Morales lashed out at what he called the American Empire’s desire to have “untouchable, intangible” territories in the third world to make up for their own crimes against the environment.
The need to discover new oil reserves has been the camouflage for the Bolivian Government to allow oil exploration in protected areas.
Despite the fact that such areas have been reserved for environmental conservation, the Evo Morales administration decided to open them for oil exploration.
The measure has been strongly rejected by environmental and indigenous associations, who Morales had gained confidence in the past as a member of one of those indigenous groups.
The government has responded harshly and ensures the public that it will expel from the country all non-governmental organizations that oppose the development of the oil industry on conservation lands.
According to government documents, the Morales administration intends to have oil companies pay a meager 1% of their investment to the communities located near the land that will be exploited.
The government of Evo Morales recently approved a decree that authorizes oil exploration in all areas protected by Bolivia’s environmental laws. The move generated the support of the oil industry and strong criticism from several environmental organizations.
Morales replied to the latter with a harsh speech, delivered at the bottom of a newly opened oil well, in which he threatened to deport non-governmental organizations that oppose the expansion of the hydrocarbon industry, which he said is the engine of the national economy, and said that Bolivians will not become, as these organizations intend them to be, in the “Park Rangers” of the developed countries.
Morales also said that “forest reserves have been created since the start of the American empire”, which wants “untouchable, intangible” territories in the third world to make up for their own crimes against the environment. In contrast, he said, “we have an obligation to explore all we have.”
NGOs have been threatened for questioning the Bolivian government, which says it intends to lead the global fight against global warming by implementing a development model that respects indigenous foundations and the “rights of Mother Earth”, but that takes measures as the one it has just passed.
“With this approval, the government has crossed a red line,” says environmentalist Cecilia Requena, “because it does not concern an area or a particular project, but all the parks and indigenous territories, at any time in the future”.
The environmental movement is also concerned with the fact that oil companies won’t have to show indigenous people the necessity and safety of their projects, a process that until now was required before drilling in protected land. The need to carry out “prior consultation” before drilling in land that belonged to indigenous has now been replaced with a payment of 1% of the investment destined to be used in protected areas.
“Surely there will be conflicts between the oil companies and indigenous people” says Requena, “and the government wants to avoid them by threatening the NGO’s with expulsion”.
Oil experts argue that there are new technologies that allow exploitation in sensitive natural sites without causing serious damage, but neither the NGO’s not the indigenous people have been show such technologies or the degree of disruption they will have on their land.