Blog 2: Progress, Updates, and Reflections

The original outcomes for my research project are a website and a literature review. Dr. Toomey and I have discussed these products at length, and are anticipating to co-write the literature review in order to push it for publication as a news source. The literature review is projected it is going to have around the sum of 6,000 words with four sections, one for each research question I hope to answer or at least discuss regarding the current happenings in Bolivia with hydro-power, indigenous rights and autonomy, and environmental protection. So far, I have written the first section of the paper as well as the introduction, encompassing around 2,000 words and have begun to move to the next section. Dr. Toomey has reviewed parts of my writing and given me edits and advice on the paper to work on as well as I continue to work on it. 

The website, the other product of this research, is also coming along. I am currently using the free trial of SquareSpace to design the skeleton of the website for Dr. Toomey to show activists in Bolivia while she is there this summer. As of now, the home page, about page and subsections (“What is Happening”, “Partners”, and “Contact”), News, and Blog all contain content and are being improved by me as I continue to work and design it. Currently I am taking images for the website from the creative commons, but once Dr. Toomey returns from Bolivia I hope to use some of her pictures as well. The other pages we hope to include on our site, “Read Me” would be the literature review upon publication from the newspaper, and I am still working on incorporating social media links onto the website. It is currently a private enclosed site as I work on it, but I am eager to open it to the public once it’s completed. Dr. Toomey and I have decided it would be best to launch the website in early to mid August. 

Key findings in my research have been outlined in the section of the literature review I’m working on, as follows:
When Evo Morales came into power in Bolivia in 2006, he nationalized oil and natural gas resources within the country, asserting that if foreign companies were to extract resources from Bolivia, they would do so as contractors hired by the state and renegotiate previously held contracts (Smith 2018). Recently, Morales opened up protected areas to both state and foreign investors to initiate programs to mine and export natural gas and oil (Hill 2015). This new law overrides any legislation previously installed and allows companies the power to develop those areas as they please in eleven out of twenty two protected areas (Hill 2015).
As a result, over seventy-five percent of Madidi National Park has been opened to contractors and development. Currently, two planned hydroelectric dam projects, El Chepete and El Bala, threaten Madidi National Park and surrounding areas. Both the dams will be installed along the Beni River in Bolivia with large areas of Madidi National Park projected to be flooded. These dams would cost an estimate of  six to seven billion (USD), which would make this Bolivia’s first time funneling so much money into one single project (Pasini 2017).
El Chepete would have the installed capacity of 3,300 MW  and 15, 470 GWh a year, in comparison to the 1,400 MW of energy Bolivia consumes yearly (Molina 2016). El Bala would have the installed capacity of 425 MW, despite previous claims of a generating capacity of 1,600 MW (Ingram 2016). Design work for the two projects was projected to take fifteen months by Geodata, and construction would take six years (Ingram 2016). However, Geodata removed itself from the projects due to indigenous communities’ and environmental NGOs’ activism and protesting of the two hydroelectric projects. The Bolivian Government aimed to have El Chepete completed by 2025, and El Bala completed by 2030 (Elwell 2018).
A scientific expedition was sent into the park to record the amount of different species currently inhabiting the protected area, called ‘Identidad Madidi’. The expedition lead to the discovery that Madidi is home to 11,395 different species, including almost nine thousand that were discovered in the park and an additional four thousand new species (Gorman 2018). In this expedition, it was also revealed that Madidi National Park contains eleven percent of bird species on Earth (Hill 2015). The hydroelectric dams El Chepete and El Bala would destroy almost eight hundred square kilometers of rainforest (Elwell 2018). They would flood large regions of the park, disrupting keystone ecosystems that house some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth; Madidi is classified as a biodiversity hotspot by the Global 200 Ecoregions Program.
Over five thousand people would be forced to relocate with the construction of El Chepete and El Bala, as the areas planned for the dams encompass thirty one peasant and indigenous communities (Molina 2016). The Tacana, Leco, Chiman, Aymara, Quecha, and Uchupiamona indigenous communities are only some of those affected.In Bolivia, the law requires prior informed consent to maintain indigenous autonomy regarding these large-scale projects through the 2009 Bolivian constitution. However, with the case of El Chepete and El Bala, the Bolivian government never arranged a prior consultation for the communities that are going to be affected, which goes against the CPE and ILO Convention 169 (Pasini 2017);(Molina 2016). 

From the data collected about Bolivia culture, the history of indigenous rights and autonomy, the history of President Morales’ laws, opinions, and statements, and his interaction and policies with extraction companies, other research questions were developed to add to my previous questions I asked at the beginning of this project. My original research questions were ‘How are indigenous rights and environmental regulations being impacted by increased neo-developmentalism in Bolivia?’,’What strategies are lowland indigenous communities using to engage in discussions about these issues at regional, national, and international levels?’, and finally ‘Where is the funding coming from for El Bala and El Chepete, who are the private investors, developers, and foreign agents involved?’ However, I’ve added two new questions that have come up: ‘How is Morales and the Bolivian Government planning to pay for these hydroelectric dams and their construction, and where is that funding coming from?’ and ‘The contradicting statements given about these projects every step of the way causes speculation that this is a means to an end for Morales, whether it be securing voters in the upcoming elections or extending international connections for Bolivia?’ These last two questions are complex, and they are the hardest to research and find answers for. I’m not sure if I will be able to answer them, but I want to examine them within the scope of the issue at hand because I feel it will aid in my understanding of what’s going on. 

