Saturday, December 15, 2012


[To see the Table of Contents, click here. A glossary of terms and acronyms appearing in the text will be found here.]

Once again on so-called “extractivism”

Since Marx, we know that what characterizes and differentiates societies is the way in which they organize the production, distribution and use of the material and symbolic resources they possess. In other words, the mode of production[1] is what defines the material content of the social life of the distinct human territorial collectivities (nations, peoples, communities), within which there can be differentiated the historically specific form in which each of their components develop, and the manner in which various existing modes of production interrelate within the same society.

A mode of production is a web of social relations that involves specific forms of material relationships between the means of labour (tools), the objects of labour (“raw materials”), the labour force (the worker), the product of labour (result), the ownership of each of those components, the mutual relations of control or dependency, the technical organization of labour processes, the social use of the product of the work, etc. In each of these relations, which are part of the mode of social production, human beings are linked with each other and with nature through material means that are nothing but nature modified by social labour.

This means that there is a natural dimension in any productive social activity, and a social dimension in any creative natural activity; or if you prefer, the social is a component of the natural metabolism. In that sense, the way in which we human beings relate to nature forms part of the characteristics of a specific mode of social production.[2] In any case, human activity is possible solely through the transformation of nature, whether in the form of a hut or a city, a sown field or some sidewalks, a dam or a turbine, an axe or a dump truck; everything, absolutely everything, since life has existed on this planet. Natural and social life necessitates processing nature to extract the biological components of its reproduction and the material components of its tools. The human being by nature transforms and affects the surrounding nature; that is the invariable and trans-historical natural condition of any mode of production. However, what socially differentiates one mode of production from another is the way in which the human being relates to nature. All rural-based modes of production, prior to capitalism, without exception, have drastically affected and modified the natural environment. It is sufficient to see in our country the very large number of terraces in the Andes that guarantee the nourishment of millions of inhabitants in the Altiplano and the valleys,[3] the monumental system of ridges[4] or the artificial lakes of the Amazon that even now characterize the panorama of the plains of Beni. The major concentrations of humans have radically modified the environment in order to reproduce themselves. But the big difference that separates these environmental transformations from those that capitalism introduces to nature today is that the non-capitalist societies provided for the re-productive capacity of the modified environment and the continuity of what existed as a reservoir of goods of use (use values) for future generations. The organic and living conceptualization of nature that characterized these societies is derived from this manner of transforming it for collective purposes.

Capitalism, in contrast, reverses the reference coordinates of the environment with society. Nature is now a reservoir of material vehicles of exchange value, of profit. While in the other modes of production it is the great source of the means of life, of the use values that are sought after, under capitalism it is simply the material pretext for the exchange values (profits) that direct production. And destroying, protecting, pillaging, conserving are simply collateral, interchangeable components within a single social purpose: profit, the uninterrupted and infinite valorization of capital. And this logic is the founding objective that runs through everything: societies, persons and nature. Ultimately, with that objective capitalism is presented as a primary destructive force of human nature, and then of nature in general.

One component of the modes of production is the technical form of the relation of the human being with nature. This includes, firstly, the tools, the machine-tools that mediate labour with the raw material, and also the complexity of the transformation of that raw material, of the given or previously transformed nature. In this first component of the technical form we are talking about the characteristics and type of the productive forces (simple or complex; technical, organized, symbolic, etc.; collective or personal; artisanal, mechanical or industrial; intellectual; domestic, regional or universal, product of the social-world intellect, etc.). To some extent, this is the substantial technically evolving nucleus that differentiates the distinct social modes of production.[5]

In the case of the complexity of the transformation of nature, this can range from the extraction of the natural raw material (renewable like foodstuffs, wood, rubber, or non-renewable like minerals, hydrocarbons, etc.) to the manual, artisanal or industrial processing of that raw material or, at a higher level, when the “raw materials” are symbols and ideas and they are processed through the production of new, more complex ideas and symbols.

All societies and modes of production have in their own way those distinct levels of “raw materials” processing. If we conceptualize “extractivism” as the activity that simply extracts raw materials (renewables or non-renewables), without introducing greater transformation in the work performed, then all societies in the world, capitalist or non-capitalist, are also to a greater or lesser degree extractivist. The agrarian non-capitalist societies that processed iron, copper, gold or bronze on a greater or lesser scale had some type of specialized extractivist activity, complemented in some cases by the simple or complex processing of that raw material. And even societies that lived or are living from the extraction of wood and chestnuts in combination with hunting and fishing maintain a type of extractivist activity in relation to renewable natural resources.

Capitalist societies themselves have distinct levels of extractivist activity[6] which with the passage of time have given rise to activities of industrial processing. In certain cases, some societies have quickly passed to the production of ideas and symbols as their main productive activity. That implies an appropriation of the intellectual productive forces for processes of capitalist valorization (profit). But also, the non-capitalist ancient societies used modalities of this form of production of collective goods. Mathematics, astronomy, irrigation engineering[7] or religious ritual itself, which the Andean-Amazonian, Mayan or other civilizations developed, are social factories of ideas that worked on ideas and symbols.

What establishes differences in the historical epochs, and between the societies that have a similar general mode of production, is the specialization in their productive activities; that is, how they participate in the mode of territorially organizing the international division of labour.

There are countries that began as producers of raw materials, then moved to the phase of industrializing the production of raw materials and now tend to concentrate in scientific-technological production and services. A good many European countries, and North America, have gone that route. Other societies, from being producers of raw materials for the world market (primarily exporting “extractivist” economies), to the degree that the countries in the first group have displaced their industrial production to the periphery, have moved to activities complementary to their extractivism, to selective industrial processing, becoming the workshops of the world. Examples are Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, India and, in part, China.

But there are also societies, such as most of those in Latin America and Africa, that have remained in the primary-exporting sphere — fundamentally extractivist, or extractivist and agricultural. The capitalist world system is dynamic and continually reconfiguring in a conflictual way the geographical distribution of the distinct productive processes in terms of profit rates, access to markets, availability of a labour force and natural resources. Generally speaking, the colonial or post-colonial societies tend to be located in the primary-export area, but there are also numerous examples of colonial societies that have transitioned to the area of industrial processing (Brazil, Mexico, etc.), including the production of knowledge (South Africa, and in part China), although that does not mean they are no longer capitalist. This means that even when ceasing to be extractivist, capitalism does not end, as it can be extractivist or non-extractivist. So the central debate for the revolutionary transformation of society is not whether or not we are extractivist, but to what degree we are going beyond capitalism as a mode of production — whether in its extractivist or non-extractivist variant.

Within capitalism as a world-wide mode of production, each of these labour specializations of the countries and regions forms part of a similar scheme of predominance of the world capitalist system. And the revolutionary socialist processes that developed over the last 150 years have inherited as a condition of possibility and limitation — during the time they existed — this location in the international division of global labour. The Paris Commune, the Soviet Republic in the time of Lenin, or Mao’s China, did not break with this world-wide material base. They could not do that. Instead, what they did was to take as their point of departure their location in the division of labour and the level of their productive forces, so that from there they could begin to revolutionize the internal economic structures through a long process of socialization of the conditions of production, and to promote an even greater and longer process of revolutionary transformation of international economic relations. Lenin’s extraordinary reflections about the predominance of capitalism — in the midst of the Russian socialist revolution — and the implacable international division of labour, notwithstanding the presence of Soviet Russia,[8] are of the necessary scope and depth to understand the relevance of the contemporary revolution from the standpoint of socialism, but also the difficulties and limitations that any emancipatory process must confront in any part of the world, including that of the Bolivian Democratic-Cultural Revolution.

In contrast to a naïve ultraleftism that thinks a society can escape world domination by itself, Lenin and Marx remind us that capitalism operates on a world scale, and can only be overcome on a world scale.[9] So struggles and efforts for the socialization of production in a single country are simply that: efforts, battles and dispersed skirmishes that convey an historical intent but can triumph only if they expand to become struggles on a world scale. Communism either is world-wide or it will never be. And while there is a general predominance of capitalism, within it there are glimmers and tendencies of struggles of a potential new mode of production that cannot exist locally, and can only be present as just that: a tendency, a struggle, a possibility, for its existence is conceivable only on a worldwide geopolitical scale. The illusion of “communism in a single country” was just that: an illusion that brought disastrous consequences for the workers of that country and for the expectations of revolution in the 20th century.

Socialism is not a new mode of production that would coexist alongside capitalism, territorially contesting the world or one country. Socialism is a battlefield between capitalism in crisis and the tendencies, potentialities and efforts to bring production under community ownership and control.[10] In other words, it is the historical period of struggle between the dominant established capitalist mode of production and another potentially new mode of production. The only mode of production that will overcome capitalism is communism, the assumption of community ownership and control of production of the material life of society. And that mode of production does not exist piecemeal, it can only exist on a world scale. But until that happens the only thing that is left is the struggle.

This brief basic reminder of the logic of revolutionary processes is important because there are some who criticize us for submitting to the international division of labour, as if we could break from that division in a single country (Stalin’s illusion) and simply by wishing it. No contemporary revolution has been able to break the world division of labour, nor can it do so as long as there is no social mass politically mobilized and sufficiently extended territorially (at a global level) and technically sustainable to modify the correlation of the world’s geopolitical forces. So before we start tearing our hair out over the actual operation of the “capitalist division of labour,” the most important thing is to erode that division of labour through the territorial expansion of the world’s revolutionary and progressive processes.

