In Bolivia, the great indigenous march ends in indifference

There is an air of weariness. The one that wins those who hoped to expose their grievances at the top of the state, who waited weeks, and who failed. For sixty-two days, hundreds of indigenous people from the Amazon, the East and the Bolivian Chaco, representing the 34 ethnic groups of the lowlands – among them Yuracaré, Guarani, Moxeño – camped in the vast stadium of the He Gabriel-René-Moreno Autonomous University, in Santa Cruz, in the east of the country.

“I left everything behind me, my sons were left alone, because we have to fight for our territory”, says Benedicta Noto Mae, mother of two boys, as she cooks on a stove in front of her tent. She walked 500 kilometers from her village of San Lorenzo, in the department of Beni. After thirty-seven days of march, the procession arrived on 1is December in the city of Santa Cruz, stronghold of the opposition to the left-wing government of Luis Arce, elected in October 2020. A way of opposing the centralism of La Paz, seat of government institutions, which is 800 kilometers from the.

Thirty-one years after the first historic indigenous march for land and dignity, in 1990, this 11e march was, once again, for the defense of the territory. The marchers denounce the upsurge in invasions, with many faces: agribusiness, coca leaf cultivation, mining, gas or oil extraction projects. Their territories are subjugated with, according to them, the complicity of the government.

“Offensive of the settlers towards the eastern lands”

The latter tried to send emissaries. He was met with a categorical refusal. Indigenous leaders demanded a meeting with President Arce in person. As if to say that the hour is serious, and that no other authority could respond to their demands.

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Among them, the repeal of 14 laws judged “Ecocides”. In particular, the “Incendiary decrees” which, according to Miguel Angel Valdivia, young Guarani and secretary general of the Parliament, “Open the way to the expansion of the agricultural frontier”, in particular by authorizing burning. Its uncontrolled practice had generated the fire and deforestation, in 2019, of 1.5 million hectares in Chiquitania, one of the largest dry forests in the world, regularly devastated by fire.

Lying in front of her tent, Ester Arteaga, from Chiquitania, accuses: “We are facing the offensive of the settlers towards the eastern lands. They are peasants, Brazilian companies, Mennonites [culte chrétien traditionaliste, issu de la Réforme protestante]. And INRA [Institut national de réforme agraire] Gives them title deeds to settle. We must walk so that they deign to recognize us land rights ”, says the young woman.

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