Bolivia – Ecological Paradise

“I am the spokesman for the indigenous and peasant peoples who live in harmony with Mother Earth.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales

Many environmentalists were no doubt thrilled and inspired this week by the declarations of Bolivia’s President at the Copenhagen summit. Amidst diplomatic dithering by the world’s wealthy nations over doing anything real about the global climate change their people’s have caused, the leaders of the impoverished nations most directly impacted spoke in a different voice. Symbolic among them was the indigenous man who is President of the most indigenous nation in the Americas.

In a post summit interview on Democracy Now, Morales declared:

The earth is our life. Nature is our home, our house. If the mother is recognized as Mother Earth, it’s something that can’t be sold, it’s something that can’t be—it can’t be violated, something sacred. This is nature. This is planet earth. And that’s why I’ve come here, to defend the rights of Mother Earth, to defend the rights to life, to defend humanity and saving Mother Earth.

From afar observers might imagine that Bolivia is an environmental paradise, a haven for indigenous values about the relationship between humans and the land, the air and the water.

Oh, if it were only so.

To be clear, for 500 years Bolivia has been on the blunt receiving end of the practices of foreigners that have badly degraded this diverse patch of earth. It was the Spanish empire that gutted the silver mountain of Potosi, not Bolivians. It is the reckless environmental practices of the wealthy north that is melting the country’s fragile glaciers today.

But that said, it also true that Bolivia has more than its share of environmental calamities that are home grown as well. President Morales did not create these problems, but they are his now to address:

Garbage, Garbage Everywhere

The Dump that Destroys the Earth

The city of Cochabamba has many environmental problems to solve, but a particular one that is long overdue for action is the K’ara K’ara municipal dump in the impoverished southern zone of the city of Cochabamba. It is a mountain of garbage where the nearby residents have neither adequate water nor sewage. In operation for more than thirty years the dump receives 400 tons a day of unsorted garbage. The 5,000 people who live nearby consume groundwater polluted by its chemicals, they inhale the gases and putrid odors that the garbage emits into the air, and they are targets for the insects and disease that come as well.

Although a 2001 environmental audit recommended its closing to address the huge impact it has on public health, the local authorities have not been able to find a place to locate a new dump built with the needed safety protections. Yet even if a new site were opened today, the communities around he dump will continue to suffer such extreme contamination that only a concerted and expensive program lasting a decade could begin to mitigate the effects.

[Written by Aldo Orellana]

The City of Garbage

Looking out my third-floor window, I see beautiful mountains beginning to turn green with the spring rains, a variety of green trees, a garden with roses, a banana tree and a bougainvillea vine. I also see trash, lots of trash. There is a discarded tire in the canal, a pile of dirty rags ground into the dirt road, plastic bottles, empty juice bags, candy wrappers, a discarded shoe without laces, an empty take-out food container and a yellow comb.

My neighborhood is not unique. Household trash can be found on the streets and sidewalks throughout the city of Cochabamba. Litter is dropped by pedestrians and from the windows of cars and busses. Signs on busses direct passenger to please “throw your garbage out the windows.”

Alongside this purposeful or accidental littering, a dedicated population sweeps their storefronts and sidewalks every morning and carries their household garbage to designated dumpsters, where they are available. However, it is impossible to protect the rivers and waterways from the garbage that is either blown or dumped in. Why is there so much litter on the streets of Cochabamba? We can’t pretend that there is a simple answer- certainly there are cultural, economic and consumption patterns involved- but it is difficult not to interpret it as a disregard for or neglect of the earth.

[Written by Kris Hannigan-Luther]

In the Countryside, Where Garbage Reins

It breaks my heart, such abuse of the earth amidst such beauty. In the mornings just after dawn I take a long walk through the countryside outskirts of Tiquipaya with my two dogs. And every day there is another new pile of discarded garbage. Two bags of discarded plaster now sit astride a small canal where green and white lilies try to grow. The water canal that snakes its way through farms and fields is jammed stuck with a discarded pile that includes a tire, two huge plastic bags of trash and an assortment of building materials that seem to be leaking chemicals. Then last week a pile of plastic bags and bottles that would fill the bed of a small pick-up truck (and probably did) is now strewn across an open field next to the soccer court where the neighborhood children pass these days of summer vacation.

