Course:FRST370/2022/The struggle for human rights and FPIC with respect to road construction in the TIPNIS region, Bolivia

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This case study highlights the Indigenous residents of the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) struggle for free prior and informed consent (FPIC) with the Bolivian government concerning road development and resource extraction in their protected territory. We outline some of the histories that led to Bolivia's federal government during this conflict, the history that lead up to the creation of the TIPNIS region, the history of highland Indigenous stakeholders' intertwined relationship with the federal government and how the conflict has played out. The case study is comprised of several academic articles featuring the TIPNIS region and Bolivia's political history and FPIC frameworks like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and others. We concluded that at all levels of this procedure the Bolivian federal government has failed to scrupulously survey Indigenous residents with FPIC about development in their territories and offer fair compensation for these violations.


Free Prior and Informed Consent, TIPNIS, Bolivian community forestry, Evo Morales, Indigenous rights


Case Study Background

Since the beginning of colonization in Bolivia, the Indigenous peoples have been resisting unscrupulous colonial laws placed over them and their territories against their consent like forced borders, migration, racism, segregation, slavery, resource extraction and colonial governments [1]. A part of this continuous resistance in Bolivia are the revolutions and protests, for example, the 1952 revolution which was populated by peasant Indigenous labourers of farms and mines who were fed up with unfair treatment, wages and forced colonial projects on their territories [2]. This revolution led to the middle-class intellectual Movement of Nationalist Revolutionaries (MNR) to governance and while the MNR government was not made up of Indigenous peasants mines were de-privatized (nationalized) and rural land was returned to Indigenous peasants in agricultural land reforms [2]. In one of these land reforms, the MNR government created The Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in 1965 [3]which is where our case study takes place. As well as the primarily Indigenous peasant inhabitants of the TIPNIS region the other key players in this case study also came to fruition due to the MNR, they are the former Bolivia president of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party Evo Morales and the Indigenous coca farmers whom he came from and supported [2]. "For if the 1952 National Revolution had not transformed feudal Bolivia in such significant ways, there might not have been the Morales presidency in 2005, or the Indigenous-inspired, democratic and constitutional revolution of 2005-2009" (Morales, p.141) [2]. Our case study takes place after the 2009 constitutional change which nationalized Bolivia’s natural resources and adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples' (UNDRIP) calls to acquire comprehensive free prior and informed consent (FPIC) when developing on and extracting resources from Indigenous territories [2][4]. This case study focuses on the 2011 and 2015 [2] struggles in the protected Indigenous TIPNIS region for comprehensive FPIC from the Bolivian Federal government as they nonconsensually plan road development and hydrocarbon extraction in the region and answered Indigenous protests of the road with police violence [3][5][6]. By looking at multiple articles and reviews of the situation from different angles this case study will show how the federal government violated the FPIC of TIPNIS inhabitants and offer some recommendations for how the federal government should handle this case.

The following video shares more information on Evo Morales' rise to and time in presidency

Free, Prior, Informed, and Consent (FPIC)

Free prior and informed consent is the Indigenous and human right to self-determination“which [are] affirmed under the ILO [(International Labour Organization)] Convention 169 and the UNDRIP, both ratified by Bolivia” (Christoffersen, 2020, p. 107) [7]. The right to FPIC ensure that countries' governments must achieve the consent/permission of Indigenous peoples and their governments without manipulation (ie. being coerced to sign via violence, bribes or threats) before participating in any development, resource extraction, legislature changes or waste that effects Indigenous peoples and or their territories [4][6][8]. UNDRIP articles like Article 32 are especially relevant to our case study of nonconsensual development in the TIPNIS region as the article calls for the right to Indigenous autonomy and FPIC over the development and extraction of Indigenous territories and resources and when violated that governments must compensate Indigenous peoples [4].

