In Andean culture, time falls under cycles and is represented as a circle or wheel locked in perpetual motion. The conception of space, associated with agricultural and pastoral activities, is interpreted in similar terms. On November 11, the former president Evo Morales, closed a cycle as he stepped foot on Chimoré International Airport, returning from his exile. Surrounded by half a million people, the first indigenous president in Bolivian history arrived to the same place from where he had departed exactly one year earlier.
Indigenous peoples in Bolivia
There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia adopted the status of a plurinational state. However, the country's indigenous peoples still face challenges, especially in terms of seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves and hydroelectric projects.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was approved by Law in November 2007. Since 1991, Bolivia is a signatory of ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
The Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous groups
According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 are of indigenous origin, although the National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) 2017 projections indicate that this percentage is likely to have increased to 48%.
There are 38 recognised peoples in Bolivia, the majority in the Andes are Quechua-speaking peoples (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%), who self-identify as 16 nations. In the lowlands, the Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaran. (2.5%) and Moje.o (1.4%) peoples are in the majority and, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up 34 recognised indigenous peoples.
Main challenges for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples
A major challenge for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia relates to the seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves, as well as hydroelectric projects. They directly impact the people inhabiting the territory of the projects, often indigenous peoples and peasants.
Progress for Bolivia's indigenous peoples
To date, the indigenous peoples have consolidated 23 million ha. of collective property under the status of Community Lands of Origin (TCOs), representing 21% of the country’s total land mass.
Thanks to the Framework Law on Autonomies 031/10 of 22 July, a number of indigenous peoples are now forming their own self-governments. Thirty-six indigenous autonomies have commenced the process for accessing self-government, 21 by means of municipal conversion and 15 by territorial means or TIOC. Three of them have already established their self-government, and another five have achieved their autonomous status through a declaration of constitutionality.
In 2017, the government of Bolivia decided to revive the conflict over the building of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway through the Isiboro S.ruce National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) by approving Law No. 969/17 on 13 August. However, the VIII Indigenous March, supported by all of the country’s indigenous organisations, stopped this construction of the highway.
Monitoring forest fires expose devastation of Indigenous Peoples’ territories and unique biodiversity in Bolivian lowlands
The most widespread and intractable forest fires ever recorded in Bolivia ravaged the lowland regions of Santa Cruz, Beni, La Paz and Cochabamba last year, making 2019 a particularly dark period for the country and for Indigenous Peoples as many of the affected areas were on Indigenous territories and conservation areas.
The indigenous peoples of Bolivia facing the fires and a new development model
The international press clearly showed how the fire swept through the Brazilian Amazon and Bolivian forests. The images of calcined trees and animals suffering from the voracity of the flames brought climate change and environmental depredation to the forefront. However, in the shadow of the Amazon, other victims are invisible: the indigenous peoples that live in the jungle and mountains, and establish reciprocal relations with Mother Earth.
Choquehuanca with Morales when he was Minister of External Affairs. Photo: Communidad Andina.
After a decade as Chancellor of Evo Morales, David Choquehuanca was the leader chosen by the Pacto de Unidad to represent Indigenous, native and peasant peoples in the Movimiento al Socialism’s (MAS) binomial. Following the victory by 55% of the votes, in his speech, the Vice President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia called for reconciliation and dialogue among the Bolivian people. Regarded as a wise Aymara, for his knowledge of the worldview of “Vivir Bien” (Living Well), he called upon the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala, to the complementarity of the Chacha-Warmi and to the Andean solidarity of the Ayni.
According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of Bolivians over the age of 15 are of Indigenous origin although the 2017 projections from the National Statistics Institute (INE) indicate that this may now have increased to 48%.1 Of the 36 peoples recognised in the country, most Quechua (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%) speakers live in the Andean region where they self-identify as one of 16 nationalities.
While the international community is focusing its attention on the advancing fires in Brazil, the reality is that the problem transcends the South American giant and is reflected in the nine Amazonian countries. Beneath the ashes, the fire has shown (once again), a conflict that specialists have long pointed out: the implementation of a development model based on the extraction of natural resources at the expense of nature.