Similarly, the Bolivian revolutionary process is criticized for remaining at the “extractivist” stage of the economy, which is said to maintain activity harmful to nature and to seal its dependency on world capitalist domination.

There is no historical evidence that certifies that the industrialized capitalist societies are less harmful to Mother Earth than those that devote themselves to the extraction of raw materials, whether renewable or non-renewable. Moreover, the information on global warming fundamentally refers to greenhouse gas emissions by the highly industrialized countries.[11] And as to the possibilities of regions that could exist in autarchy from the capitalist order, Marx more than 100 years ago made fun of some utopians who thought they could create social “islands” that would be immune from relations of capitalist domination. He ironically pointed out that perhaps some recently formed coral island in the South Seas[12] could fulfill this utopian requisite, but the rest of society was in one way or another already subject to the dominant economic relations.

Just as the extractivism of our societies is an integral part of the networks of the international division of labour, the industrial processing of raw materials or the knowledge economy are part of the same world capitalist division of labour. Neither extractivism nor non-extractivism is a solution to this worldwide domination. It is in fact conceivable that in the future construction of a communitarian mode of production, in which the whole of the common resources, material and immaterial, are produced and administered by the producers themselves, there will exist some countries and regions that are extractivist.

Therefore, it is naïve to think that extractivism, non-extractivism or industrialism are a vaccination against injustice, exploitation and inequality, because in themselves they are neither modes of producing nor modes of managing wealth. They are technical systems of processing nature through labour, and can be present in pre-capitalist, capitalist or communitarian societies. Economic systems with greater or lesser justice, with or without exploitation of labour, will only be possible depending on how those technical systems are used, how the wealth thereby produced is managed.

The critics of extractivism confuse technical system with mode of production, and from this confusion they go on to associate extractivism with capitalism, forgetting that there are non-extractivist, industrial, societies that are completely capitalist!

We can have extractivist societies that are capitalist, non-capitalist, pre-capitalist or post-capitalist. And similarly, we can have non-extractivist societies that are capitalist, non-capitalist or post-capitalist. Extractivism is not a goal in itself, but it can be the starting point for overcoming it. To be sure, condensed within it is the entire territorial distribution of the world division of labour — a distribution that is often colonial. And to break that colonial subordination it is not sufficient to sound off with insults against that extractivism, to stop producing and drive the people into greater misery, so later the Right returns and without modifying extractivism partially satisfies the basic needs of the population. That is precisely the trap of the unthinking critics who call for non-extractivism, who in their political liturgy mutilate the revolutionary forces and governments of the material means to satisfy the needs of the population, generate wealth and distribute it fairly, and thereby to create a new material non-extractivist base that preserves and amplifies the benefits of the labouring population.

Like any emancipation, to escape extractivism we have to start from it, from what, as a technical form, it has done to the society. At present, for us as a country, this is the only technical means we have to distribute the material wealth generated through extractivism (but in a way that differs from the preceding), and in addition to allow us to have the material, technical and cognitive conditions to transform its technical and productive base. Because if not, how will extractivism be overcome? By stopping production, closing the tin mines and gas wells, and retreating from satisfying the basic material means of existence, as its critics suggest? Isn’t that rather the route toward increasing poverty and the direct road to the restoration of the neoliberals? Isn’t that what the conservative forces most desire — tying our hands in the revolutionary process by rejecting extractivism — in order to strangle that process?

By overcoming extractivism we are not going to overcome capitalism. If only things were so easy! If that were the case — as some of our critics childishly believe — the United States would be the first communist country in the world! But be careful, that does not mean that overcoming extractivism cannot help the ongoing revolutionary processes. It can help, firstly, because the phases of industrialization or production of knowledge help to create a greater economic surplus that can be redistributed in order to satisfy the needs of society; secondly, because it can help to reduce the harmful environmental impacts; and thirdly, because it equips society with greater technical-productive capacity to control the overall production processes.

But in any event extractivism does not condemn us to capitalism nor does non-extractivism deliver us directly by the hand to socialism. It all depends on the political power, on the social mobilization capable of guiding the productive processes — extractivist or non-extractivist — toward increasing communal ownership and control over their operation and the social distribution of the resulting wealth.

And in this task, in an initial stage, isn’t it possible to use the resources produced by the state-controlled raw materials export activity to generate the surpluses that can be used to satisfy the minimum living conditions of Bolivians, and guarantee an intercultural, scientific education that generates a critical intellectual mass capable of taking over and leading the emerging processes of industrialization and the knowledge economy? Will socialism be knocking at the door if Bolivia stops producing raw materials? By dropping “extractivism” prematurely, would Bolivians have the material and intellectual resources to proceed immediately to the industrial and cognitive stages of production? Isn’t the uncritical condemnation of so-called extractivism in fact seeking to leave the Plurinational State poor and defenceless so it is unable to respond to the expansion of social rights that has arisen in the revolutionary process initiated in 2000?

It is necessary to go beyond the stage of being mere raw materials producers. That is clear. But that will not be achieved by regressing to the situation of state begging that characterized Bolivia until 2005, when the wealth we generated was in the hands of the foreign corporations. It will not be achieved by paralyzing the productive apparatus, opposing the surplus that comes from raw materials and regressing to an economy of self-subsistence that not only leaves us at a level of greater defencelessness than before, delivering us to the total abdication of any inkling of sovereignty (which requires as a material base that the country can live and eat from its labour), but in addition will open the doors to the employer-neoliberal restoration that will be presented as what can indeed satisfy the basic material demands of society.

Behind the recently constructed “extractivist” criticism of the revolutionary and progressive governments, then, lies the shadow of the conservative restoration. It is our view, however, that this criticism is best countered, in the first place, by meeting the urgent needs of the people, increasing the essential social benefits of the labouring classes and, on this basis, creating the cultural, educational and material conditions to democratize control of the common wealth, even to the point of going beyond the state institutions by establishing community ownership and control of property and social production itself within a perspective of deepening social mobilization and gradually overcoming extractivism. In the process, it is necessary at the same time to build a new technological base for production of wealth that will help to overcome extractivism.

And that is precisely what we are doing as a government: generating wealth[13] and redistributing it amongst the population[14]; reducing poverty and extreme poverty[15]; improving the educational status of the population.[16] And parallel to all that, we are beginning industrialization. In the case of hydrocarbons, through investment in two separate natural gas liquids plants: one in Gran Chaco, which will go into production in 2014, and the other in Río Grande, to begin in 2013. Furthermore, we have the Urea y Amoniaco [urea and ammonia] plant, costing $843 million, which will begin operating in 2015; an ethylene and polyethylene plant to begin production in 2016, and another for conversion of gas to liquid which is to begin functioning in 2014.[17] And we have taken major steps in relation to the industrialization of lithium. With Bolivian scientists and technology, the semi-industrial production of potassium chloride was begun in August this year, and before the end of the year the same will occur with lithium carbonate. By 2014 we are planning to have huge industrial production of potassium and lithium, as well as cathode and battery plants.[18]

The objective the President has recently put before all Bolivians is that by the bicentenary of Independence (i.e. by 2025), no materials produced in this country will be sold without some type of industrial processing, without some added value. This will require a profound scientific and technical transformation of the country and an unprecedented investment in knowledge. And we will do this, of course.

Obviously, this is not a simple process. It will take years, perhaps decades. The important thing is to reorient the direction of production, without overlooking the fact that today it is necessary to satisfy as well the pressing basic needs, those which were precisely what led the population to undertake the construction of state power. And that is what we are doing in Bolivia.

[1] Karl Marx, Capital, Book I, The Process of Production of Capital, Vintage, New York 1977.

[2] Karl Marx, “Forms which precede capitalist production,” in Grundrisse, Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy, Section Two, Vintage, New York 1973.

[3] John V. Murra, El Mundo Andino. Población, Medio Ambiente y Economía, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Peru, 2002.

[4] Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Knopf, 2005.

[5] Álvaro García Linera, Forma Valor y Forma Comunidad, aproximación teórico-abstracta a los fundamentos civilizatorios que preceden al ayllu universal, CLACSO/COMUNA, La Paz, 2009.

[6] Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (New York, 2008). Also, David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York, 1998).

[7] Hans Horkheimer, Alimentación y obtención de alimentos en los Andes Prehispánicos, Hisbol, La Paz, 1990.

[8] Lenin, “Eleventh Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.), March 27-April 2, 1922,” in Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Moscow 1965, vol. 33, pages 237-242. See also the exhaustive analysis of the Soviet economy in the Leninist phase, in Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, First Period: 1917-1923, Monthly Review Press, New York 1976 (Translation by Brian Pearce).

[9] K. Marx, F. Engels, The German Ideology, Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5.

[10] Etienne Balibar, On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, New Left Books, 1977.

[11] “El Cambio Climático en América Latina y el Caribe”. Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente, 2006.

[12] Marx, Capital, op. cit.

[13] In the last six years of President Morales’ administration, the GDP has increased from $9.5 billion to $23.7 billion, and the average income of Bolivians from $1,000 in 2005 to $2,238 in 2011. UDAPE, Informe 2012.