TIPNIS Tenure Agreements

Figure 1. Distribution of the proposed road, divided into 3 sections[8](Reyes-García et al., 2020)

Central TIPNIS

The TIPNIS region was originally created in 1965as a 1.2 million-hectare national park by the MNR government with no Indigenous recognition or real federal support as by 1then the MNR had turned authoritarian and militaristic [2][9]. Democratic elections were re-instated in 1982 but Bolivia had been suffering from economic depression and foreign hegemony through the increased U.S. militarization in the 1980s due to the drug war [2]. In the 1980s and the 1990s Indigenous peoples began to protest this colonial-centred nation-building and demanded Indigenous, territorial and conservation rights [3][5][7][10]. As a result of the 1990s political unrest the Mojeño-Ignaciano, Yuracaré and Chimán Indigenous groups that inhabited the TIPNIS received the legal title to their territories as TIOC (Indigenous Territory Originally the Campesino’s), the TIPNIS region was also given a double-category status as a protected conservation area and Indigenous territory [3][6][7][9]. Since then the TIPNIS and the 64 Indigenous communities within it have been co-governed by The National Service of Protected Areas (SERNAP) and rotational Indigenous leaders selected by communities from within the territories [6][7] .

Polygon 7

The aforementioned MNR Indigenous agrarian land reforms and 1980s drug war put pressure on highland Indigenous peoples like the Aymara and Quechua collectives of peasant coca farmers forcing them to migrate and encroach upon the southern regions of the TIPNIS since around the 1970s [1][3] . These Indigenous peasant coca farmers were also key players in the 1990s-2005 political unrest in as their protesting for rights to farm their sacred Indigenous herb the coca plant lead to a member of their community Evo Morales being elected president of Bolivia in 2006 [2]. As well as refounding the Bolivian constitution to highlight Indigenous rights in 2009 Evo Morales officially separated the southern area of the TIPNIS region inhabited by peasant coca farmers giving them title to the land as TIOC and naming it Polygon 7, the area is governed by The Indigenous Council of the South (CONISUR) and the park is managed by SERNAP in this area [2][3].

Government Arrangements

Bolivia signed the International Labour Organization Convention 169 in 1989 which ensured the rights of FPIC for Indigenous and Tribal peoples and the benefits of activities held in their territories [8]. FPIC is also mandated by the Bolivian Plurinational Constitution and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [2][4][5]. FPIC in Bolivia is based on the Constitution’s promise that the State is based on the respect and dignity of all its people and that the state upholds principles of Indigenous sovereignty, dignity, solidarity, harmony, and equity in the distribution and redistribution of socio-ecenomic wealth [5]. In October 2011, in response to the TIPNIS march, the Bolivian government (temporarily) agreed to stop the road building and signed the No. 180 protection law at the 2012 meeting to shelter the park from the damage caused by the national infrastructure [3]. According to Protection Law No.180 of 2011, the TIPNIS region should be protected as an ‘intangible zone’, the definition of which is controversial between the MAS assembly and TIPNIS Indigenous communities [3][7]. According to the MAS government, the ‘intangible zone’ defined the TIPNIS as an area where animals cannot be hunted, wood cannot be logged, seeds cannot be sown, or where the ground cannot be modified except for limited travel and commercial activity [3][7] . Indigenous leaders saw this as a legal end to their traditional Indigenous ways of knowing and connecting with the forest and thus refused to accept this definition that was forced upon them [3][7]. The government was supposed to cooperate with Indigenous leadership in consultation before adding legislature based on Indigenous peoples as according to the refounded constitution, UNDRIP and ILO 169, but the government did not [3][4][5][8] .

Despite signing these frameworks for FPIC the Bolivian government started the construction of a road through the most bio-diverse and least inhabited section of the TIPNIS region without acquiring the FPIC of the Indigenous inhabitants in 2011[3][5][6]. These FPIC frameworks were also violated when the Bolivian government surveyed the TIPNIS inhabitants in the renewed 2015 calls for a road to be built through their territories as well [3]. Each community had to consult with government officials with limited information on the road project itself and on the collective TIPNIS communities' decisions to inform their decision [3][7]. There was also no unbiased third-party observer during the TIPNIS road consultation which allowed for unscrupulous surveying like taking the opinion of community outliers as a collective consent for the entire community [3][7] .

