Saving the TIPNIS

Bolivia, which is known for its frequent political marches and disturbances is currently in the middle of an important polemic political discussion that could either protect or destroy ecosystems and indigenous rights for the sake of development.

Located in one of the world’s most deforested regions, Bolivia’s first Indigenous President, Eva Morales is having a moral dilemma – to lift the country’s development by creating a cross-country highway through nationally and internationally protected parklands, or protect legal norms for indigenous and environmental rights and abandon the project.

The TIPNIS (Indigenous territory and national park– Territorial Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure) is the subject of a US$1,969 development project for a 2,624km highway that would pass through the protected area, potentially destroying ecosystems and violating indigenous rights and international environmental law (the TIPNIS is protected under the IUCN).

The argument is that the route will help the country’s development. However Bolivia’s Indigenous are calling for the government to conform to national and international legal norms by protecting the area, restoring damage that has already been done and mitigate further destruction.

There’s no doubt that improving Bolivia’s road transport system would help the country in all manner of sorts – improve the economy and assist tourism development. But development at what cost? Environmental and social concerns coupled with this model of development now present Bolivia with a complex polemic dispute.

Then there is the element of tourism’s impact that will no doubt flow on from such a development. The TIPNIS already faces a number of internal and external threats from illegal logging, agriculture, hunting and socio-political conflicts. In addition to violating indigenous and environmental rights just by constructing the road, there will no doubt be many indirect impacts as a result.

The park would inevitably become another of Bolivia’s national reserves exploited for tourism purposes. Eco-tourism is one thing when it’s responsibly managed, exploitation is another. As David Attkinson said in his article ‘Ecotourism in Bolivia,’  

“To the Bolivian tourism authorities, boosting tourism to the country’s protected areas is seen as the solution to the funding crisis and crucial to moving Bolivia’s fledgling tourism industry -400,000 international arrivals per annum – onto the next level.”

The fight to protect one of Bolivia’s most controversial parklands is what the noise is about. A group of over 1,000 people has been assembled in a protest march that has so far covered La Paz, Potosí and Sucre. A ‘short law’ for a national referendum has been both proposed and rejected.

Oscar López Paulsen said in his Op Ed piece in El Deber[1] “It’s better for future generations to say ‘This President saved the TIPNIS’, instead of ‘he created an highway and destroyed them’…”

For now the protest march continues and so does the fight for social and environmental justice.

Further reading:


Parks Watch

En Breve Responsible Tourism Series August 2009

Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World

[1] “Tipnis: Qué es un parque nacional?”, 14 October 2011, pg. 25


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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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