[14] In the last six years, the percentage of GDP directly transferred in cash transfers to the population has reached 1.1% on average (UDAPE). And if we compare the figures for 2010 with those for Latin America, Bolivia’s percentage (1.57%) ranks first, ahead of Ecuador’s (1.17%), Mexico’s (0.51%) and Brazil’s (0.47%), among others.

[15] In six years, the proportion of the population living in poverty has declined from 60% to 48%, and extreme poverty from 38% to 24.3%. Extreme poverty in the urban areas has declined from 24% to 14%, and in rural areas from 62% in 2005 to 43% in 2011. UDAPE, Informe 2012.

[16] We defeated the age-old illiteracy in 2008. The percentage of GDP devoted to education this year is 8.21%. In 2005, the universities were receiving $164 million in transfers from the state. In contrast, in 2011 the public universities received $385 million. Ministry of Economy and Finance, Informe 2012.

[17] Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Informe 2012.

[18] Ministry of Mining and Metallurgy, Informe 2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012


[To see the Table of Contents, click here. A glossary of terms and acronyms appearing in the text will be found here.]

Colonialist fallacies

The first fallacy is the argument that with the highway the coca leaf producers will invade the TIPNIS. There is at this point no type of coercive measure that prevents them entering the Park using the roads that already exist within it; however, they are not doing so. Moreover, the unions of coca producers were the very ones that in 1990 defined with the government a “red line” within the TIPNIS that they voluntarily agreed not to cross. Since then, any compañero who crosses that line, instead of counting on the support of his union and federation, is liable to be removed from where he is living by the law enforcement agencies, as has happened in recent months. Compliance with this demarcation is now the responsibility of the coca leaf producers themselves, and not the result of any public force or law that prevents them from approaching.

The highway is not going to be the launching point for any supposed “cocalero invasion”; nor has any such “invasion” occurred even with the existing sections, because this is a Park and a territory of indigenous collective ownership, and it is the coca leaf producers themselves who as an organization have decided to respect this collective property. But in addition, the illegal production of coca leaf — regardless of the agreements of the producer federations with the Morales government — is not located along the edges of the highways, for then it would be eradicated immediately. The illegal cultivation occurs precisely beyond the reach of control by the state and the federations, in areas where there are no roads or pathways. It is precisely because of the illegal nature of this production (outside the areas defined by agreement between the peasant federations and the government) that it occurs where law enforcement — by the state or the unions — cannot go, that is, precisely where there are no roads, paths or public control. If there is anything that the presence of a highway in the Park will promote, it is the departure of the illegal crops, including the production of coca paste, the base for cocaine, which throughout these years has been detected in areas of the TIPNIS in which there are no roads or a state presence.[1] Furthermore, in his recent message to the people of Bolivia on August 6, 2012, President Evo Morales announced the creation of a Regimiento Ecológico [Ecological Regiment (of the Armed Forces)], whose mission will be to protect the national parks and prevent any type of illegal occupation by peasants in the TIPNIS.[2]

The second fallacy, with even more reactionary implications than the first, is the one that seeks to artificially oppose “lowlands indigenous peoples” to “lowlands and highlands campesinos.” The first, remote from markets, are good people who contemplate nature, while the second are illegal predators, bad people, merchants and destroyers of nature. This cartoon dualism was for decades used by the Amazon and eastern hacendados to erect a barrier wall around their latifundios against the presence and migration of the indigenous peasants from the highlands. At its height, this anti-peasant xenophobia went so far as to consider instituting a passport requirement for Aymara and Quechua seeking to enter Santa Cruz.[3] This regionalist landlord ideology has been taken up again by the environmentalists in the debate over the TIPNIS, to create a hostile atmosphere toward the highlands indigenous-peasant movement and in particular in opposition to the coca leaf producers. This xenophobia goes to such limits that it unashamedly defends a type of ethnic inbreeding, considering it a “crime” if Yuracarés marry Quechuas or Aymaras. Basically, this is the colonial fallacy of the construction of “pure races,” now put in postmodern language.

But this second colonial fallacy, moreover, is woven around the separation of “good” indigenous living in a Tierra Comunitaria from “bad” peasants who hold individual family property. Let us look at this.

Colonial domination involved the looting of lands, control of labour itself, but above all control of the collective identities of the dominated society, which are the subjective forces that ultimately unite people around common objectives and shared forces of technical and associated production. To name is to unite and to separate; it is to define, map, territorialize and control. Naming from outside or self-naming are part of the basic scheme of the method of domination and emancipation in general. And when the naming territorializes the territorialized subject from outside, we are confronted with the most devastating method of domination, which is precisely colonial domination.

The first thing Spanish colonialism did was to re-signify and re-locate the world of people and things: territorially, “the West Indies,” cities; administratively, the viceroyalties, governorships, etc.; economically, the distribution of powers, the encomiendas, the mita; in religion, the churches, the new faith, the new moral prohibitions, the new spiritual balms; in language, the dominant language and the new general language. And as a legitimation of this material reconfiguration of life, the soul and the collective I, was to appear Indianness: “the Indians” as a new colonizing identity intended to sweep away the collective I of the many original nations, their roots and their memory. To designate is to dominate, and colonialism de-nominated everything, dismantling stone by stone the ancient societal structure, and where it could not do so, it superimposed on it in order to subsume it, like the temples that were erected on top of the Waka’s[4] or the colonial institutions that were superimposed on the remaining local communal structures.

The colonial re-categorization of domination was not substantially affected by the passage from colony to republic. The originarios, yanaconas, forasteros and mestizos of colonial times[5] were now indios, blancos and mestizos of republican times.[6] These were tributary categories, imposing delegated identities on the social reality. In both cases, the intention was to classify the dominated, to identity them as such and thereby impose on them the image the dominator himself had of them; and thereby to reaffirm the domination. No objective or scientific classifications exist. Any identitarian classification is political, and the tributary, numerical, territorial justification is simply an artefact of legitimation of that political decision, whether of domination or of emancipation.

Revolutionary nationalism, in its renewed colonial obsession to homogenize the dominated, was not to alter the expropriated nature of the identities inherited from the Colony: indios and forasteros became “campesinos,” a subject of subjugation characterized by its labour activity, which sought to bury the vigorous culture, social roots and self-identification of the original peoples in a new profusion of categories.

The emancipating and self-identifying impulse of the peoples came years later, at the hands of the cultural productive forces, memory, language, history and skin. In the beginning the appeal was to an oppressor category, that of the Indian, as a means of self-identification. “They have dominated us with the name of Indian. With the name of Indian we will free ourselves,” said the emerging intellectuality motivating indigenous national self-identification. This was not a retreat to the old names, but precisely a radicalization of them, to convert them into their opposite: from nomination of domination to denomination of emancipation. The point of rupture was the political will to self-identify, to superimpose on the Collective I constructed by others (by the dominant) the Collective I constructed by oneself (by the dominated); thereby dismantling at that very point the domination itself.

Indianness as identity was a cry of emancipation that revolutionized the Bolivian ideological-political panorama from the 1970s on. Indigenous identity was the discursive repertoire that reorganized the meaning of the Bolivian revolution, and came to refer to the political and cultural, that is historic, appeal by the immense majority of the people — not only of the farm workers but of the labourers, shopkeepers, transportistas [bus and truck operators], students and professionals, subalternized by their condition of work and their skin, by their name, language and place where they lived. In the emancipatory re-invention of the Katarista-indianista Indianness a long process was initiated of constructing an historic bloc and a discourse of social and general mobilization that would modify the content of the revolution in Bolivia as an anti-colonial, anti-neoliberal and democratic revolution with a socialist-communitarian horizon.

Years later, the indianista identity would mature, clarifying the territorial and historical composition of Indianness as identity of indigenous-First Nations with names and roots: the Aymara nation, Quechua nation, Guaraní nation, Chimán nation, Leco nation, Mosetén nation, Pacawara nation, Sirionó nation, etc. It moved from a generic identity of Indianness to an historic identity of indigenous nations that did not stop in the highlands and valleys but extended to the plains, the Amazon and the Chaco, creating in the last two decades a web of political forces mobilized around the indigenous national identities, the material foundation of the present Plurinational State.

The transition was not easy. From the emancipatory discursive construction of the Seventies, it moved to the indigenous self-organizing materialization of the originary indigenous campesino federations and confederations of the Eighties. And from there to the construction of the political will to take power by means of the transformation of the union-communal organic structure into an electoral political instrument in the Nineties, to advance to the taking of power by the social movements in 2006.

This construction of this emancipatory identity with a will for power needed two decisive ethical-political moments. The first was the construction of the indigenous national identity as the national demographic majority with political visibility. In this the contribution of the Tupak-Katarismo of the Ayllus Rojos of the Nineties was decisive, because it began to appeal politically to the indigenous subject in an inter-class manner, that is, as a nation in whose interior cohabited various urban and rural social classes: campesinos, transportistas, intellectuals, professionals, owners, artisans, etc., but united and inter-acting on the cultural-historical basis of identity as Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaranis, etc. The numerical validation of this socially visible indigenous majority population came about through the huge urban and rural indigenous peoples mobilizations of 2000, 2001, 2003 and the results of the Population Census of 2001, which established that 62% of Bolivians are indigenous.