Interior TIPNIS/Lowland Indigenous Communities Stakeholders

The interior TIPNIS region is made up of approximately 64 communities lowland Indigenous communities, they are primarily populated by the Indigenous Mojenos-Trinitario, Chimane and Yuracare peoples [3] [6]. The Interior TIPNIS region has been co-managed by SERNAP and the communities have been governed by TIPNIS Subcentral and their subsidiary Secure Subcentral which is run by and for appointed community members [3]. The TIPNIS inhabitants' positions on wanting the road are mixed with some calling Evo Morales's decisions racist and some wanting the road just closer to their communities, but the communities almost unanimously disagree with the federal government’s planned position for the road and the ecological destruction it will cause [1][3]. Indigenous peoples from the TIPNIS have described their deep connection to their territory as the forest and what it provides as an essential part of their daily lives [1][3][9] . Everything they need to sustain themselves and their families they can find within the forest and these practices help connect them to their Indigenous identities and communities as well [1][3]. Indigenous TIPNIS Inhabitants stressed the importance of protecting and supporting their ways of life as they wish for their children and many generations to come to carry on these traditions [3].

The TIPNIS inhabitants and their territories have been colonized by successive interloper governments, even under Evo Morales’ federal governments from a different Indigenous community (the Aymara) and differing ontologies based on the nationalization, extraction and sale of natural resources [1][5] . Therefore TIPNIS inhabitants have little to no legal power as the federal laws which do protect their territories and ways of life are ignored by the federal government. Their powers to protect their territories instead lie in media awareness, in international articles like UNDRIP and in community-level organizations to defend their rights. For example, the Indigenous peoples living in the TIPNIS and surrounding area (Polygon 7) instead come together in collectives with organizations like the CIDOB (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia) which have existed for the TIPNIS community since 1982 [11]. It was formed as part of a larger political project to provide legal protections for Indigenous lands and to prevent the further colonization of Indigenous territories through activities like farming, coca leaf cultivation, logging and deforestation, and hydrocarbon extraction [11]. These groups that emerged to protect their rights were a part of the 1990s Indigenous rights protests as well which demonstrates Bolivian Indigenous groups' capacity for political unity[5][7]. This is critical to understanding the TIPNIS struggle for self-determination FPIC and other political struggles Bolivian Indigenous struggles for political empowerment related to TIPNIS and other political struggles[5] [7] .

Exterior Community Stakeholders

With the state of Bolivia being declared plurinational in 2009, it is only natural that there is also a diverse amount of stakeholders in the TIPNIS case study[1] [2].

MAS Goverment/Evo Morales:

The MAS government’s official opinion on the TIPNIS road is that it would increase socioeconomic development for Indigenous residents in the face of poverty and social marginalization [3] Evo Morales also falsely claimed that any organized refusal of the road was due to foreign NGO interference in Bolivian Indigenous politics and not that residents didn't want a road [3]. One of the major reasons the MAS government wants the road through the most protected biodiverse heart of the TIPNIS is they also plan to extract the massive hydrocarbon reserves that make up 27.5% of the TIPNIS area [3][5][6]. This interest caused the party to start construction on a road through the TIPNIS region of the hydrocarbon reserve in 2011 and eventually during Morales’ administration dedicated $9.2 billion US to resource extraction in 2014 and 2015[3] [6].

Polygon 7 Inhabitants/Coca Farmers

The other key players outside of the TIPNIS community that are interested in the stakes of the road’s construction are the highland Indigenous Coca farmers like the Quechua and Aymara who inhabit the separated Polygon 7 [3]. Their territories have also been comanaged by SERNAP since the 1990s [3]. While they value the cultural practice of Indigenous farming of potatoes and natural medicines like the coca plant, the Polygon 7 inhabitants do not share the same relationship with the TIPNIS natural environment that the lowland Indigenous groups do[1] [5] . These demographic views of jealousy over the lowland Indigenous peoples' large tracts of land that make up the TIPNIS mirror the MAS party’s that the TIPNIS region is not being used to its full agricultural and economic possibilities[1][2] [5] . This view also shows that it is no secret in Bolivia that this product is supplying the international value chain of the global cocaine economy [5]. Furthermore, the stereotype of highland coca growers as masculine and powerful is played against the lowland Indigenous peoples by President Morales to try to convince and persuade them to allow the road through the TIPNIS to be built [10]. The 20000+ families in the small amount of land are represented by several grassroots organizations like The farmers organized by the Agrarian Trade Union [5] [9], SERNAP who reluctantly officially supports the road as they must work to cooperate with extractive projects due to low resources in their aligned organizations [3]. The other large political governing organization in this area is the Indigenous Council of the South (CONISUR). CONISUR is made up of 21 Indigenous communities, with 12 living in the south of the TIPNIS Indigenous territory and another 9 in Polygon 7, they mounted a counter march in La Paz in favour of the governments planned TIPNIS road development in 2011 [9]. The CONISUR protest reached the capital with ease and little resistance from the police unlike interior residents of the TIPNIS' protests, this is a clear example of how the coca-growing farming constituency was the favoured demographic of President Morales and his MAS party [5][9].

