Bolivia's Madidi National Park and Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve are communal lands containing some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. As is occurring around the globe, industrial civilization's unquenchable thirst for oil threatens their rich biodiversity and carbon stores, and it seems even socialism cannot save them. With the assent of President Evo Morales, oil giants Petrobas, Petroandina and collaborators are poised to begin an oil exploration assault that threatens not only these remarkable ecosystems, but also the culture and livelihood of the resident indigenous peoples.
Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Lands occupies about 400,000 hectares in northwestern Bolivia and contain a treasure of ecosystems with at least 755 registered vertebrate species including threatened species such as spectacled bear, lowland tapir, black spider monkey, jaguar, long-tailed otter, and giant otter. Floristic biodiversity is estimated to be 2,000 - 3,000 vascular plant species. The area was created to conserve biodiversity and provide a sustainable existence for the indigenous residents from the four indigenous ethnic groups (Chimanes, Mosetenes, Tacanas, and Esse-Ejja) who live there. Mestizos have settled in the last century, many colonists are arriving due to a new road, and various land incursions already severely threaten the area's integrity.
Madidi National Park – IMNA (Integrated Management Natural Area) is located to the north of Pilón-Lajas and consists of 1,895,750 hectares spanning the full range of tropical ecosytems. The IMNA designation aims to achieve conservation of biological diversity conservation along with local sustainable development. This area is home to nearly 2000 vertebrate species, including 83% of Bolivian bird species and 85% of its amphibian species. Plant species have been estimated at 5000. Leco and Tacana indigenous communities, campesinos, and recent colonists reside in the park or on its borders. In both areas many people live from community-owned tourism, subsistence hunting and fishing, collection of forest products, and small-scale agriculture.
Oil exploration outside these parks has already started, and is poised to expand into legally protected rainforests. The local people have not been informed of the real impacts of oil prospecting and drilling, and there have been no consultations with the communities. Bolivia is obligated under The International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, to consult with and establish means by which local peoples can freely participate. Bolivian Hydrocarbons Law and other regulations have also been neglected in the Environmental Impact Study process.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has recently been vocal in his critiques of capitalism and Western overdevelopment, noting that "in 100 years we are using up fossil energies created during millions of years… the capitalist system treats the Mother Earth as a raw material, but the Earth cannot be understood as a commodity; who could privatise, rent or lease their own mother? He recently wrote "climate change has placed all humankind before a great choice: to continue in the ways of capitalism and death, or to start down the path of harmony with nature and respect for life… Humankind is capable of saving the Earth if we [end] … the reign of competition, profits and rampant consumption of natural resources."
Mr. Morales must be encouraged to live up to his grand rhetoric, and end his government's hurried measures to decimate indigenous protected areas, local sustainable livelihoods and their rainforest lands' biodiversity and climate values. We must encourage the President to meet with the community and offer an alternative vision to the exploitative oil industry which he publicly condemns. As global citizens concerned deeply with looming global ecosystem collapse, we must encourage him to realize everything of value for Bolivia's long-term ecological sustainability and community advancement is at risk here: the remarkable irreplaceable biodiversity, the indigenous cultures, their sustainable livelihoods, and local water and climate.
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Bolivia's Madidi National Park is a global treasure -- rainforest protected areas and oil do not mix
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