The second decisive ethical-political moment for the taking of power by the indigenous-popular movement was the candidacy of Evo Morales at that precise historical moment with the ability to tap into the existing sentiment at the appropriate point, which allowed the socially visible demographic majority to become a political majority in the leadership of the state. The indigenous identity that had decolonized and raised to power the popular subject in Bolivia was now an urban-rural and transclass identity united around an indigenous nucleus as the expression of the material certainty of its majority and its hegemony. But this has produced an attempt by pseudo-environmentalism and a handful of abdicating ultraleftists to return to the method of identitarian colonization through the numerical inferiorization of the indigenous peoples. In a desperate and inelegant ideological somersault, they reduce “the indigenous peoples” to those who live in communitarian lands [Tierras Comunitarias], leaving the rest of the population as “non-indigenous.”

In a reactionary attempt to separate “good indigenous peoples” from “bad peasants,” they argue that only those who live in the communitarian lands are indigenous peoples, in as much as those who own family lands are now campesinos[7] — not to speak of those who live in the city. Thus, as if by some cheap magic, the indigenous majority conquering in the name of emancipation and a national-general revolutionary political project, dissolves into some tiny population centres dispersed in the lowlands that barely amount to 3.7% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 (2001), and in the highlands, 4.5%.

Attempting to justify the unjustifiable, the pseudo-environmentalists regress 400 years in the political history of the indigenous nations, turning them into minority subjects susceptible to wardship and vassalage. There are two errors behind this gimmicky inferiorization of the indigenous nations. The first is the shyster blindness that reduces the identitarian force of the indigenous peoples to the legal classification of Tierra Comunitaria de Origin (TCO). The TCO is a legal category, not a social structure or an identity.

We all know that in the agrarian world (in both lowlands and highlands), even in areas of greater parcelization of land and individual titles, there are areas of collective use (pasture lands, community lands) and likewise common resources (watersheds, rivers, lakes, etc.) over which no type of private ownership is exercised.[8] Similarly, there is a system of legally protected communal authority over many aspects of life, individual property, and a labour system involving mutual assistance (roads, schools, ayni, minka, etc.). The agrarian unions in the Chapare are an example of this social system.

In like manner, although the land in the TCO is legally the common property of all those living in the community or communities, the labour system is similar to that in any community of individual property owners: production is based strictly on family and individual labour. Agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering, which provide the day-to-day means of life, are carried on through the family and not the community. And in the lowlands, the systems of joint work for public necessities such as schools or roads, or for swapping labour, are not strongly established.

Generally speaking, in neither the lands under family ownership nor those owned by the community are there permanent communitarian production processes. The majority of the work activities required for the satisfaction of the basic needs of the community members are conducted on the basis of the individual family. As for the few activities of public utility that do employ collective labour systems, these are primarily in the highlands, the valleys and the Chapare, whether on TCOs or on lands that are individually owned.

The belief that the TCOs are the only spaces of communitarianism is a legalistic illusion typical of those who confuse the reality of things with a literal reading of the words. Common legal ownership does not define what is peculiar to the community. Individual ownership of land co-exists with common possession of lands, and with communitarian systems of authority and communitarian labour techniques. That is what occurs, for example, in most of the highlands regions, the nucleus of the Aymara indigenous identity. Thus to classify a community as “indigenous” by virtue of common ownership of property, and as “campesino” because they do not have that, is merely intellectual scribbling with disastrous counterrevolutionary implications. To convert the indigenous peoples into a dispersed minority living in TCOs is to eliminate this country’s major political achievement of state-effected decolonization: the construction of the indigenous political force as a majority urban-rural force; but it is also to substitute the bare legal category for the productive and social reality, ignoring the real objectivity of the revolutionary communitarian-communist tendencies present in the distinct socio-productive organizations of the urban and rural labouring classes.

Lastly, to reduce the category of indigenous peoples to relevance to a TCO is to remain imprisoned in the illusion of a lawyer who dreams of substituting one’s linguistic devices for the reality of things; and in this case to make a legal category, the TCO, the nucleus of a social identity.

Social, and even more so national identities are political artefacts of mobilization with a state projection that can find support in specific social practices such as language, common history, memory, territory, economy, etc., but have the virtue of articulating a cross-class collective will around objectives of self-determination.

What can those pseudo-environmentalists tell the Aymara of Omasuyus or Villa Ingenio in El Alto — the backbone of the social mobilizations of October 2003 — who rose up, died and won waving whipalas and celebrating their indigenous identity? That they are not indigenous peoples because they do not have a TCO? That is ridiculous. But what is not ridiculous is the reactionary implication of this conservative metaphysics: the fragmentation of the indigenous movement, the minimization and isolation of the indigenous peoples, the ideological and political disarmament of the indigenous peoples, and the judicialization of the indigenous peoples. In short, this entire conservative narrative leads inexorably to the impotence and death of the indigenous political subject. That is the big dream of the hacendado right wing that is being implemented in words and action by the former leftists who have developed into organic intellectuals of the restoration of colonialism.

Finally, the third fallacy: environmentalism vs. capitalism.

As is well known, any human activity — from building a house to growing food, hunting and even walking and breathing — affects nature. No one lives solely in contemplation of nature, as naïve environmentalism argues, because those who did would not live long. Life is a process of metabolic transformation of nature that affects the environment, and in the process the living being transforms itself. In general, nature too is affected, which can result in catastrophes that in turn end in further change. Over time, human beings have formed societies that differ from each other according to how they produce and use the collective wealth resulting from their particular relationship with nature. To each material mode of production corresponds an organic relationship with nature. Some societies have created modes of life-sustaining relationships with their surrounding nature, such as the communal forms studied by Marx under the name of Rural Community and Agrarian Community.[9] In those cases, nature is presented as an organic extension of society itself, as a living being in the presence of which the exchange of advances in labour and reception of productive processes takes the form of dialogues and rituals of mutual re-production in time.

But within these distinct communal forms of society, civilization and production, there also exist variants that may produce a greater or lesser impact on the natural environment. Agrarian societies, a form of social community, have an economic system that in the framework of that mutually life-sustaining relationship with nature produces a greater impact on the environment than the gatherer societies (another communal form of society).

To the degree that they introduce agriculture combined with domestic industry, agrarian societies — as in the case of the Aymara and Quechua communities — have to partially reduce the forests in order to obtain foodstuffs, while the gatherer societies, for example the Yuracarés or Chimanes of the lowlands, supply themselves with what the forest offers them, and while they sometimes resort to agriculture it is on a minor scale, and they maintain their nomadism. So the effects of deforestation they generate are also reduced. Clearly, at bottom both productive systems maintain a similar pattern of organic and life-sustaining exchange with nature, which prevents us from differentiating them between those who “pillage” and those who live in “harmony” with nature, as the pseudo-environmentalists do, echoing the hacendados’ anti-campesino ideology. The demographic expansion of both societies will also have a decisive influence on the pattern of relationships to the environment. The immense lakes constructed in their hundreds by the ancient Amazon nations of pre-colonial times, between Ascensión de Guarayos and Rio Madre de Dios in Pando — and which surely helped to feed and protect them from the continual flooding of the rivers on the Amazonian plain — are monumental human works whose presence and modification of the environment is still visible today.

But there also are societies in which nature is presented as a mere reservoir of things to be exploited as usufruct by human beings, that is, as an inert object that can be transformed by labour but in relation to which one has no ethical or material responsibility of continuity. And if we add to this that the guiding purpose of the productive processes is not the satisfaction of material needs but the unlimited accumulation of monetary profit (valorization), we are confronted with the capitalist mode of production. In that case, nature is presented only as inert raw material for the purpose of profit; which means that if the destruction of nature or of life itself (in wars, for example) generates monetary benefits, then it is useful for capitalism.

However, it is not by definition that capitalism destroys nature — as right-wing environmentalism holds. What capitalism does by definition is to generate profits in a few private hands: “valorizing value,” as Marx put it.[10] And if in order to fulfil this objective it is necessary to kill living beings, crush societies, annihilate and destroy the nature that lies in its path, capitalism will no doubt do this. And if, to generate capital (profit) in a few hands, it is necessary to preserve nature or protect the life of the workers, capitalism will also do this for the purpose of continuing to accumulate surplus value. It is very important to specify the founding logic of this system: profit (value which self-valorizes incessantly), because if indeed whenever its productive forces are becoming forces of destruction of life and the planet, the irresistible drive for profit can lead it to “preserve” nature, if that is what guarantees the necessary rate of profit. Only in this way is it possible to understand that while in some parts of the world there arise technical forces destructive of nature (hence the greenhouse effect), in others it can encourage a hypocritical “defence” of the environment through its market policies: “carbon credits,” “green economy,” exchanging debt for protection of forests, etc., which basically are nothing more than various methods of commoditization and capitalist subsumption of the temporary conservation of forests in the countries of the South, in order to produce profits for the big transnational corporations of the North through the purchase of certificates of carbon emissions reduction in order to obtain tax reductions, credit approvals and increased rates of profit.

