The Indigenous Peoples of La Paz Central Group (Central de Pueblos Indígenas de La Paz, CPILAP) have declared a local state of emergency following an attempt by gold mining cooperatives to modify the zoning of protected areas in Bolivia.
Areas in the north of the La Paz region are rich in gold. Production in the area is largely conducted by small and medium-sized operations known as cooperatives. These enterprises receive certain privileges from the state, including low royalties for the gold they mine.
CPILAP represents 11 indigenous organisations made up of seven indigenous peoples that inhabit the area. The group has warned that they are “willing to defend themselves against the invasion of indigenous territories and protected areas”, according to its social media.
The group said that “bad actors” including mining cooperative members will not be allowed to enter the region and continue destruction.
“We are in a state of emergency and all the communities are ready with a single call to be able to concentrate and defend our rights, in the face of any income that they want to give, either by force or trying to manipulate deceitfully to enter the communities of the Madidi and Pilón Lajas as the miners claim,” CPILAP president Gonzalo Oliver Terrazas told domestic media outlet eju!.
According to a Facebook post published by CPILAP, last week cooperative members announced that they were giving the Bolivian Government up to 21 August to meet their demands including the modification of zoning of protected areas in northern La Paz. CPILAP describes the move as “deceitful, manipulative as well as harassing”.
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Respecting the rights of indigenous peoples in the north of La Paz
CPILAP has demanded that any changes to the zoning areas should be conducted with the full consent of the indigenous peoples that live within them, following a 2022 decision.
In November 2022, the government and CPILAP signed an agreement nullifying a previous attempt to rezone protected areas in the region. The attempt came in the form of a deal signed between the Vice Ministry of the Environment, the National Service for Protected Areas, the Authority for the Inspection and Social Control of Forests and Land, and the Federation of Gold Mining Cooperatives of North La Paz.
The 2022 agreement also states that if illegal mining operations are conducted within protected areas and do not comply with environmental regulations, legal action will be taken to stop them.
In 2021, gold was Bolivia’s top export, generating $2.5bn ($b17.23bn), which was double its value in 2020.
Gold mining by cooperatives is largely unregulated. A growth in the practice has led to increased concerns about the impact of mercury used in the mining process on local indigenous people. Bolivia has been criticised by environmentalists and civil society groups for its relaxed legislation on the toxic element.
The UN’s special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, urged the Bolivian Government to take action against the mercury trade, noting that its approach “has generated serious impacts on the human rights of populations affected by mercury contamination, including members of indigenous peoples”.