The Rights of Indigenous Peoples - The Cooperation Between Denmark and Bolivia (2005-2009)
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Latin America, América Latina
The Danish support programme for indigenous rights in Bolivia came to an end on 31 December 2009, after 10 years in operation.
The aim of the programme was for indigenous peoples to "obtain full exercise of their economic, political, social and cultural rights", and substantial results were achieved in this regard. In order to analyse this process and the programme’s overall results, particularly over the last five years, the Danish Embassy in Bolivia entrusted IWGIA with the task of producing a study to document the programme's experiences. This report, available in both Spanish and English, summarises the impressive results of the programme, which comprised three components:
Land regularisation and titling was the backbone of the whole programme. This was the most costly and complicated component, as its aim was to radically change the country’s pattern of land ownership, the cause of numerous conflicts and injustices in the country. Danida was one of the few cooperation agencies to take up this challenge and, by the end of the programme, of the 14 million hectares legalised in favour of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples, 11,300,000 had been titled with Danish support.
The second programme component to be implemented, and closely linked to the land titling, was support for territorial resource management, which is now in the hands of the indigenous communities (GTI – Gestión Territorial Indígena/Indigenous Territorial Management). A number of land reforms across the continent have failed precisely because of a lack of continuity in actions such as those proposed in this component. Of the 29 TCOs (Tierras Comunitarias de Origen/Native Community Lands) existing in the lowlands, 27 now have Indigenous Territorial Management Plans. As they are now able to exercise management of their territories, the indigenous organisations have become stronger, trained their human resources, designed operational instruments for territorial management, managed to permeate municipal and prefectural bodies in order to make known their most urgent demands, coordinated with private national and international institutions and established, together with the national government, the conditions for their planned community development.
During the implementation of this support programme for indigenous rights, the fundamental rules setting out how TCOs were to be managed were incorporated into the new Political Constitution, including the establishment of indigenous autonomies. One approach that was decisive to the success of these two programme components was that of involving both State institutions and civil society, through the indigenous organisations and technical support bodies. This “dual strategy” was particularly appreciated by different sectors of Bolivian society and international cooperation. However, it did not always give the same results. It became clear that indigenous organisational strengthening is essential not only from the point of view of the quality of their political organisation but also their technical skills. In fact, the indigenous organisation of the Bolivian Oriente (East) was supported in both respects, with an emphasis on the technical strengthening of the central organisation and its regional branches.
The third component was the mainstreaming of indigenous rights across the different government spheres. The aim of this was to ensure that indigenous rights were not confined to a specific State department but taken into consideration by all public bodies. This component achieved its greatest impact once Evo Morales had come to power. Bolivia’s new Political Constitution amended the bases of the State’s economic and political model. By establishing a Plurinational Assembly and changing the laws related to, among other things, use of the forest, waters and mining, it is hoped that indigenous rights, particularly in terms of their territorial management, will be consolidated.
International, and particularly Danish, cooperation has been decisive in enforcing indigenous rights. And whilst the country has – with great difficulty – achieved political stability, the implementation of the indigenous autonomies and the use of the natural resources on indigenous territories may still become sources of conflict. For this reason, it is essential that, over the coming years, international cooperation provides close support to consolidating the indigenous rights that have been achieved in Bolivia, and to strengthening the indigenous organisations and the new “autonomous” bodies.
In the report’s introduction, the Bolivian Minister for Autonomies, Carlos Romero Bonifaz, notes the important role Danish cooperation has played in the titling of indigenous people’s lands and its “impact at a moment of constitutional change and deep structural reform in our country”.