These pseudo-environmentalist policies are not contradictory to capitalism; on the contrary, they are inherent to it, and this environmentalism for the poor is profitable for it and therefore useful to promote. If destroying the environment in the North and protecting some forest in the South — but accepting this as clean, as part of its corporate activities — generates profits, this pseudo-environmentalism forms part of the capitalist machinery. The tragic thing in all this is that this planetary farce of a capitalism that is strategically destructive of nature, but tactically a preserver of environmental niches, has as its executors in its scheme of capitalist profit an army of well-intentioned environmentalists — their salaries paid by multinational corporations — who “preserve” the forests in the poor countries and at the end of the day deliver extraterritorial environmental surplus value to the mega-business that will raise the price of its shares even higher on the stock market. Thus, while the major share of the tax exemptions of the big company in the North raise its rate of profit, a tiny portion goes to the environmentalists who go out of their way to ensure that the inhabitants of the forest in some country of the South, like the TIPNIS, continue to live in absolute marginality, avoiding the state so it won’t disturb their “harmonious” poverty, finishing off a sinister planetary mechanism of “environmental” capitalist accumulation.

Who has the power in the Amazon?

Throughout this brief analysis we have seen the convergence of the four distinct forces that have interacted in connection with the domination of the Amazon. Let us list them, not in order of historical presence, as we did in the text, but in order of predominance and geopolitical power in the region.

1. Foreign corporations, which have created a novel category of surplus value: environmental surplus value, in connection with the extraterritorial appropriation of the Amazon’s biodiversity, which allows them to raise their rates of profit in their countries of origin without having to modify the destructive technical-productive pattern of the biodiversity, which would require spending millions and millions of dollars on a new world-wide technical basis. These firms continue to maintain in place the same destructive technical forces and they get substantial tax reductions and elimination of penalties whenever they hold “carbon credits” in their name. Thus, by “protecting” this or that area of the Amazon jungle, they reduce their corporate production costs, raise the rate of profit for the shareholders, and escape the need for a radical switch in the contemporary technical and productive base, characterized by the destructiveness of the natural basis of social production.

Similarly, many foreign corporations that control “their forests” extraterritorially get the advantage of having a gigantic laboratory free of charge for obtaining genetic material for the biotechnology industry, without having to pay any taxes, patent fees or royalties whatsoever or to make any prior investment. The “protection of forests” under the aegis of foreign corporate conglomerates has become an “environmental” mode of capitalist accumulation.

2. Governments of the more developed capitalist countries, who through this corporate environmentalism are managing to establish cordons of control over numerous areas of enormous wealth in existing natural, biological, mineral and hydrocarbon resources precisely in these areas of high biodiversity. The presence of foreign military bases near these regions forms a part of the extraterritorial rings of protection that the U.S. government in particular is deploying in Latin America.[11]

In the case of the Bolivian Amazon, we have not only the largest reserves of fresh water in the entire country, but also the largest concentration of biological diversity, petroleum reserves and a large part of the so-called Precambrian shield[12] with extensive deposits of gold, nickel, iron, uranium, etc.

3. The hacendado-business bloc that is processing Amazon raw materials. This is a business elite simultaneously linked to landed property, the old political parties of the hereditary right wing, the purchase and processing of cattle and the processing of Amazon raw materials such as wood, chestnuts, rubber, alligator skins, etc. It is a regional bourgeoisie that over the years has created a kind of captive regional market for its raw materials supply business. The Beni cattle industry is monopolized by the processing and price-fixing of the slaughterhouses in Santa Cruz. Likewise, in the harvesting of other Amazon products such as wood or chestnuts, this bourgeoisie operates as a monopoly purchaser which, at the time when the TCOs were being revived as spaces for negotiated provision of raw materials by the indigenous leaders, was able to monopolize — through this brokerage function — the ground rent resulting from the extraction activity; and in some cases, through the extra-economic coercion exercised over the indigenous inhabitants, to obtain as well a further surplus value because the payment for the work of the indigenous labourer was below his subsistence level, his living conditions generally being the responsibility of the work of his family as a whole. So we have a combination of mechanisms of appropriation of land rents, surplus value generated by the worker and a share of the wage of this indigenous labourer, which produces an extraordinary profit in the hands of this corporate-landowner group.

That is why defence of this captive Amazon regional market, preservation of extra-economic bargaining mechanisms for raw materials supplies, and the reproduction of the despotic-landowner relations, are the geopolitical priorities in those matters that involve its class interests.

4. The Amazonian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as a group, some of which have created over the last two decades a clientelistic network of indigenous leaders through which they express the corporate environmentalist discourse in the various communities. Possessing fine humanitarian intentions — and good salaries for such missions — they form a small army that is ideologically the disseminator of the right-wing environmentalist discourse, and economically the material expression of an environmental capitalist accumulation.

Educated in opposition to any type of state presence in the Amazon forests and plains, and adversaries of any autonomy of the indigenous movement that would erode the networks of cooptation of the leaders, some NGOs have launched a kind of local environmentalist crusade the actual effect of which worldwide is the consolidation of the lucrative business of reducing taxes on the transnational corporations in exchange for protection of forests.

The combination of these four forces makes up what we can call the arch of Amazon power and domination.

map 15

In resistance and opposition to these forces of domination, the sectors that have taken distinct initiatives in struggle form part of the bloc of the indigenous-campesino and popular movement:

The indigenous peoples, fundamentally through the great mutual efforts toward unification of their regional struggles and demands, which help to overcome their territorial dispersion and low demographic density;

The campesino movement, through the struggle for democratization of access to the land and political autonomy from the bosses, this in turn generating an immediate response by the landowner power in the massacre of campesino leaders in El Porvenir in September 2008; notwithstanding that, the movement has persevered in its self-organization;

And finally, the popular movement, through the free-flowing micro-business, cooperative and transport activity, which complicates the regional scenario of class struggles, cracking the old traditional order of things.

Accompanying this social upheaval in the Amazon the revolutionary state, which from day one has sought to further strengthen these social struggles, not only has dismantled the hereditary state (having separated possession of land from the administration of the state), but with the new Constitution has proceeded to expropriate latifundios[13] and redistribute lands. Today, for the first time, we have national and departmental assemblies in Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz, with representatives of campesinos, indigenous peoples, merchants, transportistas, and of the people in general. Political representation has ceased to be an attribute of big property or business activity.[14] And parallel to this, the state presence has been extended, in the sense of laws and the monopoly of coercion. Social programs have been created, like the Bono Juancito Pinto, the Renta Dignidad and the Bono Juana Azurduy, and there are now hospital boats on the Amazon rivers. Thousands of people who since birth lacked the necessary documentation now have it, free of charge. Indigenous-peasant communities have received direct transfers and free dental care for children in places devoid in the past of state authority or law. But in addition, one of the most important processes of relocation of regiments and troops in the country’s military history has been carried out. Military units have been created in the Amazon. In Pando, in the last four years, the military presence along the border has been tripled; the Bruno Racua Regiment and Conjunto Amazónico Command have been created; and the personnel of the Company in San Joaquín, the naval base in Magdalena, and the naval headquarters in Ramón Darío have been increased significantly, in addition to the formation of the engineers’ battalion in Roboré. Likewise, the military posts have been reinforced in Cocos Lanza, San Fermín and General Camacho in northern La Paz, and a military garrison has been built in Ixiamas. And a unit of governmental management has been formed: ADEMAF, which has united military and civilian efforts and been deployed throughout the Amazon, consolidating the application of laws and sanctions in places where hitherto the only law was the personal fiat of some landowners.

The Rurrenabaque-Riberalta highway, now in adjudication, and the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway, are objective expressions of this territorial enlargement of the state presence. They fall within the framework of a set of broader state policies for recovery of state sovereignty, understood as the full exercise of state laws and benefits in places where until recently forest companies, hacendados or narcotraffickers were the major authority in a kind of micro-republics of illegality.

The highway stitches together a national geography split between two major geographical blocs, the Altiplano and the Amazon. It will allow the face to face encounter of two regions of the country that up to now have been living back to back. The highway will nationalize a fundamental territorial space in Bolivia, in which foreign governments and companies, foreign citizens and landlords, have held more authority, knowledge and power than the Bolivian state itself. With the highway, the real geography and the ideal geography of the state (present in maps and agreements) will tend to coincide.

When we talk about real geography of the state we are referring to verification that its authority is one of public order with effective compliance and social legitimation. The highway then presents itself as a material force of territorial sovereignty of the state and, with that, as a technical mediation of the enlargement and defence of the laws of the population of the Amazon in general and the TIPNIS in particular.

To some extent, of course, the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway creates a new geopolitical state axis running from north to south, conjoining the extensive geography and Amazon society. The capitalist adversary of this nationalization of the Amazon is huge and brings to bear its enormous private material interests. Accordingly, at stake for the revolutionary state is its territorially verifiable sovereignty, and for the opposing powers their money, their personal revenues, their businesses and their domination. Hence the obvious virulence of the attack by the conservative internal and external forces against that nationalized state presence in the Amazon territory. It will be a long struggle with numerous battles along the way.

[To be continued in Part V, the final section]

[1] See the newspaper El Día, “Coca y cocaína en el Tipnis,” 13 January 2012.

