Thursday, 3 September 2009

Petrol vs. preservation in Bolivia

A fight over oil reserves in Bolivia could be brewing as some fear the government search for oil could damage the country's national park.


The Madidi National Park in western Bolivia. It stretches from the Andes to the Amazon basin and is said to be one of the most biodiverse areas on earth. It is also believed to be home to a large oil reserve, which the government began exploring in October 2008.

Now some indigenous and environmental groups are up in arms fearing further degradation to an area already hit by logging.

Patricia Molina of the Fobomade Environmental Group:

Patricia Molina of the Fobomade Environmental Group, saying:

"We are facing a clear dilemma: to promote this part of the country as we already have been, maybe organizing and promoting tourism more, or turn to a completely different development model with the exploitation of petroleum, biofuels, intensive sugar cane plantations. Which is a completely different vision

The Bolivia government is led by the country's first indigenous president Evo Morales who nationalized the energy industry soon after his election.

In 2007, the government announced that its state oil firm would join its Venezuelan counterpart for the Madidi project, with an investment of more than $1 billion. The two state oil companies formed Petroandina.

Carlos Espinoza, of Bolivia's Hydrocarbons Ministry, said that all of the local communities had agreed to the support the project before it began.

Carlos Espinoza, of Bolivia's Hydrocarbons Ministry, saying:

"In each community we have consulted the populations and explained to them all the aspects of the project and the possible impacts,"

Eight indigenous communities hold territories in and bordering on the Madidi National Park and seven of them approved the exploration.

The only community that opposed was Simay.

Simay indigenous leader, Wilma Mendoza Miro.

Simay indigenous leader, Wilma Mendoza Miro, saying:

"[The other communities] have said it themselves: 'They have given us the money, but what are we going to do with that?' It is not even one thousand dollars. Maybe some of the communities have received more, but what are they going to do with that, it won't cover anything.

Natural resources are the only major industry in impoverished Bolivia, which exported $3 billion worth of natural gas to Argentina and Brazil in 2009.

Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.