Human Rights Organizations and Other NGOs:

As this is an unprecedented issue of Indigenous rights, especially in a country that has been at the forefront of Indigenous self-determination, land reforms and natural resource nationalization there are many NGOs interested in the stake of the TIPNIS road development as well[1] [2]. Some of which are the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in Bolivia (APDHB), the Inter-American Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). As BNDES withdrew their financial support from the road development the Brazilian company OAS was contracted to fund the highway's construction [9]. The APDHB helped the researchers connect with local families, gathered news and visited 36 communities to reveal significant flaws in government consultations [7]. To further support the flaws in consultations, the APDHB collaborated with FIDH in 2012, and their report showed that there was less support for the proposed road among indigenous communities than official government statistics, as well as the government's failure to comply with international FPIC standards and the fact that some meetings were held without the presence of Indigenous community leaders [9].


In Bolivia, the MAS government’s handling of the protests in the TIPNIS region over nonconsensual development and subsequent consultations reveal some of the tensions within Indigenous communities and between the MAS government and Indigenous communities. The road was a priority for the Morales government they set a target of terminating exploitative privatization by nationalizing the ownership of mineral and hydrocarbon resources to oppose the market-based model of the international discussion about climate policy [9]. However, during the procedure, the government neglected the FPIC of infrastructure for development and extraction in Indigenous territories [7]. The lowland Indigenous communities' opposition to the road construction voiced their concerns about the TIPNIS forest as the TIPNIS has lost more than 46,000 hectares of forest (3.6% of the Park) between 2000 and 2014 and more than 58% of the deforestation surrounding roads [9][12]. The refusal of development was also a display of denial and struggle against the government's exploitation of the autonomy and the FPIC rights of the Indigenous peoples [9]. In addition, research in social and environmental aspects was also lacking aside from some work done by Hope in the TIPNIS communities with recorded interviews [3][6][9]. These interviews among others revealed that, during the subsequent consultation, some management conducted by the Morales government can be considered as intimidation and leading communities’ behaviour (e.g., offering benefits to a part of the family, media propaganda) [9].

Controversy between Indigenous Peoples & Government

The Bolivian government prioritized interest in the extraction of the natural resources of the TIPNIS region, while the Lowland Indigenous are more concerned with the autonomy of their territories, the defence of their bundle of rights, and the protection of their traditional/environmental-based ways of life. During the TIPNIS inhabitants' protests, these fundamental contradictions between the Indigenous communities and the MAS government were manifested. The MAS government sees the demands from the protesters as beyond environmental, including developing, education, health, and housing issues for lowlands communities [9]. The protesters also demanded direct compensation for hydrocarbon carbon extraction to provide communities revenue to control illegal logging activities and support sustainable livelihood activities (e.g harvesting Non-Timber Forest Products, like brazil nuts) [9]. These kinds of Indigenous demands to upgrade the quality of life and community forestry in the TIPNIS area threaten the Bolivian government's ideals of ‘trans-nationalization and privatization of the forests’[9]. The Indigenous protestors see the TIPNIS issues as not just one of environmental protection but also the prior offence of the violation of autonomy and territory [9]. As although the government discussed the rights of Indigenous groups and how respectful they are to "mother earth", there was still a huge expansion of the extraction industry and infrastructure, which threatened the livelihood and autonomy of Indigenous communities [9]. Indigenous peoples argued that there were interior logical contradictions in the government's position. The actions of the MAS government's interest in infrastructure development and resource extraction (which undermined previous protection laws) eroded Indigenous peoples' trust in the MAS government as they were seen as interior logical contradictions, this is one of the triggers of the TIPNIS protests.

