Bolivia: Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia (Confederacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Bolivia, CIDOB)

Source: Climate Alliance

In Bolivia, the indigenous people represent a minority, comprising over 5 million people and 34 different peoples. By far the largest people are the Quechua, who dwell in the highlands, (2,899,000) and the Aymara (1,785,000). Other populous groups are the Chiquitano (184,200), Guaraní (133,393) and Mojeño (76,073).

Through their assiduous battle, the organisations have won recognition for indigenous communities as legal subjects. Indigenous authorities, norms and dispute resolution procedures are integrated into the nation’s political life. Indigenous representatives are a part of all Bolivian parties. With Víctor Hugo Cárdenas, an Aymara made it all the way to the position of Vice President (1993 until 1997). Since 2006, an indigenous man from the highlands, Evo Morales, has been in government. Evo Morales is particularly committed to the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. Thus he called the country’s inhabitants to a referendum in 2009 in which it was decided whether a constitutional amendment transferring extensive rights to the indigenous people for the first time should be invoked. The new 2009 constitution granted the indigenous people extensive rights, ensuring them their self-determination within the state, their right to autonomy in addition to self-government and culture, and recognition and reinforcement of their institutions and local authorities. Furthermore, all indigenous languages such as Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní were granted equal status to Spanish as national languages.

The political organisation of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples is the Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia (Confederacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Bolivia, CIDOB), which was established in 1982 and represents 41 indigenous peoples comprising a total of 300,000 people. Its primary aim is the securing of land titles for indigenous territory. Although the legal basis has been created for this, implementation is proving very difficult due to resistance from the big landowners. The Bolivian indigenous movement has a long tradition of protests and resistance, which is reflected in varying alliances, marches in the country’s capital, and violent oppression by the police and military forces. As long ago as 1990, the indigenous organisations protested for land rights and against the ruthless exploitation of the forests during a march in La Paz. In 1991, Bolivia also ratified the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples, and during the local elections in 1995, a great many indigenous representatives were voted into local governments. The national agrarian reform law of 1996 allocated eight territories land titles to indigenous groups; the allocation of the land titles is planned for a further 16 territories. This process has stalled however, as verification of the land claims is proving extremely difficult, and the big landowners are using any means possible to oppose this.

Although both the human rights and specifically indigenous rights were recognised officially, the often violent clashes with the law enforcement forces lead to violations of human rights. The Gran Chaco National Park in Bolivia, an area of vast biological diversity, and the indigenous peoples dwelling there are under threat from a joint venture between Bolivia and Brazil. With the help of a credit from the World Bank, the two countries constructed a pipeline of over 2,500 m in length between Bolivia and Brazil to transport Bolivian natural gas from Santa Cruz to the São Paulo on the Brazilian Atlantic coast. The project was completed in March 2000. The pipeline cuts through the Gran Chaco National Park in Bolivia, the low-lying Bolivian and Brazilian Pantanal, and the rainforest in south-east Brazil. In 2006, President Evo Morales nationalised Bolivia’s oil and natural gas reserves in a decree. This effectively obligated foreign companies to hand production over to the state company, YPFB (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos), which assumed control of overseas exports from then on. The alternative for the international companies was ‘withdrawal’ from the country, which shocked and unsettled many firms and governments around the world.

Text updated: Maryhen Jiménez (April 2010)