If you walked along Lake Concepción on August 26, 2020, you would have seen dead animals and massive amounts of dead fish floating on top of the polluted lake (Gonzáles, 2020). Lake Concepción is located in Concepción, Bolivia in the Chiquitano/Monkoxi territories. The area around the lake is protected but local authorities say that settler Mennonites seeking to establish mechanized agricultural farms and cattle ranches come anyway (Gonzáles, 2020;Romo, 2020). In Latin American countries like Bolivia , deforestation is mostly attributed to transnational demand for beef and soy but commodities like timber, oil and minerals also pose threats to the livelihoods of indigenous peoples land and homes in Latin American regions (Carrington, 2021, Mckay & Colque, 2015). Current transnational interests for beef from Bolivia are coming from China and Russia where they’ve signed trade deals in 2020 (Carrington, 2021). Extractive industries (i.e. mechanized agriculture, logging, mining, and cattle ranches ) contribute to deforestation, climate change, and the dispossession of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples living in areas of the Amazon which spans across eight countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname) are experiencing conflict over their land and natural resources and it threatens their livelihoods. This conflict extends beyond the borders of indigenous peoples’ territories and to the larger global community. Establishment of monocrops for soy and cattle ranches for beef production in areas of the Bolivian Amazon, two main contributors to deforestation, stems from transnational demand for soy and beef. Deforestation exacerbates climate change through loss of trees which cycle water, produce oxygen, and store carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (GHG) thatcontributes to climate change. Deforestation of the Amazon releases stored carbon and contributes to climate change in addition to environmental degradation (pollution, physical altering of land, ecosystems disrupted, etc), a byproduct of unsustainable practices of extractive industries.
We are all social human beings in some way and are connected to one another through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we use to grow food and develop. Climate change impacts the availability of natural resources and is a consequence of our social relations. How we relate to each other and nature impacts how and where we live because we all rely on the same natural resources (air, water, land). In this sense, climate change presents itself as a collective challenge to humanity. Cumulative actions of humans have caused environmental degradation (i.e. polluted water, air and land; destroyed or diminished ecosystems, etc.) that contribute to and exacerbate climate change (Foster, Clark, & York, 2010; Angus, 2016). About 80% of the carbon dioxide emitted since 1751 comes from the world’s wealthiest countries which include the United States, China, and Russia compared to about 1% from the world’s poorest countries which include Bolivia (Angus, 2016). These human actions, mediated by extractive industries and policies, are also dispossessing indigenous peoples of land and natural resources and are negatively impacting their health and well-being in disproportionate ways. --- Read more by downloading the complete paper below.
“How many is that so far?” I asked, as a long double-bed truck with the logo “VOLVO” hauling giant logs of valuable tropical wood and kicking up reddish brown dirt drove past our white passenger van. I was in Bolivia participating in a service-learning study abroad program that I applied for through my school called “Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice in Bolivia”. The program accepted only ten students and three of us, including myself were asked to do a photo and video session with two students from Urubichá’s School of Music and Art. The pictures and videos that we took during the session were to be used later to help create awareness of deforestation and the consequences of it. We were guided to an area of the Amazon forest near Urubichá by our tour guide, driver, and an instructor at the music school. It was a bright, hot, humid and sunny day. We had been driving for a while on an unpaved dirt road that led into the forest when we stopped on the side of the road. Deforestation is higher in areas where roads like these are built. Two of our guides went up ahead on foot to arrange with the drivers of the trucks to drive slowly towards the students while they stood in the middle of the road walking slowly towards the logger’s trucks playing their violins. They would both then stop at a safe distance from each other at which point the students would stretch their arms out, holding their violins and bow out in protest towards the loggers. To protest deforestation. The drivers agreed to the arrangement and I took pictures using my professor’s professional still camera while someone else held the Go-pro to film them playing and walking towards the logging trucks. That day, we counted about 17 double-bed trucks stacked with tropical wood in a two hour time period. For the community in Urubichà, deforestation and its consequences is an immediate reality and changing the lived experiences of the indigenous peoples.
University of Oregon Professor Dr. Derrick Hindery has been working with indigenous communities in Bolivia for many years. During one of his visits to Bolivia he was shown a plot of land by a former leader of COPNAG in Guarayos territory that had been clear cut and contaminated by chemical pesticides:
“The former leader of COPNAG took me and [another UO professor] to see and film/photograph a plot of land in Guarayos TCO deforested by “outsider” campesinos that they denounced, in which forest was clear cut and apparently chemical pesticides were used. The leader complained that sometimes Guarayos community members sold access to guarayos territory even though “TCO’s” by law are collective, indivisible and cannot be sold .”
There are social and economic forces shaping this conflict. The need to make a living and survive and a drive to meet market demands with opaque ends. I hope to highlight some of the ways this conflict manifests itself and plant some “seeds” as to how to move forward. Another goal of this paper is to share some of the ways that indigenous peoples have mobilized themselves and asserted their agency in claiming their land and naming for themselves their rights.
I am a Graduate Student at the University of Oregon (UO) School of Law studying Conflict and Dispute Resolution. I did my undergraduate work at UO majoring in General Social Science with a concentration in Globalization, Environment, and Policy.