Why Do They Fear Indigenous Autonomy?
By Carlos Cuasase
18 June, 2007
The historic agenda of the originario,
indigenous peoples of Bolivia is self-determination within the already
constituted Bolivian state. International legal instruments, such as
the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation and the
United Nations Declaration, whose final text was approved mid last year
and which has to be ratified by the General Assembly, recognise this
right for all indigenous peoples of the world.
We, the indigenous peoples
of the lowlands, who initiated the struggle for the Constituent Assembly
and who marched in favour of it in the year 2002, cannot allow this
historic opportunity to pass by, so that at least those rights, already
universally recognised, become part of the new constitution.
Indigenous autonomies are
not, as the spokespeople of the Santa Cruz oligarchy say, an “invention
of MAS”, wanting to confuse, make partisan and politicise the
debate, with the intention of silencing the principal of indigenous
autonomy, which is a right that is internationally recognised. The right
of indigenous peoples to self-govern themselves implies the rights to:
Elect our authorities according
to our traditions and customs. To promote our own judicial systems,
our own mechanisms of conflict resolution.
We have the right to be obligatorily
consulted prior to, and freely, in all the economic, social, administrative
and legal projects that affect the lives of our communities and our
cultures in our territories.
We have the right to express
our free consent before plans and projects that affect us. That is to
say, we have the right so that policies regarding land and territory,
education, healthcare, productive projects, roadways, exploration and
exploitation of hydrocarbons and minerals, exploitation of our forest
resources, be previously socialised, discussed in all their aspects
and regarding their environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts.
From this widely informed and public process will emerge the collective
decision of our communities expressed in consenting to these policies
and projects or in the right to express our objections.
Not only do we have the right
to compensation and indemnification, for the damages previous inflicted,
but we also have the right to participate in the benefits of projects
of extraction of all natural resources that are carried out in our territories.
In case you did not already know, this right is already part of Bolivian
law in the Indigenous Chapter of the Hydrocarbon Law, currently in force.
That is, we have the right
to be taken into consideration, obligatorily, and not silenced, ignored
or made invisible, as has occurred under all the republican governments.
We are only heard when we are obliged to mobilise and sacrifice ourselves,
in order to have our demands known.
Why do they fear indigenous
autonomy? Is it not the best option for the democratic life and tranquillity
that all us Bolivians want, that our rights be written into the constitution
and respected by governments? Who wants the conflicts: us, who demand
rights that are internationally recognised or them who want to negate
them, now under the pretext of departmental autonomies, in order to
favour the owners of the banks, commerce and large landowners? That
is why their proposal for departmental autonomy stubbornly persists
in ignoring our right to indigenous autonomies.
Carlos Cuasase Surubi
is an indigenous senator from the department of Chuquisaca
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