It isn’t hard to understand why Tiquipaya – this town that declares itself an ecological zone – has become more of a spread out dump. The city (run by Morales’ MAS party for many years) has no real program to collect the garbage generated by its residents. A single garbage truck does make a weekly route along the few main roads, but that is of little significance to the many families who live far from these roads. There are no trash receptacles anywhere nearby. So the fields and water canals take their place.

The Murder of Trees

Deforestation, the murder of trees, is a major cause of global warming. If you want a planet with a global respiratory illness, cut down its lungs – it isn’t rocket science. And Bolivia is certainly doing its fair share of the cutting.

The main street that connects the town of Tiquipaya and the city of Cochabamba is called Avenida Ecologica, Ecology Avenue. My friend Ismael pointed out the irony one morning when we were driving along it together. The road is lined with one massive lot after another full of equally massive felled trees. Most of these come from the Chapare region 100 miles away. A few may have been cut under s
ome sort of permit. Most are just the corpses produced by one illegal raid after another on some of the earth’s oldest living things.

Locally, the story is the same. Just in the last year I have watched four small nearby groves, numbering 50 trees or more, turned into wastelands of abandoned stumps. Here in Tiquipaya most of these are eucalyptus trees, which most environmentalists will point out, are not native to the area and are notorious suckers of water underground. While that may be true, to kill them all will simply convert Tiquipaya into another Quillocollo, an urbanized mass where trees are a memory not a fact of life.

Why are the trees being killed and carted away? It’s the same phenomena that the country’s president warned about in Copenhagen, the trading in of nature for money. The people who live here and cut these trees may not profit as handsomely as Shell or Chevron, but the principle is the same.

Bulldozing through a Rare Refuge for Wildlife

Not long ago the Bolivian government declared that animals are also part of the world of nature it seeks to protect by banning the use of animals in circuses in Bolivia. However, one of the most important animals refuges in the country, Parque Machia just outside of Villa Tunari in he Chapare, is under threat by government plans to build a road through it heart.

The so-called “Monkey Park” is well known to Bolivian and foreign visitors alike. My family and I just made a return visit there in November. Small black monkeys, most liberated from abused lives in the city, will crawl into your lap and onto your head (and put a hand into your pocket and steal its contents, if you aren’t attentive). The park is also home to a host of other animal species, including pumas and an endangered Spectacled Bear. Jane Goodall recently visited the park to lend her support for its continued existence.

But local officials (another community run by MAS) have failed to complete any reasonable environmental assessment of the road’s impact and seem committed to bulldozing right through the park. Here’s a report from volunteers at Parque Machia.

Degrading the Earth to Capture its Mineral Wealth

The harshest and most long-term threat to Bolivia’s environment has been the relentless pursuit of its vast natural resources. From silver and tin in the past, to gas and iron today, the quest for riches under the earth has come at an enormous environmental cost. If it is not careful, the country’s new quest to leach out its abundant lithium reserves will be just the newest tragic chapter.

While this exploitation at the earth’s expense is a long legacy in Bolivia, even the country’s new regime is subject to the same course. As our colleague Linda Farthing wrote recently in NACLA:

“Even since the 2006 election of indigenous president Evo Morales and his progressive government, the social pressure to satisfy the country’s immediate economic needs through extractive industries that destroy the natural environment—primarily natural gas, mining, and forestry—remains as strong as ever. Moreover, the government confronts a terrible legacy of ecological degradation. For despite a relatively low population density, about a quarter of the national territory, or 60 million acres, is environmentally degraded, with almost 17 million acres under threat, according to the Environmental Defense League (Lidema), Bolivia’s principal environmental coalition.”
Welcome back from Copenhagen Mr. President. The Pachamama right here at home can use a hand.
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35 Responses to Bolivia – Ecological Paradise

