Indigenous leaders have accused the Bolivian government of political persecution following a dispute over gas exploration in the country’s oil-rich Chaco.
“We demand that the government paralyzes its acts of political persecution and intimidation against the indigenous leaders of the Guarani nation,” wrote the Assembly of the Guarani Peoples (APG) in a resolution passed on 30 August.
The denunciation stems from an ongoing stand-off over drilling operations conducted by the state oil company, YFPB.
On 18 August communities living close to the drilling site, angered by the government’s refusal to grant them a consultation on the works, blocked the main road connecting the city of Santa Cruz with the Argentine border.
Police used tear gas to clear the blockade. They then marched into the nearest village, Yatirenda, in pursuit of the protesters, kicking down doors and dragging people from their homes.
National newspaper El Deber described a scene of chaos, “the town a mess of crying women and children and howling dogs.”
27 people were arrested, including two minors, and five police officers were injured, according to official figures.
Following the clash, the government agreed to talks with the Assembly of the Guarani Peoples (APG), which is representing the communities in the area.
The APG pursued two demands: a consultation on the YFPB’s drilling operation, with the possibility of compensation for local communities: and the repeat of a recent decree that opened up protected areas to hydrocarbon exploration.
Tensions at a high
Tensions between the two groups remained high. On the opening day of the talks, President Evo Morales accused the APG of being less interested in defending the environment than in “blackmailing the state for economic resources.”
The situation was further inflamed on 29 August when it emerged that the APG had been excluded from an organisation that funds projects in indigenous communities.
Bolivia’s state oil and gas company, the YFPB, began drilling wells in the El Dorado region of the Bolivian Chaco in May 2015. They did so without consulting the local Guarani population living in the indigenous territory of Takovo Mora.
Protests against the lack of any community representation in the decision-making process began in July. The dispute hinges on whether the site of the wells falls within the bounds of the Takovo Mora territory, in which case a consultation is required by law, or if it is located on private property owned by the YFPB.
The organization given the responsibility of clarifying the location of the wells is the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA).
“A very sensitive issue,”
“It’s very delicate, a very sensitive issue,” an INRA official told Latin Correspondent.
He suggested that the conflict could be resolved through a compromise deal, currently on the table in negotiations which re-opened on 2 September. This would allow the first stage of the YFBP’s operations, drilling wells, to go ahead without a consultation.
But communities would be consulted before the second stage begins, when pipelines will be installed to transport the gas through land that is indisputably located within Takovo Mora.
But while such a compromise may defuse this particular stand-off, the underlying catalyst will remain active. In May, the Bolivian government passed a law, Decree 2366, opening up national parks to oil and gas exploration. The APG, along with several other indigenous organizations, immediately demanded that the decree be repealed or changed.
“We are not going to permit businesses to enter while Decree 2366 remains in its current form,” said Domingo Julián, President of APG, at the time. “The government didn’t consult us about these changes, they were passed without the consent of indigenous peoples.”
It seems likely that the clash in Takovo Mora will be the opening battle in a series of recurring conflicts triggered by this controversial new decree.
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