A key challenge with this project is that both Dr. Toomey and I are westerners, and thus only have access to outside knowledge of the issues we’re researching. It is hard to understand every layer this way, and what I’m hoping for from Dr. Toomey’s trip to Bolivia is that we will be able to gain more insider knowledge from Bolivian indigenous activists and others working on or directly impacted by the hydro-electric projects. Another challenge for me has been being able to effectively translate Spanish articles and papers to English in order to understand them. I’m afraid I’m missing phrases or details that would be important for my project due to not being fluent in Spanish. However both of these challenges will hopefully not be impacting our research, as Dr. Toomey is going to Bolivia and I am improving my Spanish throughout this summer. Successes in this project have been that as my first research project, I feel it is going well and on schedule. Another key challenge is being able to dig deeply and research every aspect of these issues. For example, finding articles detailing funding is very difficult, as I’ve had to look into records from the World Bank and other foreign sources. 

I’ve learned how to research in a constructive way that will aide in writing papers later by working through EndNote, and being able to annotate and comment on the articles I found to better help me write later. For the almost 100 sources I’ve been using for the literature review, I’ve annotated and commented on parts of the papers I knew I would use later so that I wouldn’t have to go back and reread everything to find what I wanted to cite. I’ve also learned how to better my scientific writing and stick to deadlines to counteract procrastination. 

This project has impacted further research plans that might relate to this research by helping me develop a stronger ability to look at the full scope of an issue and not focus on just one part of any issue. For example, Morales and the Bolivian government are pushing so hard for this hydroelectric dam project and other projects like it due to the fact that generating the energy and selling it to Brazil will help them secure funding for social programs that would help a large base of Bolivia. However, this issue becomes complex when the environmental damage is considered and the injustices that Bolivia’s indigenous communities face. For further research, I’d like to be involved with issues like these because this project has inspired me to further examine the social consequences of climate change and how increased technology and improvements in one country can have negative impacts for marginalized communities. 

 

Smith, Stansfield. (2018). “Eleven Years of the ‘Process of Change’ in Evo Morales’ Bolivia.” Council of Hemisphere Affairs.

Elwell, J. (2018). Chepete and El Bala dams outline evo’s character: he is NOT pro environment NOR indigenous rights! Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World.

Gorman, J. (2018). “Is This the Most Diverse National Park?” The New York Times.

Hill, D. (2015). Bolivia opens up national parks to oil and gas firms. The Guardian.

Molina, F. (2016). “Plan de construir dos represas en bosque virgen de Bolivia alarma a ambientalistas e indigenas.”

Pasini, M. (2017). In Bolivia, indigenous people rally against megaprojects — and Morales. il manifesto.

Blog 1: The Hidden Crisis in Bolivia: How tensions over neo-extrativist policies are affecting biodiversity, conservation, and indigenous livelihoods.

The title for my undergraduate faculty research project with Dr. Toomey is: “The Hidden Crisis in Bolivia: How tensions over neo-extractivist policies are affecting biodiversity, conservation, and indigenous livelihoods.”

Dr. Anne Toomey and I will be conducting research centered around a current crisis in Bolivia: the government opening of Madidi National Park and other natural protected areas for oil and gas production as well as development. Various indigenous groups in the lowland regions of Bolivia (including the Tacana, Chimane’, and Moseten peoples) are affected by current plans by Bolivian President Evo Morales to install two hydroelectric dams (El Chepete and El Bala) in Madidi National Park on different points of the Beni River (Molina 2016). The need to develop a better understanding of the ongoing crisis and perspectives of those involved and affected is crucial. There are many international actors (oil and natural gas companies) being granted access to national parks and protected areas by Bolivia’s government, at the detriment of the indigenous groups living within these areas. The lack of public awareness and the restriction of speech implemented by the government has been a persistent problem. National and international NGOs and environmental organizations based in Bolivia are limited in what they can say, under threat from expulsion from the country due to a “NGO law” passed in 2013(Hill 2015).  Due to the lack of global awareness about this crisis, it is necessary to conduct this research in a way that highlights published literature established on the issues and makes information more accessible to a wider public. All perspectives on the issue- indigenous, farmer, and governmental- will be considered.

The purpose of this research is to develop a better understanding of the politics around indigenous rights in Bolivia in the context of the current crisis, as well as the strategies that affected indigenous communities are using to mobilize at regional, national, and international levels. The research questions are:

1)How are indigenous rights and environmental regulations being impacted by increased neo-developmentalism in Bolivia?
2)What strategies are lowland indigenous communities using to engage in discussions about these issues at regional, national, and international levels?

I hope to obtain greater insights to the complexities of the current crisis in Bolivia by working on this project. This is a multifaceted issue, and the key to being able to aid in the crisis affecting  over 3,000 indigenous people from many different communities and one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet is understanding every player and every new development on what is happening.  This is the first undergraduate faulty research project I’ve been a part of, so I’m also expecting to hone my research skills and improve on areas of this that I feel I struggle with. I expect to gain valuable skills conducting research such as being able to organize and develop websites, being able to effectively understand scientific works and incorporate aspects of them into my own research and develop accurate academic writing capabilities.

The methodology for this project would entail writing a literature review of the primary literature regarding the crisis, including peer-reviewed publications and recent news articles in Spanish and English that follow the unfolding events. This approach will highlight the national and foreign policies at play in the situation, the different strategies that indigenous communities are using to demand Prior Informed Consent, and how said communities are mobilizing at regional, national, and global levels.  In order to compartmentalize the flow of information on this topic, part of the methodology will also be the development of a website that is planned to be structured in a way to allow for increase awareness of this issue. This would entail the incorporation of sections for documentaries, peer-reviewed and gray papers, and potentially social media activism. This website will be continuously updated to ensure that the most urgent and recent information is available for the public.

 

Hill, D. (2015). Bolivia opens up national parks to oil and gas firms. The Guardian.

Molina, F. (2016). “Plan de construir dos represas en bosque virgen de Bolivia alarma a ambientalistas e indigenas.”