Blog 3: End of Summer Report

Racine Robinson

Pace Undergraduate Student and Faculty Research Program

Dr. Anne Toomey

Summer 2019

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

Introduction

In Summer of 2019, Dr. Anne Toomey and I conducted research centered around a current crisis affecting indigenous communities and protected areas in the Madidi region of Bolivia. Over twenty indigenous groups in the lowland regions of Bolivia are going to be affected by current proposals by the national government to open indigenous lands and protected areas up to large-scale development, including hydroelectric dams and natural gas extraction. Two of these projects, El Chepete and El Bala, would flood eighteen indigenous communities, and displace over five thousand people living in the region. A new law opened up 11 of 22 protected areas in Bolivia to oil and gas exploration and development proposals. Indigenous groups are mobilizing and protesting against the development projects that would threaten their homes.

Methodology

The purpose of the research project I conducted with Dr. Anne Toomey this summer was to raise global public awareness of the current social and environmental crisis in Bolivia in order to support the resistance against anti-indigenous and anti-environment government policies that push neo developmentalism over human rights and environmental conservation. The goals of this research were to develop a better understanding of the politics in Bolivia, the crisis itself, and to raise awareness of how indigenous people in Bolivia are being treated in order to emphasize the need for change. In order to accomplish this, Dr. Toomey and I decided that the outcomes of this research project would be a literature review and a website, where it would be easier to obtain concise research questions and increase public awareness of the crisis.

The literature review is centered around six main research questions as follows:
1) ‘What global actors are at large in the current crisis in Bolivia: where indigenous rights and environmental regulations are being stripped in favor of international gas and oil companies having access of land for increased neo developmentalism in the region?’
2) ‘How are indigenous communities in these Amazonian low-lying regions of Bolivia being affected by the policies and laws enacted by President Morales, and how can their voices be amplified in discussions regarding these issues?’
3) ‘How are environmental regulations being impacted by increased neo developmentalism in Bolivia?’
4) ‘What strategies are lowland indigenous communities using to engage in discussions about these issues at regional, national, and international levels?’
5) ‘How is Morales and the Bolivian Government planning to pay for these hydroelectric dams, El Chepete and El Bala and their construction, and where is that funding coming from?’
6) ‘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?’

The literature review used published papers and gray papers, as this situation is currently being acted out within Bolivia and it was necessary to have valid updates of events as they unfolded, both in Spanish and English. I created a database with over 70 sources  from white and gray literature to aide in the understanding of the crisis, writing the literature review, and developing the website. Of these sources, there are about 35 peer reviewed papers, and 39 articles and gray literature. There is a mixture of both Spanish and English papers both peer reviewed and gray literature.  Additionally, Dr. Toomey made a trip to Bolivia to talk to both activists and administrators involved in this issue and conducted informal interviews to better grasp how the events regarding the developments of El Chepete and El Bala were expanding. I held an interview with Dr. Toomey upon her return in order to use her experiences in the literature review’s last sections.

The website is in the final stages of development, hopefully to be completed by the 30th as Dr. Toomey contributes pictures she took in Bolivia. Originally, the goal of the website was to post relevant and credible news updates on the ongoing situation. The idea behind this was to make the information gathered while researching the crisis more accessible to the general public in a cohesive format in one place. In the beginning of the research session, plans for the website involved multiple sections for data, peer-reviewed literature, gray literature, and documentaries in order to have the ability to compile as much information as possible in one place in order to ensure continuously updated information is available to a wider public. However, as the website approaches completion Dr. Toomey and I have decided the sections most useful to us were a ’home’ page, an ‘about’ page (this page encompassed a summary of the issue at hand as well as another section that gave information on contacts obtained in Bolivia who are involved in the website), a ‘news’ page where articles collected while researching, both in English and Spanish, were posted with short summaries and excerpts, and finally a ‘blog’ page where our contacts can post new developments to the crisis as they experience it in Bolivia. Dr. Toomey reached out to her contact who was planning a documentary, but for now that is not a section on our website.

Research Summary and Accomplishments

Over the course of the summer, through my research I found that the rise of neo-developmentalism in Bolivia under President Evo Morales is resulting in the rollback of environmental regulations and protection of natural areas, along with threatening indigenous communities’ rights and homes. Evo Morales has served as President of Bolivia since 2006 and leads the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party. Under President Morales, the Ministry of Energy has looked to shift its energy to one hundred percent renewable energy based on hydroelectric and thermoelectric plants by as soon as 2025 (Reano 2018). This is a sizeable feat to work towards to, especially as President Morales continues to push gas and oil extraction within his country by forming contracts with developers and foreign companies. He has opened large parts of protected areas for these developer agents, so it is curious that he is pushing for reuseable energy.

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. 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).  These dams would generate electricity for Brazil as an economic boost due to falling prices for hydrocarbons and minerals which Bolivia previously exported (Molina 2016). Madidi spans different types of climates and biospheres, ranging from tropical forests and cloud forests to wetlands and even glaciers (Gorman 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. Of the over eleven thousand species registered, it was recorded that there were over eight thousand higher plants, over one thousand species of vertebrates, one thousand bird species, 182 mammal species, 192 fish species, eighty-two amphibian species, and ninety-two reptile species (Molina 2016). Due to the fact there is little known about the planned designs and construction for both El Chepete and El Bala, the full scope of the environmental damages to come is unknown. However, disrupting such a balanced ecosystem as the tropical rainforest will have detrimental effects not only in the areas of construction, but miles surrounding it (Molina 2016). This will impact ecotourism, one income that many indigenous communities count on for revenue as endangered and rare species are threatened by displacement and habitat destruction.

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. Although President Morales has advocated that his government endorses indigenous autonomy,  it seems his policies that are enacted actually show the opposite, where the areas where this autonomy should be exercised are where Bolivias’ extraction frontier is expanding (Pellegrini 2016).  Morales has made public statements where he has condemned the over twenty indigenous communities living in the areas affected by El Chepete and El Bala citing that the benefits to the many from these dams would outweigh the affects on a few thousand people. 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).

The first draft of the literature review encompasses all six research questions stated in the methodology section, as well as an overview of the political state of Bolivia. The website has four sections as well as two subsections. Including Dr. Toomey, myself, and the three contacts in Bolivia, it will have content by five people. Due to this project being centered around an ongoing crisis, the website and paper are not considered complete at this time. New content will be added as the situation unfolds in Bolivia, and Dr. Toomey and I are discussing options of continuing this research in the Spring of 2019 on a credit-based system for my academics.

Reflection

I enjoyed being a part of the Summer 2019 research session. I think I gained valuable experience in compacting and collecting sources. Additionally,  I developed better skills in reading academic literature and improved my Spanish language reading comprehension. Over the course of this project I learned how to communicate effectively regarding academia and I realized the love I have for researching social driven issues.

This summer moved quickly, so it was important for me to be skilled at time management to complete the tasks and outcomes- writing a 15 page paper and developing a website was a large amount of work and I really needed to focus so I stayed on track with deadlines.

I think I gained valuable skills participating in this research session. I didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did exploring this issue, and I loved how by the end of this project I feel very confident in my abilities to explain this situation to others. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to help myself grow academically.

 

Works Cited

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.

Pellegrini, L. (2016). “Resource Nationalism in the

Plurinational State of Bolivia.”

Reano, W. (2018). “Evo contra el pueblo”

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.”