  1. Locojhon says:

    Your story is mostly true, and describes well the problems of Bolivia regarding the ongoing environmental destruction.
    You repeatedly seemed to blame MAS for the problems, even though MAS has only been recently elected to power, and in many locales does not have the legislative power to institute needed reforms.
    It is a work in progress that will be addressed as MAS gains more seats. I am not one to see the glass half-empty–I see it half full and getting fuller with each day. I suspect that in the near future, there will be an inspired program for all Bolivians to more fully respect the Pachamama, and that that effort will result in a more respected and cared for Bolivia.
    The process can never happen as quickly as we would like it to, but it is happening–slowly but surely.
    Viva Bolivia, Evo Morales and MAS!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    "I am the spokesman for the indigenous and peasant peoples who live in harmony with Mother Earth."
    Bolivian President Evo Morales

    Yhe, the Bolivian president that has fooled everyone into thinking that he is indigenous when he can't even speak the language. The president that publicly states that it should be a law for those that want to participate in government that they speak an indigenous language when he can't do this, let alone simple math.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In my little patch of the Yungas, deforestation is rampant. I'm convinced that winter water shortages are connected to the destruction of the "sponge" that is the monte.

    MAS hasn't done anything about the land invasions in the national parks, either.

    EDUCATION is critical if Bolivia's indigenous and peasant peoples are going to continue living in harmony with Pachamama.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i pretty much agree with the two above posts…and its not just bolivia…i just got back from cusco and its the same there…TJ the same

    we need to start a campaign down here like they did in texas a while back

    how do you translate "Dont mess with Bolivia" into spanish/amayra/quecheua?


  5. Frank_IBC says:

    So Morales has just declared that "The Negro [Obama] is Bush's best student."

    Looks like he needs to read "Como Hacer Amigos Y Influenciar Personas".

  6. Anonymous says:

    Bolivia is such small country that the only thing it can do here is lead by example. Too bad Evo does not care one bit about the environment. He is using Copenhagen only to spew his hatred. He is still pushing forward with the Bala project and Oil exploration in the Madidi…just think about it, he wants to destroy the most biodiverse region in the world, and for what?
    He should take care of his house before telling his neighbors how to live their lives.

  7. AJ La Paz says:

    The rhetoric from Evo was impressive but for him to truly hold the moral high ground he needs to act to stop deforestation, the single biggest way Bolivia can influence the fight against climate change.

  8. anahi says:

    I think that the worst thing that can happen to Bolivia is Evo Morales, and i think that if someone support him or his ideals, is just because they dont live in Bolivia.
    Dont mess with Bolivia is " No te metas con Bolivia"

  9. Anonymous says:

    Some things are true,i don´t see garbage around mi neightborhoud in Cochabamba, and just some buses have that signs not all of them, and yo can find people with no education that throw garbage, but you can also see people that prefer to keep that garbage until the nest garbage trash…
    the thing is you see the glass half empty or full?…

  10. Anonymous says:

    well i mean number one selling t-shirt for tourists in the witches market, where you can make spells for pachamama is "hoja de coca no es droga".

    Evo morales is a joke, he really is.

  11. Anonymous says:

    If Morales is spokesman for "Mother Earth" we can name Satan the guardian of the pearl gates to enter heaven.

    Morales delusions of self grandeur and trying to be an exotic Sitting Bull environmentalist would be so hilarious if it weren't so sad. This is from a guy who can't even speak an indigenous language, who desperately wants investors to drill oil and gas fields, and who is constantly flying around in a Venezuelan jet and helicopter spewing CO2 in the atmosphere.

