“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.
Rose Poton (she/her) is a compassionate and creative Conflict and Dispute Resolution professional that enjoys working on issues involving the health and well-being of all people and environments while applying a community-centered and environmental justice lens.