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UPDATE: Bolivian marchers seek water, safe passage for highway protest

The Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project have signed an open letter expressing concern to the Bolivian government given their plans to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory without consulting local indigenous communities.

More than 1,500 indigenous peoples – including men, women and children – have been on a 600-kilometre march to the capital city of La Paz for the past month in the hope of dialogue with the government to find an alternative solution to the highway going through the indigenous territory.

Urgent situation:
At this hour it is being reported that, “Over a month into a 350-mile march protesting a government-planned road that will bisect their territory, indigenous Bolivians from the tropical lowlands find the route toward the country’s administrative capital of La Paz blocked by hundreds of police. The police stand between the marchers and the people of the town of Yucumo who support the road and vow to halt the march’s progress. …As some 1,500 marchers arrived at the roadblock Tuesday chants of ‘We want water’ went up from the group. Ninety-degree heat in the lowlands and a water shortage have taken their toll, and several children have died from accidents or illness since the march began on August 15. A violent confrontation between marchers and the counter-protestors is feared, as the sound of detonating dynamite from the Yucumo camp has been widely reported. …The marchers are communicating with a wide range of organizations to obtain peaceful passage through Yucumo. The police continue to block the road and will not let marchers access a stream in the area for water, Rafael Quispe, leader of highland indigenous organization CONAMAQ, said.”

The letter:
The letter – addressed to President Evo Morales – states, “We, the undersigned members of social movements and international civil society, are writing to express our support for the right of indigenous people to freely decide on development projects within their territories and our deep concerns about the consequences of the proposed highway through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory.”

The letter highlights, “We value the proactive diplomacy of the Plurinational State of Bolivia in supporting the rights of indigenous peoples, meaningful and effective responses to climate change, recognition of the right to water and sanitation, and formal acknowledgement by the State of the rights of ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. We have also watched with great interest and respect as Bolivians sought to incorporate these principles into their Constitution of 2009 and their national laws, including the Law on the Rights of Mother Earth. We are pleased that Bolivia has proactively asserted the place of international civil society in the global debate on climate change, particularly in Copenhagen and by hosting the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba in April 2010…”

“The highway will make Isiboro Sécure’s deforestation problem worse. Despite its status as a protected area, Isiboro Sécure has seen a steady process of deforestation, affecting tens of thousands of hectares already. …The proposed highway was recently projected to result in the deforestation of 64% of the park by 2030, a major increase from the already worrisome projection of 43% loss without the road. The survival of the diverse flora and fauna of the region, included endangered fresh-water dolphins and blue macaws, depends on policies that prevent rather than accelerate deforestation.”

It concludes, “We commit ourselves to continue to monitor this issue and, equally, to support indigenous and environmental rights in our own countries. We do not propose adherence to respect for indigenous peoples and the environment as an additional burden on a few countries in the global South, but as a common worldwide vision, to be implemented in the context of achieving global justice.”

Other groups that have signed this letter include our allies at Food and Water Watch, Food and Water Europe, International Rivers, Global Exchange, Red VIDA, Fundacion Chile Sustentable, and Focus on the Global South.