Protecting the Amazon

Germany seeks to support Bolivia’s attempts to protect biodiversity.

Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Minister for Development, recently completed an official visit to Bolivia with the aim of promoting co-operation on the country’s green development. Schulze met with President Luis Arce, Vice President David Choquehuanca and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogelio Mayta. Schulze also met with indigenous leader Ruth Alipaz who claimed there are contradictions in the Bolivian regulations over the protection of the Amazon basin.

A Bolivian congresswoman was growing concerned, “In Bolivia, there are more and more illegal mining scandals. Without any control whatsoever, mining cooperatives are taking advantage of the special treatment they have under the law and a lack of State interest. They are even advancing into national parks, natural reserves and other protected areas.”

“Without any control whatsoever, mining cooperatives are taking advantage of the special treatment they have under the law and a lack of State interest.”

Congresswoman, Bolivia

Schulze was also taken to see one such area where a project had been established in the Madidi National Park, located in the upper Amazon River basin, to which the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs will provide EUR 20 million to help combat illegal mining and extractive activities.

“The visit of Germany’s Minister for Development is very significant,” said a former manager of the German technical co-operation, “it comes at a time when relations between the two countries are not strong. First, the government broke the lithium exploitation contract with a German company in 2019 and for 3 years has refused to fix it. Second, this visit comes just as the German co-operation was leaving Bolivia. It was expected that in 2022 all projects were to be closed and only a small component for water, managed by the embassy, would remain. This visit is so important because it implies, unofficially, that the German cooperation will not leave Bolivia. It seems that Europe is once again interested in Latin America”.

The indigenous leader Ruth Alipaz, who met with Schulze during her visit, has long denounced the influence that mining companies have over President Arce’s administration like, she said, they also had on Evo Morales’ governments between 2006 and 2019. Alipaz claimed that Bolivian regulation over the protection of Amazon River basin lands was intentionally ambiguous so the government can deliberately fail to address it.

The former manager of the technical co-operation explained, “Illegal mining in Bolivia is out of control. What started as a few indigenous miners is now an entire industry with heavy machinery from China being brought into nature reserves. The challenge is that there is a lot of gold in the Amazon and it’s easy to mine.” The congresswomen explained the government was in no rush to stop these illegal miners, “The MAS (Arce’s party) does not want co-operation agencies or international organisations to interfere in environmental issues because their objective is to continue to win votes by turning a blind eye to illegal mining and exploiting everywhere. Just look at Bolivia’s exports, gold was number one in 2021.”

“Illegal mining in Bolivia is out of control. What started as a few indigenous miners is now an entire industry with heavy machinery from China being brought into nature reserves.”

Former manager, German technical co-operation, Bolivia

But illegal mining activities are not only in the Amazon basin, there is also a proliferation of illegal mining in the natural reserves of Cotapata and Apolobamba, in the north of La Paz. Last May confrontations between local residents and illegal miners in the province of Franz Mayo resulted in eight wounded and the burning of 20 properties. Interviewed by the local newspaper, La Razón, one of the residents affected by the clashes said that they felt abandoned by local authorities and the lack of reaction from the Mining Jurisdictional Administrative Authority (“AJAM”). “We are on our own”, he lamented.

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