Bolivia consults natives on Amazon jungle highway project


Bolivian President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the 42nd OAS General Assembly.



The Bolivian government met with indigenous Amazon residents Sunday to discuss plans for a highway that would run through their homeland.

The meetings were held in the town of San Miguelito, in the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), with Public Works Minister Vladimir Sanchez, observers with the Organization of American States and the Union of South America all present, according to Agence France-Presse. Talks are aimed at asking the 33,000 mostly indigenous residents if they want the 200-mile highway that would cut through their reserve and, if so, on what terms. Discussions will last a month and the results will be known after two.

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Evo Morales, Bolivia's first native president, has been at odds with his indigenous support base because of the $420 million Amazon highway project, which residents have fiercely opposed, reported Reuters. The road is Morales's main project in his attempt to boost infrastructure investment in the South American country.

"The state will respect the decisions and opinions of the inhabitants of TIPNIS," Minister of Water and the Environment Felipe Quispe said to Reuters. "They will decide the future of their territory, which has been declared intangible."

While the Morales government has said the highway will help Bolivia's economy, the country's main lowlands Indian federation argued that it would cause environmental damage in the undeveloped area, which is believed to hold deposits of minerals and oil, according to the Associated Press. The federation said boycotting the talks is the only way to go, since it believes they are set up to favor Morales's side, as voting by newly arrived ranchers, coca farmers and other settlers who don't have the same connection to the land is allowed.