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Declaring autonomy in Bolivia

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TRINIDAD, BENI, Bolivia – One indigenous community in Bolivia is moving closer to the autonomy promised in the country’s new constitution.

Representatives of the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chiman peoples formally declared their indigenous territory, the Indigenous Territory and National Isiboro Secure Park (Tipnis), to be autonomous Feb. 9, making it the first indigenous region to declare autonomy based on provisions of the new Bolivian Constitution.

Indigenous leaders presented the formal statute of autonomy at an assembly in Beni where it will be submitted to a vote by communities in that region. The new constitution, ratified in January, recognizes “indigenous autonomy” as “self-government as the free determination of the original peoples and nations.”

In their resolution, the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chiman peoples cited articles 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 296 and 385 of the constitution as the legal basis for their application; “…with all the established rights, duties and powers.”

“With that determination,” stated an official Bolivian government press release about the resolution, “the process towards self-government is begun. …”

What is not clear, however, is what else exactly would be needed to formally acquire autonomy. The constitution states that, “…the law establishes minimum requirements in terms of population and other factors for the creation of indigenous autonomy. …” It also notes that Bolivia has 36 indigenous peoples, characterized by the sharing of “territory, culture, history, languages and organization and their own juridical, political, social and economic institutions.”

The new Magna Carta, as the constitution is called by many Bolivians, does not spell out all of the details of the autonomy process. This procedural issue has not prevented the peoples of the Tipnis from moving forward in their effort.

“We declare ourselves autonomous so as to seek a better future,” said Adolfo Moye, president of the Tipnis Indigenous Sub-central, in his talk before the reading of the resolution. Moye said that this step marks the end of a process begun in 1990.

“With this declaration of autonomy, it closes a cycle of struggle for the Tipnis in the consolidation of our territory, from the march of 1990 until this declaration.”

“As of today, this marks the second stage of the struggle, which is to travel down that road towards our self-determination,” said local indigenous leader, Fernando Vargas.

One of the leaders attending the event, Jorge Yanez, president of the Great Council of the Chiman Community, said their territory had many natural resources and that they wanted to “coordinate with the government so that they can begin to generate projects.

“We need economic resources to implement productive activity. Also, we need the technical assistance of professionals so that we can orient and train ourselves for successful efforts.”

According to data distributed by the National Protected Areas Service (Sernap), the Tipnis has a high degree of biodiversity, with many species of trees, over 600 types of birds and 714 species of fauna, including the cayman (a type of crocodile) and the jaguar. There are also many important archaeological sites in the area.

Human residents of the territory live in or around four towns located in the park. The Tipnis indigenous territory stretches across both regions of Beni and Cochabamba and is comprised of 2.9 million acres of tropical forest and lowlands.