The historic agenda of the originario, indigenous peoples of Bolivia is self-determination within the already constituted Bolivian state. International legal instruments, such as the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Declaration, whose final text was approved mid last year and which has to be ratified by the General Assembly, recognise this right for all indigenous peoples of the world.
We, the indigenous peoples of the lowlands, who initiated the struggle for the Constituent Assembly and who marched in favour of it in the year 2002, cannot allow this historic opportunity to pass by, so that at least those rights, already universally recognised, become part of the new constitution.
Indigenous autonomies are not, as the spokespeople of the Santa Cruz oligarchy say, an “invention of MAS”, wanting to confuse, make partisan and politicise the debate, with the intention of silencing the principal of indigenous autonomy, which is a right that is internationally recognised. The right of indigenous peoples to self-govern themselves implies the rights to:
Elect our authorities according to our traditions and customs. To promote our own judicial systems, our own mechanisms of conflict resolution.
We have the right to be obligatorily consulted prior to, and freely, in all the economic, social, administrative and legal projects that affect the lives of our communities and our cultures in our territories.
We have the right to express our free consent before plans and projects that affect us. That is to say, we have the right so that policies regarding land and territory, education, healthcare, productive projects, roadways, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons and minerals, exploitation of our forest resources, be previously socialised, discussed in all their aspects and regarding their environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts. From this widely informed and public process will emerge the collective decision of our communities expressed in consenting to these policies and projects or in the right to express our objections.
Not only do we have the right to compensation and indemnification, for the damages previous inflicted, but we also have the right to participate in the benefits of projects of extraction of all natural resources that are carried out in our territories. In case you did not already know, this right is already part of Bolivian law in the Indigenous Chapter of the Hydrocarbon Law, currently in force.
That is, we have the right to be taken into consideration, obligatorily, and not silenced, ignored or made invisible, as has occurred under all the republican governments. We are only heard when we are obliged to mobilise and sacrifice ourselves, in order to have our demands known.
Why do they fear indigenous autonomy? Is it not the best option for the democratic life and tranquillity that all us Bolivians want, that our rights be written into the constitution and respected by governments? Who wants the conflicts: us, who demand rights that are internationally recognised or them who want to negate them, now under the pretext of departmental autonomies, in order to favour the owners of the banks, commerce and large landowners? That is why their proposal for departmental autonomy stubbornly persists in ignoring our right to indigenous autonomies.
Carlos Cuasase Surubi is an indigenous Chiquitano senator
Translated from Bolpress