The Struggle is Over

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Cosmopolitanism and Communitarianism

The dams are an obvious symbol of this. Mr Amrith concentrates mainly on India, using China for comparison and contrast. He notes that more than 40m people in India have been displaced by dam-building. In China under Mao Zedong, an estimated 22, large dams were constructed. And the frenzy continues. But dams are only part of the story. And both countries have sucked ever increasing volumes of water from underground.

The Green revolution in India, which, in the s, transformed its ability to feed itself, relied on electric tube wells. The inspiring element of this chronicle is simple: a huge increase in human life, health and happiness. And India, after the repeated drought-induced famines inflicted by British rule, and its dependence on food aid into the s, has become a big agricultural exporter. The alarming aspect comes in the evidence Mr Amrith marshals to suggest that past strategies have run their course, and indeed are now causing new problems.

Depleted aquifers, polluted waterways and silted-up dams threaten renewed and more intense water crises—which will be exacerbated by climate change.

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And as water management becomes an ever more pressing concern at home, it will create tension across borders. Morales uses an ethical stance here as well, arguing that profits from extractivism will benefit indigenous communities as well as support national sovereignty. In , Morales announced a plan to build a highway linking the tropics of Cochabamba to the Brazilian border. The highway was to be funded by the Brazilian national development bank, opening new possibilities for trade with Brazil. The Morales government claimed that the highway would bring prosperity and trade to lowland peoples and help the state achieve control of the national territory.

Many residents feared that the road would bring ever-greater ecological destruction to a region already deeply affected by cattle ranching and illegal forestry. They were particularly concerned that it would open up their lands to further colonisation by Andean coca growers, who already inhabited one section of the park.

Other local indigenous communities were pleased with the possibilities that the paved road might bring by linking them to bigger cities and markets and bringing increased access to education and healthcare systems.

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Here, we see national narratives of autonomy and sovereignty localised to indigenous communities. In his analysis of the TIPNIS case, John McNeish explained these opposing views by pointing to differing relationships with resource extraction: some indigenous communities are linked to the market in deeper and more positive ways than others, making them more likely to want more reliable access to markets for their goods and labour. Building on McNeish, Anna Laing argued that the contrasting ideas about territory, rights, and nature that emerged on the marches reflected competing demands for resource sovereignty.

Who should benefit from the resources of the territory, and, more importantly, who should decide? As a result of these difficult tensions, Cecilie Hirsch argues, leaders were forced to make difficult pragmatic decisions to bring resources to their communities, despite their overarching concerns for the sustainability of the forest. Even among those who opposed the highway, few were opposed to development, in general, or even the construction of a highway.


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The first, in , captured international attention when the national police intervened in the small town of Chaparina, teargasing and firing rubber bullets at the protestors, including women and children. But others were not, and some even suggested that the declaration of intangible was actually a form of spiteful punishment by the Morales state, a kind of bad-faith invocation of ideals of environmental protection and sovereignty, to show that the TIPNIS activists were so extreme as to oppose all development.

Here, we see how the state continuously marked the marchers as indios prohibidos.

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Then, amid dissent within regional and national indigenous groups, in , CIDOB mounted a second march to protest the last-minute consultation process, arguing that MAS had co-opted many indigenous leaders and set up parallel organisations to support the government. Again, this was an ethical challenge to the state, arguing that it had violated the ethics of participatory democracy and collective indigenous decision-making.

The march received much less public attention than the previous year, in part, because the lowland organisations were split on whether marching again was a good idea. When they did reach La Paz, they were unable to negotiate with the government and returned home empty handed to the lowlands. As we showed in the opening scene, they were left to perform their virtuous indigeneity to residents passing through the central plaza in Santa Cruz, hoping for support from the mestizo elite.

It appealed to the elite desires for territorial control of the lowlands, a space that they imagined as having been invaded in recent years by Aymara and Quechua migrants. Claiming historic rights to this territory and to native peoples of their region allowed the lowland elite to make a call for regional autonomy, which they portrayed as a matter of justice. Despite these appeals, however, the government subsequently claimed the consultation with the TIPNIS communities showed substantial approval of the highway, and, after a temporary postponement, announced in that the highway project was still in the works and likely to resume shortly Achtenberg In , the conflict returned to public attention, as Morales announced plans to lift the moratorium and begin construction EjuTV First, it is important to note that, like all states, the MAS-led state is not a homogenous entity with one single vision or set of tactics.

