Bolivia Information Forum: news briefing

Posted on | april 6, 2012 | No Comments

1. TIPNIS communities to march again
2. Troops deployed to counter citizen insecurity
3. Evo raises issue of coca chewing at UN narcotics summit in Vienna
4. US-Bolivia relations progress despite diplomatic incident
5. Boundary dispute between Oruro and Potosi continues
6. Protests over increasing transport costs
7. Aerosur close to collapse

1. TIPNIS communities to march again
A second march against a proposed road through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) is scheduled to begin on April 25th after a majority of TIPNIS community leaders voted in favour of the proposed action. They also decided to resist the consultation process planned by the government for May within their communities. Eight community groups affiliated to CONISUR (which supports the proposed highway) did not attend the meeting, while the remaining 15 TIPNIS communities (connected to the Securé Subcentral) have not yet reached a unified position on the matter.

The new march marks the latest development in the on-going controversial conflict since it first erupted last August. The law authorising the consultation process in the TIPNIS area has angered many indigenous groups who marched against the proposed road last year because they argue it will not be prior consultation, an obligation enshrined in the Bolivian Constitution and international norms. However, the road contract was signed with Brazilian company OAS in 2008 before the new constitution came into effect. Speaking in Oromomo to local communities that marched in support of the proposed highway in February, President Morales assured them that ‘Your march is not going to be in vain…I come to begin to fulfil your demands’. These included the delivery of new outboard motors, and the future construction of a telecommunications tower. Fernando Vargas, president of the TIPNIS Subcentral accused the government of trying to pressurise communities into supporting the proposed highway which would connect Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos.

Dennis Racicot, the representative in Bolivia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was regrettable that the consultation had not taken place last year, but that it was still ‘factible’. Racicot said that the consultation should take place ‘si o si’, and that construction should halt until the consultation has taken place. Meanwhile, the Administradora Boliviana de Carreteras (ABC – the state body in charge of road construction) has said that OAS will not be carrying out the work on the second part of the road.

2.Troops deployed to counter citizen insecurity
In an effort to address escalating citizen concern about crime and security in Bolivia, the government has deployed around 2,300 troops on the streets of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Speaking after initial efforts saw nearly 700 arrests, President Morales praised the coordination between the security services, saying that ‘the work of the National Police is not enough to confront [crime], which is why we now have the participation of the Armed Forces’. The deployment will last for 90 days, after which the security situation in the country will be re-assessed by the government. Police presence on the streets of El Alto is woefully inadequate when it comes to guaranteeing public security.

Tensions over rising crime in El Alto have remained high following the murder of two local journalists last month (see last month’s BIF News Briefing). There have since been other killings. Police detained two men in the case, whom local residents had threatened to lynch, while neighbours wrecked the home of one of the suspects following his arrest. Meanwhile, the highway between La Paz and El Alto was temporarily blocked by residents calling for the restoration of the death penalty for rapists and murderers. Currently, the maximum penalty under the Bolivian Penal Code stands at thirty years imprisonment. While it is highly unlikely to bring back capital punishment (which is prohibited under the new Constitution), the government has discussed possible new judicial mechanisms in the fight against crime. These could include introducing consecutive sentences for criminals, which could take serious offenders beyond the current thirty-year limit. Currently, people tend to take the law into their own hands, since those caught stealing are let loose by the police.

Some analysts have suggested that the deployment of troops is merely a temporary solution to deeper structural problems that are causing citizen insecurity. Former minister Saul Lara described the recent government action as ‘palliative’, while the Andean Information Network suggested that ‘profound and lasting police reform’ must lie at the heart of efforts to address crime in Bolivia.

3. Evo raises issue of coca chewing at UN narcotics summit in Vienna
Speaking in Vienna at the 55th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, President Morales urged the organisation to correct the ‘historical error’ of placing the coca leaf on its list of proscribed substances in the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Holding up a coca leaf while addressing the commission, Morales stated there was no evidence that chewing the substance was harmful, and in fact it can be used to make a number of dietary and other products, such as coca tea.

The Bolivian president used the meeting to remind the UN body that chewing the coca leaf (a practice known as acullico) was part of traditional ways of life in the Andean region. Morales also reiterated the difference between raw coca and cocaine, telling delegates that coca-growers must not be considered as drug-traffickers.

Following Bolivia’s withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention, the other 183 states parties of the Convention have until 1 January 2013 to decide if Bolivia should be readmitted. If a third of them reject Bolivia’s request for a reservation on the coca leaf, Bolivia will not be able to re-accede. President Morales reminded delegates in Vienna that the original ratification of the Convention by Bolivia was taken by the authoritarian government then in power, and ‘was not a democratic decision’. According to Juan Carlos Alurralde, the vice-minister at the foreign ministry, among the main countries which oppose Bolivia on the coca chewing issue are the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Sweden and Japan.

In La Paz and other cities, thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for March 12 to be designated as the ‘National Day of Acullico’. Roads were blocked as the marchers, mostly coca growers and campesinos, supported the president’s continued efforts to take the issue of coca to the international stage. Juanita Ancieta, representative of the six federations of coca-growers of the Chapare, called on the UN to ‘understand Bolivia’s request, because the acullico does not do any harm to humanity’.

4. US-Bolivia relations progress despite diplomatic incident
President Morales has signed the framework agreement with the United States, following its ratification by the Legislative Assembly in December 2011, a move which signals further progress in relations between the two countries. Speaking at a press conference, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said he hoped the agreement would bring a ‘more transparent, respectful, sincere and honest attitude’ from the United States government.