Controversy Within Indigenous Groups

The Bolivian government divided the construction of the highway into three sections, the first of which is already built and in Polygon 7, The second and largest is through the TIPNIS region, and the third section is in the Multiethnic Indigenous Territory (TIM) which was surprisingly supported in the road [8]. One of the contradictory opinions was among Indigenous peoples supporting the road development they believe the highway would bring potential opportunities for commercial development as well as improve existing poor-quality roads [8]. This is likely why the TIM communities want the road as their urban and slightly wealthier communities are closer to the road which is indicated to increase likely hood of supporting the road development [8]. Through the surveys and interviews conducted by scholars and journalists, the different voices among Indigenous communities regarding the development in the TIPNIS area were revealed. The survey results reveal that there might be opposing perspectives on road construction among Indigenous communities in different family compositions and territories. The controversy within Indigenous communities has led to conflict between Indigenous leaders causing the demotivation of TIPNIS protesters, which allowed the MAS government to sway the community leaders and the family against road construction in the following consultation. In addition, the controversy might relate to the intense media propaganda strategy carried out by the government in 2012 trying to change people’s opinions [8].

How Government Managed Issues

Coca growers led by Evo Morales have historical and traditional beliefs on land utilization with the Indigenous communities since that are contradictory to the TIPNIS inhabitants' beliefs. As such it is heavily implied that during the TIPNIS protest the government failed in securing the safety of protesters by manipulating laws and the relationship between coca farmers and peasant farmers [9]. For example, the government claimed to be concerned about potential conflict between the marchers and coca growers by sending police to “keep the peace” focusing the blame on Indigenous leaders against the road and planned national development [9]. Moreover, there was tremendous ambiguity and inequity in the subsequent consultations by the Bolivian government. The government was supposed to cooperate with Indigenous leadership in consultation, but the government did not. Each community had to consult with the government with limited context information of other Indigenous communities to predict the result of the agreements for the whole Indigenous groups. In addition, several parallel leadership organizations emerged to coordinate consultation [7], which has led to further fragmentation of Indigenous community leadership. During the consultation process, the government offered development benefits and service promises to communities, which seriously broke the integrity and justice of the consultation process. This kind of strategy can be seen as intimidation to stress and separate each family in the community [9]. The Bolivian government's handling of the consultation severely neglected the principles of equity and justice and the FPIC rights for Indigenous communities. As well as there being no unbiased third-party observation of the government survey for the road on Indigenous peoples within TIPNIS, interviews following it conducted by Hope revealed that FPIC had not been properly achieved [3][6][9]. TIPNIS communities were noted to have not been properly informed on the impacts of the road, had no choice in its placement and noted that community members with outlying opinions were sometimes noted as consent for the entire community[3].

Conclusion and Recommendations

“With modest agricultural potential and high environmental values, TIPNIS would instead seem to present a textbook example of an environment where development of new roads should be limited” (Fernández-Llamazares et al., p.16) [12]. Yet the government road and resource extraction slated with the TPNIS area against the FPIC of the Indigenous inhabitants has happened twice and continues. The TIPNIS protest is recognized as a positive example of Indigenous communities' struggle for FPIC procedures from the government by protesting as it defended and asserted Indigenous communities' values of self-determination and environmental protection. Moreover, the government's potential guidance and ambiguous handling of the protests and consultations resulted in the continuation and escalation of the contradictions. The TIPNIS Protest can provide an example for other multinational countries in alerting the national government to respect the FPIC rights and autonomy of Indigenous groups and to follow the equity and justice principles in the consultation process. This case study suggests that the Bolivian government stop neglecting the legitimate rights of Indigenous peoples and following FPIC frameworks should offer fair compensation for the lack of proper FPIC procedures to negotiate through reasonable means to mitigate local disputes. The Bolivian government should also where and when possible to avoid the impact road development has on the surrounding environment as the decrease in biodiversity also has effects the livelihood and ways of knowing and being of local Indigenous peoples.


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Theme: Community Forestry & TIPNIS march
Country: Bolivia

This conservation resource was created by Fisher, Shangcheng Li, Ming Lou.
It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0.