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Americas

President Morales backtracks on Amazon highway

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-10-21

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Friday that he is scrapping a controversial plan to build a highway through an Amazon ecological reserve, after a massive protest march by indigenous people.

AFP - Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Friday he was scrapping a controversial plan to build a highway through an Amazon ecological reserve that has triggered widespread protests.

Morales told reporters he had sent an amendment to Congress, controlled by government supporters, halting the plans for the road through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS).

"Therefore, the issue of the TIPNIS has been resolved," Morales said. "This is governing by obeying the people."

Morales made the announcement just ahead of a meeting with representatives of some 2,000 indigenous people who entered La Paz on Wednesday after a two-month march from their ancestral homeland in the Amazon lowlands to press Morales to cancel the project.

The decision also "declares the TIPNIS an untouchable zone," which strengthens protection against mining and logging in the area, and also allows police to remove any outsiders that may enter the zone.

Amazon natives feared that landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people -- Bolivia's main indigenous groups and Morales supporters -- would flood into the road area and colonize their land.

The marchers, who set out in August and trekked 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the capital, were met as heroes as they entered the city in the high Andes and made their way to the presidential palace.

About 50,000 people from three different native groups live in the remote territory in the humid Amazon lowlands.

The government has said it would be too expensive to build the highway around the preserve.

The Brazil-financed road project was part of a network linking land-locked Bolivia to both the Pacific through Chile and the Atlantic through Brazil, a key outlet for Bolivian exports.

Morales, the country's first indigenous president, has come under tremendous popular pressure to end the project.

A police crackdown on a march against the highway that left 74 people injured in late September triggered widespread anger, a general strike, and the resignations of several top government officials, including two ministers.

 

Date created : 2011-10-21

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