up momentum. If there were to be a blockade of the march by pro-government groups or another police intervention (which both happened last year) it would strengthen the march. The marchers are currently in Puerto San Borja and are expected to get to San Borja at the end of next week (see map).