Amazon Highway Construction Stops Amid Protests

Posted September 27th, 2011 at 4:50 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Bolivian President Evo Morales has suspended construction of a controversial highway through a rainforest.

In a brief television speech late Monday Mr. Morales said that Bolivia's states will decide whether the Brazilian funded project would continue.

Earlier Monday, Bolivia's defense minister resigned to protest a police crackdown on indigenous groups marching to protest the planned road through an Amazon rainforest nature preserve.

Cecilia Chacon said she did not agree with the government's decision to disperse hundreds of demonstrators, who began marching toward the capital, La Paz, from the city of Trinidad last month to show their opposition to the project.

President Morales was also critical of the police action against the demonstrators, and promised an investigation. On Sunday, riot police had fired tear gas at marchers gathered in the Yucumo area. Police rounded up several protesters, who were released after area residents blocked an airport landing strip to prevent authorities from flying the detainees out of the area.

The demonstrators say the $415 million road project threatens a protected area of rainforest, and that their right to be consulted was violated.

The nature preserve is home to Amazon Indian groups, who have lived in isolation for years. The local people fear outsiders will try to develop the region.

President Morales had angered indigenous people by saying the road would be built through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park “whether they like it or not.” Activists have said they will be ready with bows and arrows when the time comes to protect their land.

Mr. Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president. In past speeches, he has said all nations must respect “Mother Earth” in their environmental policies.