[2] See the newspaper Los Tiempos, “Gobierno anuncia creación de regimiento ecológico de las FFAA,” 7 August 2012.

[3] See the newspaper El Diario, “Senadores cruceños plantean uso de pasaportes para ingresar a SantaCruz,” 16 March 2006.

[4] Apparently a reference to the ancient Maya center, known from Mayan inscriptions as Waka', and known today as El Perú, which was once an important economic and political center of the Mayan world and formed one corner of a triangle of major sites that also included Calakmul (Mexico) to the north, and Tikal to the west. – Tr.

[5] Eraclio Bonilla Editor, La Cuestión Colonial, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, 2011. See also “Consolidación del Orden Colonial,” in Historia general de América Latina, III, 2, Unesco/Editorial TROTTA, España, 2001 and M. Carmagnani; A.Hernandez; R. Romano (Coordinadores), Para una Historia de América I: Las Estructuras, Colegio de México/FCE, Mexico City, 1999.

[6] Rossana Barragán, Espacio Urbano y Dinámica Étnica. La Paz en el siglo XIX, Hisbol, La Paz, 1990.

[7] As is seen, for example, in this quotation from Raúl Prada (in the article “En torno al TIPNIS”):

“The TIPNIS conflict has illustrated the new political, social, economic and cultural fronts that have emerged in the critical context of the process: on the one hand, defending the rights of Mother Earth, are the originary indigenous nations and peoples, especially the movements and organizations of the indigenous peoples as such, with their own forms of organizations, forms of representation, rotating leaderships, their own norms and procedures, ancestral institutions and native cosmovisions, supported by new adolescent and urban movements and by historic movements such as the regantes, the water and gas warriors; on the other hand, supporting the section of the highway through the TIPNIS, are the campesino organizations, those organized in unions (CSUTCB, CNMCIOB “BS”, CSCIB); the entire compesino conglomerate, led to some extent by the cocalero federations. This entire ensemble, more or less unified, but differentiated and plural, motley as it is, which was part of the so-called “popular bloc,” and that now finds itself rising in the runaway ascent of a new emerging bourgeoisie, nouveaux riches and new intermediaries in the circuits of capital, the merchants, genetic modifiers, smugglers, traffickers, including those involved in narcotrafficking, in constant displacements toward unexpected alliances with the agro-industrial interests of Santa Cruz, the intermediary bourgeoisie, the banks, the transnational enterprises in hydrocarbon and mining, the Brazilian construction firms and the Brazilian government….”

[8] Hans van den Berg, La tierra no da así nomas. Hisbol, La Paz, 1993.

[9] Karl Marx, El Porvenir de la Comuna Rural Rusa, Pasado y Presente, México 1980; Karl Marx, Cuaderno Kovalevsky (newly published in Spanish), Ediciones Ofensiva Roja, La Paz, 1989; Los Apuntes Etnológicos de Karl Marx, Siglo XXI/ Editorial Pablo Iglesias; Spain, 1988. [In English, see Teodor Shanin, Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and ‘The Peripheries of Capitalism’, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1983, and Lawrence Krader (ed.), The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, Assen, The Netherlands, Van Gorcum & Comp. B.V., 1974. – Tr.]

[10] Karl Marx, Capital, Book I: The Process of Production of Capital, Vintage, New York 1977.

[11] Ana Esther Ceceña, Hegemonía, Emancipaciones y Políticas de Seguridad en América, Programa Democracia y Transformación Global, Lima, 2008.

[12] See Salomón Rivas Valenzuela, “Las maravillas del precámbrico,” publisher unknown, Santa Cruz, 2007. And check out Jevan Berrangé, “The eastern Bolivian mineral exploration project. Proyecto Precámbrico,” in Episodes, Vol. 1982, N°4.

[13] Through the reversion and expropriation of lands, the state has recovered around 2 million hectares. And through the restructuring of lands, about 10 million hectares in the lowlands have been recovered for the indigenous peoples and peasant communities.

[14] In those three departments, 45% of the representatives in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly come from social movements. Similarly, in the departments 21.4% of the departmental assembly members are from social movements.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


[To see the Table of Contents, click here. A glossary of terms and acronyms appearing in the text will be found here.]

The historic demand for construction of a road to unite the Amazon valleys and plains

But first let us analyze the history of the demand for construction of this highway that would have to pass through the TIPNIS. Is it true that it is part of a sinister plan for “inter-oceanic corridors that would pillage the forests and suck us into the vortex of the Brazilian empire,” as the recipe of some NGOs would have it?[1]

The historical need for a road connecting the Andean zone with the Amazon region, through what used to be called the “Mountains of the Yuracarees,” now the Isiboro-Sécure park, dates back more than 300 years.

In 1763, the Royal Court of Charcas, with the intention of expelling the Portuguese who were repeatedly invading the left bank of the Iténez river, ordered that a route directly connecting Cochabamba with Moxos be explored. The objective was initially military in nature, to put an end to the already expansionist attitude of the Portuguese who were trying to occupy the province of Moxos. The route between Cochabamba and Moxos (Beni), without passing through Santa Cruz, would allow rapid movement of troops against the Portuguese advances.

The Jesuits report that in the early 1700s there had been a road that went from Colomi, the Ajial, descending to the Mission of Santa Rosa and the Mission of Loreto (in the province of Moxos). They assert that it took about six days to travel along the road bringing in “a load of flour, wine, baskets of biscuits and other things for the Mojos.”[2] Beginning in 1766, a number of expeditions taking this route as a reference were carried out from Tarata, Colomi in the lowlands and from San Ignacio in the plains of Moxos. In 1781 a secure and stable transit route was established between the regions, which functioned for a little less than a decade until it was gradually abandoned on the ground that it lessened trade between Santa Cruz and Moxos and reduced the spiritual attention provided to Moxos by the Bishop of Santa Cruz.[3]

The strictly geopolitical arguments both for the construction of this road and for its rejection call for the closest attention. On the one hand there were those who favoured a road to join the central Andean region with the immense and unreachable Amazon region (and precisely for that reason the object of external ambition); and on the other hand there were those who opposed the road in order to defend the economic and political-spiritual power that the established elites in Santa Cruz exercised over Moxos. These two counterposed readings have returned 250 years later in the debate over the highway through the TIPNIS, but with new actors.

Between 1790 and 1825, when the independent Republic was established, there were various attempts to find new lines of communication between the two regions, although none were successful in obtaining the necessary funds. In 1825 the Liberator [Antonio José de] Sucre ordered that the settlers in Cochabamba be consulted about the most important measures that the Liberator [Simón] Bolívar could implement in the region’s interest. The response was the linking of Cochabamba with Moxos.[4] The result of these decisions is not known, but all indications are that lack of resources and political instability stifled the strategic outlook for the territorial cohesion of Bolivia. Years later, Bolivia lost about 191,000 km2 of the Amazon (War of Acre) from what had been initially part of the independent Republic.

In 1832, the French explorer Alcide D’Orbigny returned to travel these routes from Moxos, passing between the Isiboro and Sécure rivers, that is, the present National Park in the lands of the Yuracarés, to arrive at Cochabamba, leaving some detailed accounts of the geography and inhabitants of the region.[5] In 1915, settlers in Beni, in a letter to the President of the Republic with an extensive argument against the abandonment of the region, again posed the need for construction of the road between Cochabamba and Trinidad. Starting in Colomi, they argued, “there is an old road from there to the confluence of Sesarsisama with the Isiboro, port Sucre, 160 km approximately, or 210 km from Cochabamba. In Moleto a wide path has been opened for 25 to 30 km [and] from there to San Lorenzo, a mission town on the Sécure, there is no road or path, for a distance of about 125 km, and from Sécure to Trinidad [there is] meadowland with a road that is passable in the dry season.”[6]

In 1920, under Decreto Supremo of 2 October 1920, Bautista Saavedra announced the opening of the “Cochabamba to Moxos” road under the Regiment of Zapadores.[7] This regiment was under the command of the then Colonel Federico Román, and at the end of 1920 left Todos Santos in the Chapare, heading for Moleto. Initially they were to cruise along the Eteremasama river, later the Isiboro river, and then, 35 kms north of the river, arrive at Moleto. This part of the journey was not difficult because “there was a path” that was widened. From there they had to travel along the Ichoa river and later walk “approximately 14 leagues through the midst of the forest” to arrive at the Sécure river, in a journey that took 49 days. Later they set off toward the north-east and after 20 days “it was as if a large window had suddenly opened to let the light come pouring in on the tired soldiers”; they had arrived at the meadowlands of Moxos. From there they headed to San Lorenzo and later to Trinidad.[8] Notwithstanding the efforts made, the route did not go further and Román and his Zapadores were later assigned to work on the route that would unite Cochabamba with Santa Cruz.

