October 23, 2011
Following a violent crackdown on protestors which deeply embarrassed the Bolivian government, president Evo Morales has thrown-out plans to build a road through an indigenous reserve, reports the BBC. Protestors marched 310 miles (498 kilometers) from the Amazon to La Paz to show their opposition to the road, saying that the project would destroy vast areas of biodiverse rainforest and open up their land to illegal settlers.
But the peaceful march turned violent when riot police attacked protestors about halfway to La Paz. Captured on video, which soon went viral, protestors were tear-gassed and beaten with batons. The violence from an administration that has long linked itself to environmentalism, the poor, and indigenous rights (Morales himself is indigenous), led several top government officials to step-down in solidarity with the protesters. It also led Morales himself to ask for 'forgiveness' from the Bolivian public for the police response, though he denied giving any order for police to breakup the march.
Following the backlash, Morales initially stated the road would be put on hold, but has now said it will not go through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Tipnis). The announcement comes just as around 1,000 protestors have reached La Paz from their march.
The road would have been funded and built by Brazil, which is eyeing another route from East to West in South America. Critics of the road had charged it would have done little to help Bolivians, but Morales had argued it would bring additional infrastructure and economic development to the country. At one point he stated the road would be built regardless of indigenous concerns.
Indigenous people in the reserve stated they had not been consulted on the road project and feared encroachment by settlers if the road was built. In the Amazon, roads bring deforestation, illegal settlements, poaching, among other impacts.
The struggle may not yet be over as protesters have 15 other demands for the Morales government.