domingo, marzo 28, 2010

BOLIVIA: Environmental Contradictions of "21st Century Socialism"

President Evo Morales.


The re-election of socialist President Evo Morales with an overwhelming 65% of the popular vote, together with the recent victories of progressive candidates to the presidencies of Paraguay and Uruguay, has caused rejoicing and hope among ecologists the world over. It is hoped that these progressive governments will lead South America away from the road of the ecologically destructive model of development based on extractivism, the exportation of raw materials such as minerals and agricultural commodities.

This development model became even more destructive with the ascent of neoliberal economics and has its most prominent expression in the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). On its official web page, IIRSA describes itself as "a forum for dialogue among the authorities responsible for transportation, energy, and communication infrastructures in the 12 countries of South America." It says its goal is "to promote development of infrastructure with a regional vision, resulting in the physical integration of the countries of South America and the achievement of an equitable and sustainable pattern of territorial development." This initiative, which has funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), aims to construct massive transportation and energy infrastructure projects, which will have an enormous impact on biodiversity as well as serious implications for climate change.

But unfortunately, according to concerned and observant ecologists, the progressive governments of the continent have shown themselves to be more of the same when it comes to care of the environment.

"In Bolivia, various hydroelectric dam building projects have been launched, which is especially worrisome, not only because of their number, but also because some of them are located in the Amazon, including in protected areas," warns Uruguayan ecologist and intellectual Eduardo Gudynas.

"In effect, the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) government plan proposed involves the construction of dams, like those of Cachuela Eperanza, Río Grande, and Bala, with the goal of selling energy to neighboring countries. It also intends to complete the Madeira River hydro dam complex. It is defending oil exploration and exploitation, which has already caused various local groups to react, as can be seen in the indigenous Mosetén's declarations against PetroAndina. In addition to these activities, we have to include the projects for expanding mining, their associated deforestation, and the use of coal (for example in El Mutún). The social and environmental impacts of all these projects should be enormous, and inside Bolivia we will need to be continuously alert."

According to the Bolivian environmental group FOBOMADE, the IIRSA megaprojects have been designed and financed by the World Bank, the IADB, and the Andean Development Corporation (Corporación Andina de Fomento) "to facilitate the exploitation and export of raw materials. The IIRSA was born to be the backbone of free trade in South America and is now one of the pillars of the development plans of Evo Morales and other 'progressive' governments."

A number of environmentalists predict that these contradictions will come to a climax at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth which President Morales is convening in April in the city of Cochabamba. "The problem is that this has caused harsh responses from the Bolivian government," warns Gudynas. "It is important to keep this problem in mind analyzing the call to Cochabamba. How can the 'pueblos' discuss global climate change if the people's government [of Bolivia] rejects environmental warnings? Some government leaders have come to support the idea that the participation and consultation of citizens ought to be regulated so that they don't hinder mining and hydrocarbon projects … many environmentalists could demand that Pacha Mama be defended even within Bolivia."

"How do we apply the formulas for industrialization and sustained economic growth considered necessary for a poor and backward country without causing hideous damage and the irreversible distortions of the old 'real socialism' or of the new Chinese model, ideologically indefinable but ecologically devastating?" asks Ojarasca, the monthly supplement of the Mexican daily La Jornada in an editorial about the crossroads which the government of Evo Morales faces.

The Ojarasca editorial asks other pertinent questions as well: "How is Brazil to be prevented from constructing two hydroelectric megadams on the Madeira river? These megadams will cause the flooding of enormous territories of Bolivia and harm to the national ecosystem and agriculture. How to block the petroleum concessions in Lake Titicaca, concessions which the Peruvian government is awarding wholesale to transnational companies? These concessions ignore the biosphere of the lake, which is subject to regulation, shared by Peru and Bolivia and administered by a bi-national authority. How is the melting of the glaciers in the Andes to be stopped? These glaciers constitute the biggest reserve of potable water in the region and are a vital source of water for the Amazon."

"Without doubt, the call to this international conference is welcome," said Gudynas. "It will serve to disseminate many concerns and proposals addressing climate change, but it will also have the power to promote internal reflection within citizens' organizations about the political directions for leadership in regard to environmental issues."


FOBOMADE, "La comunidad de estados latinoamericanos y caribeños expandirá los biocombustibles y expandirá la IIRSA," February 26, 2010,

Eduardo Gudynas, "Una necesaria reflexión acerca del encuentro sobre cambio climático en Bolivia," February 22, 2010,

IIRSA official page,

Ojarasca, "La defensa de Pacha Mama y las contradicciones del cambio," February 2010,

For more information:

Carmelo Ruiz Marrero is an independent environmental journalist and environmental analyst for the Americas Program (, a fellow at the Oakland Institute and a senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program, as well as founder and director of the Biosafety Project of Puerto Rico ( His bilingual web page ( is devoted to global environmental and development issues.

Translated for the Americas Program by Barbara Belejack.

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