In 1928, a member of parliament from Beni, in a memorable speech, stated: “Bolivia has been given the harshest lesson with the lack of attention to the eastern region…. The disaster of Acre, this loss of 191,000 km2, is a severe blow to Bolivia, and the greatest offense to the invitations to create works that would bind the nation….” The deputy then raised the need not only for a road between Cochabamba and Beni, but also that the railroad that was to connect Cochabamba with Santa Cruz should also follow a route from the Chapare to Beni.[9]

When the Chaco War erupted, the country as a whole was called on to defend this territory. In one of the most self-sacrificing mobilizations, troops of young soldiers recruited in Guayaramerín, Riberalta, Cobija and Rurrenabaque were initially deployed to Trinidad and from there, going up the Ichilo river, they reached the Chapare, in the port of Gretel, and later Yapacaní and Santa Cruz. This column of about 7,000 Beni soldiers, under the command of the then general Federico Román, which was to defend the country in late 1933 and early 1934, used rivers and routes previously travelled between Beni and the Chapare to reach San Carlos, Santa Cruz and later the Chaco.[10] Years later, in 1998, the Yucumo-San Borja-San Ignacio-Trinidad section was declared fundamental route 602 (D.S. 25134); in 2003, the National Highway Service incorporated the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway as a route complementary to the Fundamental System of highways (D.S. 26996); and on 24 October 2003 President Mesa enacted Law No. 2530, which established authorization for the Executive Power to seek funding for the construction and paving of the Cochabamba-Trinidad highway. Finally, in 2006, a Law of the Republic again established the construction of this road as a priority.[11]

IIRSA: The farce of empty chatter

I have mentioned some of the numerous antecedents of this highway in order to refute the fallacy that its construction is intended as part of the IIRSA plan to “subject our peoples.” This highway was proposed as a strategic necessity to unite the altiplano and the Amazon centuries before the existence of the “geopolitics of the IIRSA”; and if one has the courage and intellectual honesty to take a careful look at a map of Bolivia, he or she will realize that if indeed there is some measure that disrupts the present geopolitics of foreign occupation of the Amazon, it is precisely the construction of this road.

The IIRSA Plan was designed to create inter-oceanic corridors linking eastern Brazil with the Pacific Ocean and the markets of Asia. The Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway does NOT link the main trunk road of the country (La Paz-Cochabamba-Santa Cruz) with any Brazilian highway or motorway. Trinidad is 338.6 km from the Brazilian border — yes, 338.6 kms from the highway closest to Brazil! No shipment of Brazilian soy or lumber will reach any port with this highway, the only things that will reach Trinidad or Cochabamba are Bolivian persons and products, which at present take two or three days to go from one place to the other, but with the new road will do this in four hours.

It has been said that the IIRSA Plan subjects entire regions to the expansionist plans of the Brazilian economy. What the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway will do is establish the presence of the Bolivian state in the Amazon where, in its absence, what predominates are the existing powers, the landlords and lumber companies (many of them foreigners). Up to now, in fact, in the Amazon border regions the children attend classes and listen to the radio in the Portuguese language.

The highway will be like a staple force uniting two regions of the country separated from each other for centuries; their dissociation allowed the loss of territories a century ago and more recently the substitution for the state of illegal actors, hacendados and foreigners. So it involves a mechanism for achieving territorial control of the geography by the state and the establishment of sovereignty.

If there is any danger of submission to external powers, it is precisely the absence of a state in the Amazon. In the highlands, the substitute for this absence was the communal-state or trade union-state; that is, by the communal self-organization of society that took on the management of local community issues, internal political affairs and the social protection of their members. But in the lowlands, in general, and in the Amazon region in particular, this absence of the state in terms of rights and protection has resulted in the formation of the landowner-despotic power over the communities and the indigenous peoples and the subsequent penetration of foreign powers which, on the pretext of “protecting the Amazon,” the “lungs of the world,” etc., have extended an extraterritorial control — via some environmentalist NGOs — over the continental Amazon, considered the largest reservoir of water and biodiversity in the world.

The major enemy of the presence of the protector state in the Amazon region at present is the international imperial-corporate structure, which has converted environmental management in the world into the most lucrative deal in favour of the industrialized countries of the North and the biotechnology companies. Today not even the Latin American states have as great a presence in the Amazon as these companies, research institutes of European and North American universities, and NGOs funded by other governments and by those same foreign enterprises.[12]

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What is paradoxical and shameful is that some “environmentalist leftists” mouth off about the famous IIRSA Plan without understanding that behind their furious rejection of the state presence they cover for the now unobjectionable presence of foreign governments and companies in control of the Amazon. In fact, the real danger in the Bolivian Amazon regions is not the IIRSA — that exists only in the fevered imagination of the environmentalists — but the actually existing rule of the industrialized capitalist countries over the Amazon resources as an environmental reserve purchased to compensate for the destruction of the environment in the North. The camouflaged threat is that USAID and the U.S. State Department will make us think that the Amazon belongs to “everyone,” when in reality what they are saying is that it belongs to their government and their companies. The danger is that state sovereignty will be replaced by the foreign alienation of territorial control in the Amazon, and that the right-wing environmentalist discourse will legitimate the absence of the state using the argument of environmental protection.

The accusations that the famous Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway is supposedly part of the IIRSA Plan are ridiculous and intellectually decadent. It was not and never will be! The existing official documentation for this Integration Plan, published from 2005 to 2010, makes no reference to this highway.[13] It refers to sections to complete the highway from Puerto Suárez to La Paz, but in no document is there any mention of entry to Moxos. The map available from the IIRSA is really quite eloquent about the highways that are of interest to the organizers of that project, and one will not find there any route from Villa Tunari to Moxos.

Where is the famous highway that is going to subject us to the geopolitics of the IIRSA? Where is the highway that “is intended to hand over the Amazon to foreign agro-export businesses”? The Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos route is not in the IIRSA Plan. Those who disparage this revolutionary government, as well as the officials of the NGOs opposed to its construction, are well aware of this. They are all equipped with offices with internet connections, they know how to read and to interpret maps. However, they all yell in unison, on all sides, “IIRSA,” “IIRSA,” “IIRSA.”[14]

Why are they lying to the people? Why are they misleading society with their insults and falsehoods? Why are they resorting to such deceptive means to make their case? What class of writers are these people, who for months have been sounding off and spilling so much ink with the phantom of the “geopolitics of the IIRSA”[15] or of the “IIRSA highway,” when they know that it has never been incorporated in that project? What lies behind this hysterical discourse based on a lie? At what point does reason go missing and give way to insults and deliberately misleading statements?

A farce of empty chatter. That is the naked truth about the infamous campaign that seeks to associate the Villa Tunari-Moxos highway with the IIRSA. And falling for it are many gullible people in various parts of the world who, more on the alert for the disqualifying adjective than for the truth, have been caught up in a dark scheme of tricks and camouflage. Sun Tzu[16] recommended that we “beat the drums to the left” in order to “attack on the right”; and here, concerning the highway to Moxos, a whole rightist coalition has accused the Government of “submitting” to corporate and foreign requirements when in reality they are the ones who, with their lies, end up being the most servile defenders of the business, hacendado and imperial interests — precisely the ones opposed to nationalization of the Amazon territory.

Very well, but does that mean we do not need to protect the environment? Of course we need to do that! Our Constitution says so and we have enacted extraordinarily advanced laws along those lines. The Government as a whole is concerned with balancing the need for generation of wealth in order to redistribute it, with the obligation to preserve the procreative nucleus of the natural basis of the planet. But that is a decision and a task of OUR state, of our legislation, of our Government and of our public state policies. The Amazon is ours, it belongs to Bolivians, not to North Americans or Europeans, nor to the companies or NGOs that claim to be “teaching us to protect it.” If they want to protect the environment, let them do so with THEIR forests, rivers and hills, and not meddle in how we decide to care for our own natural surroundings.

After all, if the European companies and the U.S. government are so concerned about the environment and the conservation of the world’s forests, why do they not stop consuming wood and drastically reduce their auto industry and all types of production that emit CO2 into the environment? Why not stop importing minerals whose production contaminates the natural environment? Why not stop importing foods whose production promotes deforestation of millions of hectares of jungle? If they were to close those markets we would drastically reduce deforestation and global warming, and there would be no need to blame the poor countries, as they are now doing, to make them shoulder the burden.

Are we Bolivians having problems with the protection of Mother Earth? Probably. But those are difficulties that we ourselves will know how to resolve; we will never accept the principle of shared sovereignty in any piece of Bolivian territory. Whoever at this point is opposed to the presence of the state in the Amazon is in fact defending the presence in it of the United States. There is no in-between position: that is the dilemma in which the fate of control over the Amazon region is being played out in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil.

Characteristics of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway

Now let us look at the characteristics of this highway. First, it is 306 km long, and will allow the area’s inhabitants to reduce the travel time from the plains to the Andean valleys by 90%. The existing southern end, 103 km, is unpaved. The existing northern section, 143 km, is also unpaved. This means that only 60 of the 306 km, less than 19% of the total, does not yet exist as a highway section.

But we should add that 116 km of the highway would have to cross through the Isiboro Sécure park,[17] 56.6 km of which now exist as a passable road, and 42.6 km as a passage for cattle; that is, within the TIPNIS there now exists as an unpaved road 85% of the total length that is to be constructed. So we are talking about an extension through the forest that requires opening barely 16.7 km to unite the Amazon with the valley.

As the reader will appreciate, the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway is not going to destroy a “virgin forest,” because within the Parque Nacional 85% of this stretch of highway already exists; and if we take into account the width of the highway, the total number of hectares of forest that would be affected is 200. Also, in order not to affect the core of the Park and the mobility of the living creatures within it, the plan is to build an ecological highway in this 16.7 km section (the gradient could be raised or in some cases the highway could run underground).

