Villa Tunari – San Ignacio de Moxos Highway
The Villa Tunari – San Ignacio de Moxos Highway, also known as the Cochabamba–Beni Highway is a road project in Bolivia connecting the towns of Villa Tunari (in Cochabamba Department) and San Ignacio de Moxos (in Beni Department). It would provide the first direct highway link between the two departments. The project has an expected overall cost of $415 million and extends 306 kilometres (190 mi), divided into three segments: Segment I from Villa Tunari to Isinuta (47 km or 29 mi), Segment II from Isinuta to Monte Grande (177 km or 110 mi), and Segment III from Monte Grande to San Ignacio de Moxos (82 km or 51 mi). Opposition to the highway by local indigenous communities, environmentalists, as well as shifting relations between the Bolivian government and the project's builders and funders have interrupted construction of Segment I and indefinitely delayed Segments II and III. The government has pledged to improve standards of living in the region before continuing with the project.
While the highway has been discussed for decades, a $332 million loan from Brazil's National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), approved by Bolivia in 2011, facilitated the start of construction. Under the terms of the loan, the Brazilian construction firm OAS was to build the road. In June 2011, President Evo Morales inaugurated the project with a ceremony at Villa Tunari. However, neither a final design nor environmental approval had been released for Segment II. Opposition from indigenous residents in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory and environmentalists led to a protracted public conflict about the highway, ending with the prohibition of highway passing through the park. President Morales has stated that the controversy over the highway has "instilled fear" in potential financial backers of other highway projects in the country.
Proposals for a highway linking the region of San Ignacio de Moxos with Cochabamba have been raised perennially in the history of the region.
Ignacio Flores, the Spanish governor of Mojos proposed opening a road from Cochabamba to Mojos via the Chapare in 1780. The purpose of the proposal was threefold: to encourage re-settlement of Cochabambinos in the region, where they could grow coca, sugar and other crops; to assist in the civilizing of the Yuracaré people, most of whom continued to resist missionary influence; and to bring Mojos into the economic orbit of Cochabamba, bypassing the control of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Construction and contractors
OAS, a Brazilian infrastructure corporation, won the contract to build the highway in 2008. Bolivia and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) signed Financial Collaboration Contract N° 10219991 on February 15, 2011, in which the bank extended a $332-million loan to support construction. OAS' work on the road lasted from June 2011 to April 2012, although Segment II was halted in October 2011. On April 10, 2012, President Morales announced the cancellation of the contract, citing delays in construction as well as other technical failures on the part of OAS. The Brazilian development bank, which had agreed to the loan financing the bulk of the project contingent on the use of OAS, immediately withdrew its funding and has stated that not one dollar of the loan was disbursed.
On October 6, 2012, a new contract assigned $32.5 million for the construction of the 47-km Segment I from Villa Tunari and Insinuta. The newly created state-owned Bolivian Enterprise for Construction (Spanish: Empresa Boliviana de Construcción, EBC) and the local, cocalero-owned Association for Road Maintainance (Asociación de Mantenimiento Vial; AMVI) were awarded the contract. They resumed construction on October 24, 2013, and are obligated to complete their work by September 9, 2015. As of December 2013, the firms reported 30% completion of their work on the segment.
Conflict concerning Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park
In May 2010, the a meeting of TIPNIS Subcentral and corregidores throughout the territory stated their "overwhelming and unrenounceable opposition" to the project. In July 2011, following the beginning of construction the Subcentral TIPNIS (the representative institution of indigenous residents in the territory), the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia, and the highland indigenous confederation CONAMAQ announced they would participate in a national march opposing the project.
A major concern about the impact of the road is its contribution to deforestation: "Empirical evidence has shown that highways are motors for deforestation" concluded a study of the project by the Program for Strategic Investigation in Bolivia (PIEB). The study projected that the road would markedly accelerate deforestation in the park, leaving up to 64% of TIPNIS deforested by 2030. A technical report submitted by the Bolivian Highway Administration (ABC) established that the direct deforestation caused by the road itself would only be 0.03%; similarly, President Morales has spoken of a 180-hectare deforestation, an area equivalent to a rectangle 180 km long and 10 m wide. According to the last government survey 49 of 64 communities in TIPNIS are in favour of the construction of the road.
The Subcentral, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB), and the highland indigenous confederation CONAMAQ carried out a national march from Trinidad, Beni to La Paz in opposition to the project, beginning on August 15, 2011. On September 25, a police raid on the march resulted in the detention of hundreds of marchers, who were later released. The march regrouped and arrived in La Paz on October 19 to a massive public welcome. During the march, other movements such as the Cochabamba campesino confederation and the colonos union in Yucumo mobilized in favor of the project. In early October, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly passed legislation authored by the MAS authorizing the road following a consultation process, but indigenous deputies and the indigenous movement opposed the bill. At the opening of negotiations with the protesters on October 21, Morales announced that he would veto the legislation and support the text proposed by the indigenous deputies. This text was passed by the Assembly and signed into law on October 24, effectively ending the conflict. Law 180 of 2011 declares TIPNIS an intangible zone and prohibits the construction of highways that cross it.
Beginning in December 2011, the Bolivian government rallied supporters of the highway, in Cochabamba, San Ignacio de Moxos, and the southernmost port of TIPNIS, in a campaign to reverse Law 180. Conisur, an organization of communities living in Polygon 7 at the south of TIPNIS, led its own pro-highway march from December 19 in the territory to January 2012 in La Paz. While Conisur demand that Law 180 simply be annulled, the government proposed instead to conduct a "prior consultation" of TIPNIS indigenous communities on the question of the highway as well as Law 180's declaration of the highway as an intangible zone. This proposal was passed as Law 222 on February 10, 2012. Non-CONISUR TIPNIS communities and their traditional leaders rejected the proposed consultation declaring that it "is not free, but rather is being imposed by force; is not informed, insofar as there is manipulation of information concerning the reach and effects of this law, which are hidden by the state … and does not deal in good faith" The Subcentral TIPNIS and CIDOB organized a new 62-day march opposing the consultation which reached La Paz in June, but their demands were not attended to by the government.
The Plurinational Electoral Organ took on the task of carrying out the community consultation, visiting communities in the territory from July 29 through December 3, 2012. According to the official count, 58 communities of the 69 within TIPNIS participated and 55 of them supported the road, while 57 rejected the "intangibility" of the territory imposed by Law 180. However, a human rights observation mission led by the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights of Bolivia (APDHB), the Inter-American Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Catholic Church from November 29 to December 14 reached a different conclusion. They found that "of the 36 communities visited by FIDH and APDHB, only 19 stated having been consulted, and 30 communities rejected construction of the road." The observers also described "numerous irregularities in the consultation process" and denounced that "the communities consulted reported having received gifts, having been pressured or being imposed restrictions in exchange for acceptance of the consultation; some were coerced through the suspension of development projects in case of refusal."
Coinciding the publication of the consultation's results in April 2013, three laws were envisioned to address the future of the territory and the road project: one annulling Law 180, a second instituting environmental safeguards, and a third preventing further occupation of the territory by coca growers. However, legislative leaders and Minister of Public Works Vladimir Sánchez announced that the government would prioritize eliminating extreme poverty in TIPNIS through the end of 2014, and defer any action on the highway project and the suggested laws.
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