    By the way, if the poor countries demand rich countries to pay them for their "climate debt" (IMHO the biggest swindle in history), the rich countries should demand in turn from poor countries compensation for providing them access and benefits to technology and goods and services given to them for free for decades, military protection guaranteeing international commerce, etc.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Amy Goodman is the biggest Morales suckup ever. What lame questions! Was this supposed to be a serious interview?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Evo Morales and MAS have an excellent environmental foreign policy, but not such a good local one. There are signs of progress through government programs to mitigate global warming's effects and innovations such as the Ministerio del Agua which actually has good programs to preserve water in rivers and lakes and also focuses on the human issue of potable water supply in urban and semi-urban centers.

    Also the corruption and murder scandal which halted progress on a liquid separation plant in Tarija avoided a certain amount of pollution.

    The alternative? A Manfred Reyes Villa or Samuel Doria Medina government which would have the foreign policy that Hillary wants including accepting Obama's crappy Copenhagen appearance and his piss poor Nobel Peace Price speech: "some wars are good times".

    Regional, municipal and indigenous autonomies, along with Department autonomies if they aren't politicized, may allow better focus on local issues, which would likely lead to greater preservation of the local ecosystem and development which is sustainable for its inhabitants. Both MAS and the right-wing opposition have a chance to improve on this issue for the April elections.

  14. Anonymous says:


  15. Anonymous says:

    huh? again….so by your logic, the US should've stayed out of WWII and let Germanay and Japan have their way in Europe and Asia. Also by extension, the revolutionary wars were also immoral. There is such thing as a fair war:
    # the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    # all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    # there must be serious prospects of success;
    # the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    Not sure what local authorities can do against Evo's desire to build a dam in the Bala and Cachuela Esperanza and start oil production in the most sensitive regions of the Amazon. It would take more than ten thousand villages going back to the stone age to mitigate the damage that Evo proposes to do.

    Who cares about the Ministry of Water when you have cooperativistas and cocaleros poisoning the waters. Have you tried fishing in the Pilcomayo recently?

  16. Anonymous says:

    # there must be serious prospects of success;

    lmao (-:

    # the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    in the 70's and 80's, CIA produced the narc in order to fund right-wing death squads in Nicaragua and even sold to dealers they knew were flooding poor African American neighborhoods. no blowback there (-: pun fully intended.

    In the 80's, the Pentagon and CIA produced Bin Laden in order to save Afghanistan's geostrategic natural gas from "communism". no blowback there?

    Terrorists are not nations, occupying Afghanistan will ultimately fail, Obama knows this as much as LBJ knew Vietnam was lost before the escalation (refer to the article Jim linked a while back which refers to a book which refers to official White House phone records which prove this) and he is thinking more about holding Congress enough to pass his domestic agenda, given that the Pentagon runs the foreign show.

    Again, what is the alternative to Evo? If you were not crying doomsday scenarios for Bolivia and its environment before the cultural and democratic revolution, then this is probably politically and class motivated. If you were, and still are, holding a principled environmental position then you must be just as dissapointed with the opposition.

  17. Anonymous says:

    CIA WTF? little bit off topic don't you think? Must be Grindio, paranoid off his pcp dipped kind buds.

  18. Anonymous says:

    not going to even waste time with this guy. Starts arguing against the war with the taliban, then talks about the CIA in Nicaragua, and now says that the US' objective is to occupy Afghanistan. All the while he turns a blind eye to the main point of the post: Evo's hypocrisy towards the environment.

    It definately smells like Grindio…hey Grindio, stop hiding your uncle and living of his ill-gotten fortune. Turn yourself in, if Evo were to give you all the death sentence, I would be willing to believe in the Proceso de Cambio

  19. Anonymous says:

    Merry Christmas to all! May the good Lord bless everybody.

