Unique Bolivia Park Begun by Indigenous People

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Patricia Caffrey, who worked with the World Wildlife Fund in Bolivia until 2001 and is familiar with the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park, said the Bolivian government's decision to create the park and allow CABI to co-manage it was a positive step.

"It certainly has to be applauded and supported," she said. Her concern is how the park, surrounding lands, and CABI hold up under pressure from oil and gas companies and land-hungry, non-indigenous settlers.

Bolivia-Brazil Pipeline

At the center of Caffrey's concern is the 1,900-mile (3,000-kilometer) Bolivia-Brazil pipeline, which crosses the northern portion of the park, threatens biodiversity along its entire length, and impacts indigenous territories to the west and east of the park.

The pipeline is owned by a consortium of companies under Gas TransBoliviano and the Brazilian Gas Transport Company.

Plans for the pipeline's route were in place before the Kaa Iya del Gran Chaco National Park was created, but with the support of WCS, CABI negotiated an agreement that compels the pipeline companies to accept responsibility for the impact of their operations on the local people and lands along the pipeline route.

Among other things, the agreement includes a trust fund that helps pay for the park's operations and a land titling program that allows the local indigenous people to secure title to their lands adjacent to the park.

WCS says the agreement between CABI and the pipeline sponsors is unprecedented. Indigenous rights activists say allowing the pipeline to be routed through the area sets the wrong precedent.

"The policy should be avoiding all entry into protected areas and not using them as money making ventures," said Atossa Soltani, executive director of AmazonWatch, an environmental and indigenous rights organization based in Malibu, California.

Caffrey, who now works for Save the Children in Washington, D.C., agrees with Soltani and said that the U.S. $4 million "settlement" is inadequate to address the long-term impacts of the pipeline.

Painter said since the pipeline route was already in place, CABI is to be commended for insisting that the pipeline companies accept responsibility for its impacts where it crosses through the park as well as the indigenous territories adjacent to the park.

"While reaching the most favorable financial agreement possible was one objective of the process, the main objective was to establish a framework for a continuing relationship with the pipeline sponsors to ensure that long-term impacts would be addressed," said Painter. "This effort was, for the most part, successful."

CABI and Gas TransBoliviano continue to collaborate in the management of the pipeline right-of-way and both are board members of a foundation they jointly created that supports the continuing conservation and sustainable development of the park and surrounding area.

One of Caffrey's concerns is that the pipeline right-of-way opens up access to the region. "Although it's not the most valuable land around, people do cattle ranch there. It brings in people who can settle, who are more politically powerful, they can grab land titles faster."

So far, Painter says the right-of-way has not turned into a road, though the pipeline companies do travel it as part of ongoing maintenance, and the land titling program has ensured the indigenous lands are not lost to outside land speculators.

To date, 43 Chiquitano indigenous communities have had their lands titled under the program; approximately 675,000 acres (273,000 hectares) have been titled to Ayoreode indigenous communities; and 815,000 acres (330,000 hectares) titled to CABI.

An additional 1.2 million acres (500,000 hectares) is ready to be titled to CABI, but is currently held up by a legal challenge from the Bolivian military, which claims ownership of the land and wants to develop it for agriculture. Painter is cautiously confident CABI will win the challenge.

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