As we carried out fieldwork in , , and , we conducted participant observation in the city of Santa Cruz and spent time inside spaces of indigenous organising. We interviewed local and regional indigenous leaders, as well as public officials in cities, department, and national offices. We both focus on Santa Cruz, but we also spent time in La Paz, the capital, as well as smaller cities like Charagua, in the southeastern zone.


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  • We heard dissent even from MAS militants working in state ministries, especially those indigenous intellectuals who had been delegates to the Constituent Assembly and had worked closely with lowland indigenous organisations there. One indigenous leader literally backed out of the room when we asked her about it. Yet Morales and his closest advisers put forth a united front defending the road.

    To break up their power, he said, the MAS state should regain territorial control over the region in order to provide for the greater good. This then became a strategy of defending this resource-rich region from foreigners and NGOs. The new Aymara middle and upper-middle class emerging in La Paz as a result of their transnational trade with China are especially lauded.

    This is not an anti-capitalist discourse but rather a discourse from within the global capitalist framework. High-profile megaprojects that evoke national pride, like the spectacular aerial cable car between La Paz and El Alto and the Tupac Katari satellite that brings internet to schoolchildren, all represent new and dominant symbols of a modern progressive nation. These shining new initiatives stand in stark contrast to the ways the TIPNIS protestors were represented as living in the past and resisting progress. The lowland indigenous figure is frozen in a pre-modern state while the Aymara becomes sign and symbol of modernity and progress within a capitalist system of extractivism and development.

    The good-bad narrative is further cemented through representations of gender. For instance, speaking to his highland supporters in the coca-growing area in , Morales famously urged them to seduce the women of the TIPNIS to gain support for the highway Mendoza Here, we see the trope of the passive lowland indigenous woman waiting to be penetrated by the active masculine outsiders.

    On the line: worker democracy and the struggle over occupational health and safety.

    One popular image shows Morales wielding a phallic-shaped chainsaw cutting down a tree. The overarching message of these images is clear: the road is a violent and gendered form of penetration. Such gendered discourses of control through rape, violence, and conquest of lands harken back to the colonial forms of patriarchal oppression that scholars have so ably described see Stephenson ; Weismantel ; Canessa While many of these images came from critics of the road, they reinforced the gendered representations that put lowland indigenous peoples in a subordinate role ultimately pacified and controlled by the phallic Andean state, which will lead the nation into modernity and progress.

    In this view, national sovereignty is tied to Andean control and subsequently the submission of lowland indigenous lands, territories, and bodies. Yet, the TIPNIS activists were able to present their own narratives as a result of the massive media attention the case received. They were able to use symbols and spectacular protest as productive forms of resistance to the Morales state, legitimising the ethical position of the lowlands peoples.

    We now turn to their efforts, demonstrating how they used many of the same symbolic elements to construct very different representations. Again, we want to emphasise the multiplicity of actors and perspectives that abounded in lowland communities. Yet, examining the semiotics of performance, we see that this multiplicity was reduced to produce a figure of a noble group of good Indians bravely resisting the state and defending the environment. We the indigenous people live, hunt, and fish, our life is based on the contact with nature. And so we demand that our government respect our cosmovision and our life ….

    This was a media-driven video that was immediately put up on YouTube to attract attention and sympathy for the march. Instead, as Michael Cepek has argued, it is critical to recognise such statements not as evidence of fundamental alterity but as provisional distillations of complex and multiple epistemological positions Cepek : The territory has always been our home and that is what we have to defend.


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    • Ultimately, we are one, nature and the indigenous people, along with other human beings. Because the protection of the environment has always been in our hands. July It is not the same, but it is good to try to transmit what we in the world of the indigenous people live, and why we want to conserve nature …. But we have always made clear: [These supporters] can speak, but not in our name!

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      They are not authorized…. And many people have taken advantage of our situation to benefit their own struggles, to make themselves seen. We have come as citizens to demand respect for democracy….