Bolivia has seen strikes and protests since the Dec. 4 ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) allowing President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The ruling was met with marches, road blockades and work stoppages that caused varying degrees of disruption in eight of Bolivia's nine departments. A student mobilization in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern department of Santa Cruz, heart of anti-Morales sentiment, ended in violence, with the regional offices of the electoral tribunal burned to the ground. Hunger strikes were launched in six cities, with at least 20 still ongoing.
Speaking at the fifth International Andino-Amazonian Forum for Rural Development in Cobija, Bolivia, a member of the delegation from Ecuador accused the Quito government of masking the despoliation of indigenous territories in populist phrases. Mónica Chuji, a community leader from the Ecuadoran rainforest, accused former president Rafael Correa of invoking the indigenous concept of Sumaj Causay or Vivir Bien (Good Living) in his new constitution only to "folklore-ize it [folklorizaron] so it ends up being a cliché without content." She said there is a "divorce between the discourse and the reality" as Ecuador's Amazon is opened to "mega-corporations that destroy our territories with the protection of successive governments." She also charged the government with persecution of indigenous leaders who resist. "In Ecuador, there are now more than 500 leaders, men and women, subject to different legal processes—some sentenced, other facing trial, and many fugitives in the face of persecution and prosecution of social protest." (Agencia de Noticias Fides, Bolivia, Oct. 17)
The International Court of Justice ruled (PDF) on Oct. 1 that landlocked Bolivia cannot force neighboring Chile to grant it access to a portion of its Pacific coast. "The Court is unable to conclude, on the basis of the material submitted to it, that Chile has the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean," reads the judgement. Chile and Bolivia have long contested access to the Pacific. Bolivia controlled a portion of coast until 1904, when Chile successfully annexed the territory. The day has since been commemorated each year by lamenting Bolivians, and the nation has attempted to renegotiate coastal access for over 100 years.
After three years of investigation, Bolivia's Public Ministry reached a decision on March 15 not to bring criminal charges against Adolfo Chávez, the former leader of the Confederation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB), and 21 others who were linked to a corruption scandal in a case many saw as politically motivated. Chávez and the others were accused of misappropriating monies made available through the government's Development Fund for Original Indigenous Peoples and Campesino Communities (FONDIOC). But he claimed he was targeted for his opposition to the government's development plans for the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the eastern rainforest.
Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.
The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.
The Russian Federation on Nov. 17 vetoed a measure before the UN Security Council (UNSC) that would have extended the mandate of a UN panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria for 30 days. The UNSC had established the Joint Investigative Mechanism with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2015 with a two-year mandate following the use of chemical weapons in Syria in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Indigenous protesters at the Bolivian Altiplano pueblo of Achacachi lifted their blockade of the main highway to the Peruvian border on Sept. 20, after a full month of paralyzing traffic on the artery. Following a clash with National Police troops three days earlier, villagers agreed to dialogue on their grievances, to be mediated by the Catholic church and Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo. A new "mixed" municipal government was declared, with participation from both sides in the factional split at the pueblo. But the town's mayor, Edgar Ramos, who has taken refuge in La Paz, says he will not step down. And residents are still demanding the release of 47 protesters detained in the police operation. (Eju!, Santa Cruz, Sept. 21; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, La Razón, La Paz, Sept. 20)