I recently came across an article in the Guardian about developmental struggles in Bolivia. It’s an interesting country that we don’t hear much about. Located in the heart of South America, surrounded by Brazil and Peru, Bolivia is a country rich in natural beauty and resources. Reverence of nature, known as “Panchamama" is a prominent part of the indigenous Andean spiritual philosophy. As a result of the socialist policies of the country, the government plays a major role in the environmental management. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia is known for having contradictory viewpoints on environmental responsibility on the international and national scale.
The new Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park [TIPNIS] development project in the nation has caught worldwide attention. It takes into account the generic conflict between development and environmental preservation, and between the government and the people. The government made a decision to build a highway cutting through the park without the consultation with the local people. Despite encouraging other nations to take assertive action against climate change, the President released a statement saying, “Whether they [locals] like it or not, we will build that road.” A one dimensional economic benefit of the bridge is considered which ignores the environmental and social implications of the project.
The people marched for their right to be consulted, a clause outlined in the Bolivian Constitution itself. There were attempts by the government to squash the rising protests against the bridge development. The collective societal effort and physical depiction of their dissidence against the government, despite the resistance from the state, displays the perseverance and strength of the environmental values of the people.
The government had made the final decision and formally hired a Brazilian company for the construction, however, the initial public marches, representing bottom-up political influence, forced the government to carry out the consultation process. However, a second wave of protests arose during July 2012 questioning the validity and authenticity of the process considering Morales administration’s pre-approval of the project. The National Park holds spiritual value for the indigenous people, is rich is biodiversity and home to eleven endangered species.
Deforestation is a prominent issue in Bolivia and the main reason for land use change is infrastructure development and agricultural usage. Also, the nation is highly vulnerable to climate change, the impacts of which have become starkingly visible with frequent droughts. The increases in temperature led to the disappearance of the Chacaltaya glacier in 2009, which was originally predicted to stay intact until 2020. The loss of biodiversity would have negative implications on the worsening climate change impacts already being experienced i nBolivia.
This incident in Bolivia shows the complex inherent debate between development and environment, especially in developing nations. The sustainable development model recognizes the dynamic and interdependent nature of ecosystem and places humans in the context of larger biosphere.