April 26 - Hundreds of Indigenous Bolivians set off on a months-long March from Trinidad city to the president's palance in La Paz to protest highway project in an Amazon reserve. Jessica Gray reports.
Hundreds of indigenous Bolivians kick off a six-week march against plans to build a highway through the middle of the Amazon region. They will walk the 360 miles from Trinidad to the capital of La Paz to demand the government scrap the road project across the ancestral indigenous lands of the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park known as TIPNIS. Organisers say they have already been on 8 such marches before this one against the 420 million dollar highway which the government says is crucial to economic development. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) CECILIO GUAYO, PROTESTER FROM SANTIAGO DEL ISIBORO COMMUNITY, SAYING: "I am marching again. Last year, I also marched. We are asking the government to respect our home. That's why I march." Bolivian President Evo Morales has been the target of anti-government protests since last September, when the contract was given to a Brazilian firm. In response to fierce opposition, some construction was halted, but protesters say this is not enough. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) BERTHA BEJARANO CONGO, PRESIDENT OF TIPNIS MARCH COMMISSION, SAYING: "The national government still hasn't fulfilled it and has infringed on the rights of our indigenous peoples, trampling the political constitution of the state." TIPNIS is home to some 50,000 native people from different groups who fear that other native groups may take over their land as a result of the new highway. These different groups have sided with the government road plan and set off on similar protest marches in support of the highway. The project has bitterly divided inhabitants of TIPNIS and of the Beni and Cochabamba district, which would be linked by the proposed road. But organisers hope to mobilise all indigenous people against the government's policies which they say flouts Bolivia's constitution. Jessica Gray, Reuters