Bolivia Axes Plans to Build a Highway in the Amazon

by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil on 10.23.11

It was a plan met with controversy from the start: to build a 185-mile long highway through Bolivia’s Isibore Secure Reserve, an ecological gem in the Amazon rainforest. For months, thousands of mostly indigenous protesters marched from throughout to Bolivia to the capital of La Paz to draw attention to what they saw as a threat to the park’s wealth of biodiversity and a harbinger of deforestation. Last week, a following demonstrations outside the presidential palace, President Evo Morales announced that the highways plans would be canceled, adding that he is “governing by obeying the people.”

The proposed highway through the Amazon was to be funded by a $332 million loan from Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, largely as a means of connecting Brazilian industry with ports along Bolivia’s Pacific coastline. The area to be impacted by the road’s construction, known as TIPNIS, is home to four important rainforest ecosystems, along with more than 50 distinct indigenous communities.

President Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous-born leader, had long enjoyed popular support for his defense of environmental issues, but since giving the green light for the Amazon highway this summer saw his approval ratings slide. In the face of mounting protests, however, Morales announced that the road plans would be scrapped, reports The Guardian:
Friday’s U-turn represented a dramatic change-of-heart from a president who as recently as June had declared: “Whether they like it or not, we will build that road.”

Jorge Lazarte, a political analyst from La Paz’s Universidad Catolica, said Morales’s retreat was the result of “enormous pressure from the indigenous protesters”.

“He had to yield to this pressure. The president’s announcement is what he should have done long ago, when the march began two months ago,” he said.

In announcing that the Amazon road through TIPNIS would be canceled, Morales said that the region would now be designated and “untouchable zone.”

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