  20. Anonymous says:

    well, you mentioned Afghanistan I only mentioned that any other than Evo would be sucking up to the Empire as usual. please, if the invasion of a country by foreign troops and bombs an installation of a government friendly to the invaders has another name, i'm all ears.

    i said it, Evo's foreign eco policy is good, the local one is not so good but has signs of improvement. it is you who turn the blind eye to the opposition's role… care to indicate whether you think Manfred, Samuel or the Santa Cruz elites have a worthwhile environmental program?

  21. Anonymous says:

    the issue is not if the elites in sta cruz or santa claus have a better environmental policy, the issue is that Evo is a hypocrite given the way things are at home.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Most politicians are hypocrites, but the environmental issues Bolivia faces stem from three factors: poor eco consciousness, an economy historically based on resource extraction; which enriched foreign corporations and dating back to the colonial period helped to fund the industrialization and modernization of feudal Europe, and the devastating effects of rising temperatures on the Andean and Amazonian ecosystems. Two of these are the historical responsibility of industrialized nations of the global North and their industries, therefore it makes sense to hold them accountable. I think it is more hypocritical that the leaders of nations responsible of current rising temperatures- unless you believe Alex Jones-weaseled out of making any commitments to change their polluting ways.

    Also its hypocritical that the self-appointed peacekeepers of the world make hundreds of billions of dollars every year selling bombers, fighters, machine guns, tanks, heavy weaponry, light weaponry, military uniforms, military training, paramilitary mercenaries…

  23. Anonymous says:

    now i know what it feels to be in the twilight zone.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Sure baby-hun, but let's take a mouthful:Evo is offering classes on how to improve the image, and work towards equality, of his black brother, two areas where nobody else seems quite able or willing to help the guy, albeit just for the fact that there would probably never have been a black US Prez. without Evo in burnt palace.

  25. Anonymous says:

    In Greek times, garbage was thrown in the streets and rivers. In modern times, sanitation practices in Cochabamba has not changed much. All the opposition who are bitter over the election and supporters of Evo should channel their energy and demand practical approaches to improve the basic necessities like safe drinking water, garbage disposal, recycling,etc. It's very easy to be a cynic but harder to be a progressive in practical matters.

  26. Anonymous says:

    to the previous two anons: do not drink and blog, or toke and blog. I'm sure it made sense then, but sober up and you'll see nonsense.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I think Morales would look more authentic wearing one of those KKK hoods.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Evo or no Evo. In the end we are all human beings/animals. We are walking the same path other "dominant" animal species, e.g. the dinosaurs,… and countless other "human civilizations" have walked before. Once we are gone the Earth will regenerate itself and once again new animal species and "intelligent life" will emerge to continue the cycle. Happy 2010!

  29. Norman says:

    "just for the fact that there would probably never have been a black US Prez. without Evo in burnt palace"

    Good one anon! I knew this would be funny. Like one in fifty voters in the US have even heard of the racist president of Bolivia. Heaven forbid anyone mention his race but he hits TWO US presidents with racial epithets in one sentence. What an ambassador!!

  30. Anonymous says:

    Morals is as Indian as Obama is black.
    Both are mestizos. EMo is half spanish, half indian. Obama had a white mother.
    Neither can speak an indigenous language. EMo only speaks Spanish and BO english.

  31. Anonymous says:

    "In Greek times, garbage was thrown in the streets and rivers. In modern times, sanitation practices in Cochabamba has not changed much."

    In Greek times the majority of garbage was biodegradable. Plastic bags and bottles are not. Next time you are in VT, check out the local city dump just down from Tio Pols…in the river bed. A classic example of blindness to pollution and laziness. There is NO awareness here to keeping the land.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Hey Norman, I'm from the US and I know all about Bolivia. It's that small country in Southern Africa next to Zambia, right?

  33. Anonymous says:

    S.A. doesn't mean "South Africa" but "South America," 1:56. Eat your Wheaties and finish you middle school geography homework.

  34. rose says:

    This is a great post for environment.Now people should know deeply about all environment problems.I think Morales has well said about environment that the earth is our life and nature is our home.Thank you for this nice post.