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In President Evo’s recent trips with reporters from various media, they have verified that to go from the Chapare to Moxos the only viable route is the one that goes through the centre of the Parque Isiboro-Sécure, since on the right side and beyond it we have countless lakes, bogs, permanently flooded areas, ravines and rivers that continually change their course, which makes a stable route for travel technically impossible. And on the left side, there is a steep mountainous area, equally or more unstable than what there is in the stony area in the present Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway.[18] The natural setting is such that the only viable and natural route for travel between the valleys and the Amazon plains is the one that crosses through the TIPNIS. And in fact that is the route that was used by the Yuracaré indigenous nation, the Jesuits and all the settlers who over the last 400 years sought to unite the two regions.

Of course we all want to protect the environment, and there are numerous examples in the world of highways that cross through natural parks without destroying the habitat: the Parque Braulio Carrillo in Costa Rica, the Parque de Protección Alto Mayo in Peru, the Parque Nacional Los Cuchumatanes in Guatemala, Tahoe National Forest and Yellowstone National Park in the United States, the Naturpark Homert in Germany, the Parque Naturel Régional du Vercors in France, and many more.

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Some people, resorting to the classic racist and criminalizing arguments, point out that the damage to the TIPNIS is not the physical construction itself, but the use that the highlands Quechua-Aymara indigenous-peasants are going to make of the highway. They argue that the park will be invaded by peasants who “will clear the forest and grow coca for narcotrafficking.” We have been hearing those prejudices voiced by the U.S. government and the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], in order to expel peasants in years gone by, as well as by the landholding elites of the lowlands as a means of discourse of cohesion and conservative regional legitimation in opposition to the presence of indigenous peoples from the highlands. But that the same arguments are used by some environmentalists or pseudo-leftists denotes an irreparable intellectual poverty. Three linked fallacies can be distinguished in this prejudice, and we will now list them.

[To be continued]

[1] This can be gathered, for example, in the following quotations:

“Since 2003, the highway has been part of the IIRSA corridor from sea to sea linking Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, parallel to the Secure Petroleum Bloc, on which the petroleum firm Repsol signed a contract with the government of Bolivia in 1994, purchasing the rights of exploitation for 30 years. Awarding continuity to the IIRSA plan, the Morales government enacted Law No. 34777 of 22 September 2006, which provided: ‘A national and departmental priority is declared to be the development, from the Study to the Final Design and construction, of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos section, accompanying the Cochabamba-Beni highway of the Fundamental Road System….’; “Costos sociales y ambientales de la Carretera Villa Tunari - San Ignacio de Moxos,” Anuario del Servicio de Noticias Ambientales SENA-Fobomade, 2010.

“Inasmuch as the mega-initiative of the IIRSA has been clearly and repeatedly rejected by the Indigenous peoples and social organizations in both its spirit and the form in which it is being developed, the ABC [Administradora Boliviana de Carretereas, the highways department] and the Ministry of Public Works continue to promote the inter-ocean corridors with few or no measures of social and environmental protection…. Among the highways packages is the construction of the San Ignacio de Moxos-Villa Tunari highway, which crosses the Parque Nacional y TCO Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS), which is the subject of a recently enacted law endorsing the contract for the completion of its construction by OAS, a Brazilian company….”; Marco Octavio Ribera Arismendi, “Crónica ambiental 2007-2011: Retrospectiva y actualización de problemáticas priorizadas”. LIDEMA, La Paz, 2011, pp. 141-142.

[2] Testimony of Father Felipe de Rojas, Cochabamba, 14 April 1765, in Hans van den Berg, En Busca de una Senda Segura. La Comunicación Terrestre y Fluvial entre Cochabamba y Mojos (1765-1825), PLURAL/Universidad Católica de Bolivia, La Paz, 2008.

[3] “En busca de una senda segura...”, op. cit.

[4] “In July, Sucre made the same request to the commune of Cochabamba, seeking information on the measures that Bolívar could implement to the benefit of the region, especially the steps to be taken to remove the obstacles to the progress of agriculture, industry, trade and the arts. Three days later, the cabildo replied with a petition asking that the system of potable water be improved, that taxes on urban and rural property be lowered, and that the businessmen in the city be allowed to deal directly with the region of Moxos instead of channelling all legal trade through the city of Santa Cruz” – William Lee Lofstrom, La Presidencia de Sucre en Bolivia, Caracas, 1987. Also, in 1826, the Liberator Sucre approved the Law of 13 October, which word for word established, in its first article, that it authorized “the executive power, through adjudication of lands, concession of privileges to the settlers now under its protection, and other appropriate means, to promote the opening of the road from Cochabamba to Yuracarés and Mojos.”

[5] “Viaje a la América Meridional,” op. cit.

[6] Propuesta para Apertura, Arreglo y Conservación del Camino de Cochabamba a Trinidad por Corina, Isiboro, Moleto, Sécure y San Lorenzo: El Heraldo, Cochabamba 1915.

[7] The Supreme Decree of 2 October 1920, of the Bautista Saavedra government, establishes in article 1 that “all the Yuracaréz families living in the forests of the region of that name and those who, having fled the missions and industrialists, remain in the forests, should form village nuclei on the road that the Zapadores Regiment is opening from Mojos to Cochabamba.”

[8] Rodolfo Pinto Parada, Rumbo al Beni, Proyecto de Pavimentación Carretera Santa Cruz Trinidad [Proposed paving of a road from Santa Cruz to Trinidad], La Paz, 2001.

[9] M.E. Saucedo Sevilla, member of parliament for Trinidad, Cercado e Iténez, La Vialidad Chapare-Beni, Páginas parlamentarias [parliamentary record], La Paz, Bolivia, 1928.

[10] Rumbo al Beni…, op. cit.

[11] Law No. 3477, of 22 September 2006. Art. 1, “The development of the study and final design and construction of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos section, accompanying the Cochabamba-Beni highway, is declared a national and departmental priority of the Fundamental Road System.” Gaceta de Bolivia.

[12] Thus, some NGOs have become the means for the developed capitalist countries to attain territories and resources which otherwise could not be attained without negotiations or agreements with other national states. Those resources are biodiversity, genetic matter, minerals, oil, gas and strategic territories. It is easier to negotiate with an indigenous people through a local NGO, funded by another country, than to establish a state-to-state relationship. That is why the NGOs finance projects. Or does anyone think that cooperation by Europeans or, worse, USAID, is intended to provide resources for a “civilizing alternative to capital,” for “another possible world,” for “post-capitalism” or the specter of “communism”? Of course not! On the contrary, those capitalist countries and their agencies reveal an imperialist attitude; suffice it to look at the focus of the projects of USAID and the U.S. State Department in reference to the indigenous peoples. Their documents show the intention of purchasing the loyalty and defence of the latter in the news media. Also manifest is their objective of turning the indigenous peoples against the Revolutionary Government of Evo Morales: “La Embajada de los Estados Unidos: Canapés y Territorios Indígenas,” Periódico Plurinacional Nº 6, Vicepresidencia del Estado, La Paz, August, 2011.


[14] As can be appreciated in the following quotations:

“The history of the highway has to do with the project of the South American Regional Initiative (IIRSA); the IIRSA has its origin in the first summit of the Presidents of South America held August 30-September 1, 2000 in Brasilia…. The IIRSA contemplates inter-oceanic corridors linking the Atlantic with the Pacific, making possible the transportation of merchandise between the two oceans. While the argumentation explaining the IIRSA project speaks of integration between the countries involved, voices have been heard from the beginning charging that the project is part of the strategy for domination by the United States of America, and there have also been criticisms of the project as part of the expansion of the emerging power of Brazil. The highway that crosses the TIPNIS forms part of the inter-oceanic corridors, and accordingly of the IIRSA project as well….” (Raúl Prada, “La defensa de los derechos de la Madre Tierra en el TIPNIS”. 15/08/2011.)

“This megaproject is beneficial above all to the big Chinese, U.S. and now Brazilian companies, so this highway is part of the IIRSA. There are other things too that are being violated, in relation to the environmental issues and biodiversity, now that we know there is an exquisite biodiversity in this sector, but it is important that citizens begin to realize that we have to defend places like that.” (Ajax Sangüeza, President of Fobomade, in an article, “Fobomade se une a defensa del Tipnis y rechaza la construcción de la carretera”, published in La Patria, 9 August 2011.

[15] Phrase of Pablo Dávalos in the comments on “Debates que tejen emancipaciones”, by Ana Esther Ceceña, published in Rebelión (26/05/2012). Available at:

[16] Referring to the Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tsu, who wrote “The art of war.”

[17] The Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (PNIS) was created under Decreto Ley (DL) No. 07401 of 22 November 1965. Later, under Decreto Supremo 22610 of 24 September 1990, the PNIS was recognized “as indigenous territory of the Moxeño, Yuracaré and Chimán peoples, who have inhabited it since ancient times, constituting the necessary socio-economic space for its development” and from then on its name changed to that of Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS).

[18] Informe Técnico; reconnaissance of the area of construction of Section II of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos Highway, by Gabriel Durán, Eng., 2012.