The announcement came despite a potentially serious stumbling block to relations when a rural police patrol in Trinidad, Beni, stopped a US embassy vehicle travelling to Santa Cruz. According to the Erbol news agency, the patrol discovered three shotguns, a revolver and several rounds of ammunition. Two Bolivian nationals were in the vehicle at the time it was stopped – a driver and a police officer. Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana accused the United States of what he called a ‘flagrant violation’ of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, while President Morales lamented the incident. For its part the US embassy has denied any irregularities, saying it had police permission to transport the arms following the closure of embassy buildings in Beni. David Choquehuanca said that while the authorities were yet to establish the full facts, such incidents were not acceptable within the new relationship of ‘mutual respect’ between the two countries.

The Framework Agreement covers a broad range of topics, including improving cooperation on investment, commerce, and the fight against drugs. Judicial matters will also be addressed, including Bolivia’s extradition request for former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and some of his ministers wanted for their role in the killings that took place in El Alto in October 2003. Several joint commissions will be established to examine these areas.

5.Boundary dispute between Oruro and Potosi continues
Tensions persist between the departmental governments of Oruro and Potosí over the disputed boundary between the ayllus of Quillacas (Oruro) y Coroma (Potosí). Following violent confrontations between the two communities in which around 25 people were injured, the governors of both departments were called to La Paz for urgent talks with the national government to find a solution to the conflict.

Following discussions with ministers, agreement was reached to allow technicians from the Military Geographical Institute (IGM) to study the boundary and establish precise limits using geo-referencing methods. The IGM will work in conjunction with local officials from both departments and with the Ministry of Autonomous Regions, while local communities have agreed to suspend agricultural work in the disputed area until the study is completed. Extra police have been assigned to the boundary area to try to prevent any further confrontations.

Despite the apparent progress made over the dispute, serious difficulties remain. The Oruro Civic Committee and departmental branch of the trade union confederation (Central Obrero Departamental – COD) have refused to assist in the conciliation process – a decision condemned by the Minister for Autonomous Regions, Claudia Peña.

In the city of Potosí, a 24-hour strike was organised demanding a legal delimitation of the disputed boundary. As reported in BIF Bulletin No. 16, the resolution of the dispute was one of several regional demands made by the Potosí Civic Committee that resulted in a 19-day strike in 2010. One regional newspaper described the conflict as ‘the quinoa war’. The high price of quinoa, for which production has increased greatly in recent years, is aggravating land conflicts in the area.

6. Protests over increasing transport costs
A stand-off between local authorities and transport workers is continuing after one of the main transport unions in El Alto tried to increase fares by 50%. The new prices were justified on the grounds of improving transport services, rising costs (including of vehicle parts) and the current security situation in the city. The El Alto Federation of Neighbourhood Councils – the FEJUVE – and the Federation of Parents (FEDEPAF) rejected the increase and organised a 24-hour blockade throughout El Alto.

Municipal authorities have supported the FEJUVE’s actions, insisting that there should be no increase to fares, and they have been monitoring services to ensure that passengers are not being made to pay the new rates. Some minibuses were held up by protesters, while the driver’s federation has suspended a number of services on safety grounds. The stand-off continues.

7. Aerosur close to collapse
The privately-owned Bolivian airline Aerosur appears close to collapse. At the beginning of April, it suspended both some international flights as well as domestic operations, citing as a cause both ‘low season’ demand as well as ‘some financial difficulties’. Until recently, it was Bolivia’s main airline with long-distance routes connecting the country with the United States and Spain. The company owes the Bolivian state 3.5 billion Bolivianos in back-taxes and fines dating from 2003, as well as substantial debts to its employees and suppliers.

AUTHOR: Bolivia Information Forum
E-MAIL: enquiries [at]


Leave a Reply

  • agriculture (29)
    book (3)
    briefing (16)
    business & trade (21)
    child (92)
    consumption (3)
    corruption (20)
    crime (152)
    culture (30)
    defence (15)
    deforestation (6)
    democratization (54)
    demography (6)
    Discovery (5)
    drugs (73)
    Dutch foreign policy (3)
    economic (105)
    education (28)
    effectiveness (3)
    election (64)
    embassy news (1)
    emergency (8)
    energy (42)
    environment (144)
    Eurasia (36)
    Europe (36)
    fair trade (5)
    flora & fauna (24)
    foreign aid (28)
    foreign embassy in the Netherlands (2)
    foreign policy (56)
    gender (17)
    global (270)
    globalization (5)
    health (95)
    history (19)
    homosexuality (4)
    human rights (309)
    hunger & food (20)
    immigration (3)
    infrastructure (28)
    intelligence (7)
    interview (26)
    Latin America (214)
    list (5)
    media (64)
    Middle East (358)
    Millennium Development Goals (21)
    minorities (41)
    movement (38)
    multilateral organizations (40)
    narration (5)
    natural disasters (9)
    Netherlands (31)
    NGO (20)
    NL-Aid (8)
    Northern Africa (187)
    Northern America (130)
    nuclear (4)
    opinion (37)
    Pacific (2)
    peacekeeping (1)
    politics (129)
    poverty (27)
    racism (2)
    raw material (30)
    reconstruction (1)
    refugees (20)
    religion (23)
    remembrance (3)
    research (11)
    revolt (186)
    Royal Dutch Embassy (1)
    sanitation (16)
    slums (2)
    South Asia (451)
    South-east Asia (112)
    study (19)
    Sub-Saharan Africa (446)
    technology (14)
    terrorism (90)
    tourism (6)
    trade (11)
    transport (6)
    Updaid (1)
    war & conflicts (145)
    war crimes (36)
    water (40)
    whistleblower (8)
    women (54)

    WP Cumulus Flash tag cloud by Roy Tanck requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Page 1 of 11