In order to learn about the situation of development and environment in Bolivia, we meet the responsible of the NGO Fobomade.

Fobomade (Foro Boliviano sobre Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo) is an NGO, working about the environment and the development of Bolivia. They are a small organisation, publishing a few books a year, and very engaged in protecting the environment in Bolivia, while helping the people to develop in the good direction. Patricia, the engineer of the organisation, presents us what they are doing, and their goals.

Fobomade

The organisation was created in 1992 for creating a mobilisation about the themes of energy and environment. They are focusing on various subjects:

  • Extraction of resources (gas and oil, agricultural frontier, big dams, mining)
  • Food production sovereignty (GMOs). Valorisation of local products.
  • Integration of the peoples within Bolivia

Their method is to broadcast information. They process it and share it (with newspapers, videos, books, !). They promote actions around their centre of interest. In 2011, they fought against transgenic seeds (GMOs). Recently, they have been very active to add the environmental damage in the constitution of Bolivia (this has been added, but now, the laws need to be changed to match the constitution, and the process is taking a long time), and now they are fighting against a project of dams in the Amazon basin.

GMOs in Bolivia

It’s written in the constitution of Bolivia that the country must respect the principal of prohibition. But it is also written that the law must be followed. And as the laws are old and liberal, the fight against the GMOs is very tough. Fobomade only managed to obtain an interdiction of the GMOs in Bolivia for the crops in which Bolivia is a centre of origin, that is to say for the corn and the potato. But the transgenic are still used for sugar, rice, cotton, !

Integration in South America (IIRSA)

IIRSA stands for Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America. The agreements have been signed in 2001 by the South American countries, for a better regional integration in transports, energy, gas, ! through the realization of mega-constructions. In fact, IIRSA answers mainly to Brazilian requests. Brazil is especially interested in the development of Bolivian infrastructures to export goods to Asia through the Pacific ports. That’s the reason of the construction of dams on the Río Madera, and a road inside the Bolivian reserve of Tipnis.

Dams on Río Madera

Currently, the main fight is to stop the project of building 4 dams in the Amazonian forest, in Brazil and Bolivia, on the Río Madera, the most powerful affluent of the Amazon river. 2 dams have already been built in Brazil, in San Antonio (3400 MW) and in Jirau (3200 MW). 2 more dams are in project, one on the border, at Guajará Mirim (around 3000 MW), another one totally in Bolivia, at Cachuela Esperanzas (1000 MW). There are several goals for these dams: generating energy (later carried to the South of Brazil, thousands of kilometres away), foster the expansion towards Bolivia and Peru to exploit the resources of the jungle there, and facilitate the communication through Bolivia towards the ports of Peru for Brazil to export its goods to Asia. Brazil is pushing Bolivia for realizing the two dams in project, but Bolivia is reluctant and observes the consequences of the dams in Brazil. In Porto Velho, a city some 50km downstream of the San Antonio dam, the construction of these dams has brought many people to the city. And along with it, the prostitution developed, and now the city is chaotic. The two dams built in Brazil are already a disaster. The highest one, in Jirau is situated 80km down the border with Bolivia. But the river being in spate in February and March, the flood caused by this dam has already reached Bolivia. The previsions made by the Brazilians for the construction of the dams have been erroneous. They did not take into account such high rains the rainy seasons, nor such important rise in the water level of the rivers. In addition, in both dams, the private companies operating them (Odebrecht for San Antonio and Suez-Tractabel for Jirau) have filled the dams at the maximum as soon as possible, i.e. before the rainy season, in order to make more money. And now, with the massive input of water, they had to release a great part of this water, flooding the city of Porto Velho (capital of the Rondônia state!) downstream. It is possible that Brazil removes the exploitation license from these companies for their bad management.

Another problem for these dams is that the river Madera transports a huge quantity of sediments. So in a few years of activity, the highest dam will be totally blocked.

If the dam of Cachuela Esperanza were built, the city of Ribera Alta would be flooded. And this city is economically the most important of the department of Beni, because it is the capital of the chestnut.

Relations with Brazil

In negotiations, Brazil is always very tough. That’s why, for the dam of Guajará Mirim, Bolivia fears that Brazil would take benefice of the situation, as happened in Itaipu between the giant Brazil and the little Paraguay. In 2008, Bolivia was ready to go to the court in The Hague for the dam problem with Brazil. But at the same time, Bolivia had to face the independent movements in Santa Cruz, and Brazil supported La Paz in this fight. Thus Evo Morales would not attack any more Brazil in La Haya. In addition, now, the price of the gas is going to be renegotiated, and Brazil is the main buyer of the Bolivian gas, and so can pressure Bolivia about the dams.

Situation in North Bolivia

In the departments of Beni, Pando and the North of La Paz, the energy is very expensive. The integrated grid only goes till the city of Trinidad. This cost of the energy forbids the development of the area. The best solution would be to build small hydroelectric plants. These plants would not have a dam blocking the rivers, but instead use a part of the river water to create energy. Here we talk of plants generating between 0,5 MW to 12 MW, since the local communities need around 4-6 MW. 16 plants of this kind are in the pipes, but nothing has moved yet. It’s a pity when you know that some 12 M$ are needed for the construction of one of these plants, and that’s the amount of the subsidies Bolivia gives for generating electricity from diesel. Brazil is opposed to the construction of these little plants. Because if the Guajará Mirim dam is built, it would flood some of the small plants, and be an economic damage of the dam that Brazil would have to pay.

Road in Tipnis region

The Tipnis region is inside the department of Beni, at the North of La Paz. It has been declared Tierra Comunitaria de Origen (land for the indigenous communities), but there is a conflict between the indigenous people and the people coming to buy the lands there in order to deforest it and plant coca (and when you know that Evo Morales, despite being the president of Bolivia, he is still the president of the coca producer union, you may fear for the indigenous rights there). But the coca planted is of a different species from the one used for mastication: it’ll be used for producing cocaine eventually. In addition, oil and gas resources have been found there, and the territory may become soon part of concessions to oil companies. The road in project will cross the Tipnis reserve. In 2011, a first march was launched. Another march happened in 2012. Thanks to this mobilisation, the project of the road has been stopped inside the Tipnis park. But on both sides of the park, the road is being built. After investigating on the planned itinerary of the road inside the Tipnis reserve, Fobomade has showed that coca transformation laboratories were exactly following the road, thus preparing the future facility to export the drugs.

Rurrenabaque

Rurrenabaque is a small city, situated between La Paz and Beni. It’s the main touristic spot in the Amazon region in Bolivia, and is competing with Uyuni in terms of tourist affluence. Here too, for developing the roads, there is a project of building a bridge above the river, with the support of Chinese companies. The local community does not oppose the idea of building a bridge (till now, the river can only be crossed by boat), but is against the location of the bridge, that would make the road cross the middle of the town. After mobilisation, the project has been stopped. And during the recent rainy season, the hill on which the road was about to be built landslide, forcing the project to be replanned.