Evo Morales and the Highway Dispute
October 24, 2011, 02:34 AM
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Down in South America, Evo Morales, billed as Bolivia`s first indigenous president, finds that it`s not always easy weighing the interests of various ethnic groups. It`s caused him to change the route of some planned highway construction:

"President Evo Morales said Friday that he was scrapping plans to build a highway through a nature reserve in Bolivia`s jungle lowlands, bowing to public pressure after a two-month protest march by Amazon Indians. Morales did not abandon the idea of a highway through Bolivia linking Brazil with the Pacific coast, but said it would no longer cut through the pristine Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park, or TIPNIS."

Bolivia`s Morales Bows to Demands of Indian Protesters, Abandons Amazon Jungle Highway, Carlos Valdez, Associated Press, Oct. 21st, 2011

The residents didn’t want the highway:

"The 15,000 Indians who inhabit the reserve fear encroachment by coca growers and other settlers, while the highway`s supporters argue it is needed to promote the development of Bolivia`s poorer regions."

On the one hand, highways do promote economic development. But maybe some people don’t want their area economically developed.

"Bolivia`s leftist president said he would veto a law passed last week that green-lighted the highway as originally proposed. He said he would insist it be amended to declare the reserve off limits to the highway as well as to the settlement by colonists."

It seems that all of Bolivia`s Indians weren`t on the same sheet of music:

"More than 100 protesters remained camped in front of the presidential palace Friday, two days after activists ended their trek from the Amazon reserve to La Paz, the world`s highest capital. The march galvanized opposition to the Brazilian-funded highway and highlighted claims that Morales _ an Aymara _ has favored Bolivia`s majority Aymara and Quechua highland Indians over indigenous groups from the country`s lowland jungle."

So the interests of Bolivia`s highland Indians aren`t the same as those of the lowland jungle Indians, it seems.
        Before the reserve route was cancelled, things had turned ugly:

"Morales` popularity plunged after he insisted on the route through TIPNIS and was further battered when police used tear gas and truncheons Sept. 25 to try to break up the march.

The police crackdown backfired. The defense minister quit in protest and the interior minister resigned.

Bolivians harangued Morales for the use of force against peaceful protesters and for allegedly betraying his credentials as an environmentalist and champion of Bolivia`s long downtrodden indigenous majority."

It`s a reminder that the interests of different ethnic groups don`t always coincide, even those of indigenous ethnic groups.