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6392 - The colonos come in like termites to take our land: A Study of Indigenous Leadership and Inter-indigenous Conflicts in the Bolivian Amazon

Focussing on Tacana people in the Andean piedmont of the Bolivian Amazon, this paper examines the origins and current status of inter-indigenous conflict in the region and the role of indigenous leaders within it to answer the question of why certain indigenous groups in Bolivia increasingly harbour animosity against each other. Looking at Bolivia’s historical trajectory, race and class have been constructed differently among highlanders ( colla ) and lowlanders ( camba ). This research argues that in large part conflicts can be linked to various pro-indigenous politics of the previous and current national governments such as that of President Morales. Recent policy has changed how indigenous representativity and leadership practice must be evaluated. The Law of Popular Participation (1995), for example, organised indigenous communities into municipalities and, as a consequence, has given indigenous people the space to take on leadership positions. As Tacana indigenous organizations and their leaders become increasingly more professionalized, politicized and an integral part of Bolivian state politics, they also become more distant for the Tacana living in communities. As a consequence, Tacana look towards other spaces, such as the municipality, where they may become political actors. Unlike leadership positions which are part of indigenous organizations, these positions are not in the first instance tied to the construction of indigenous identity and rights, though by a different name indigenous cultural values, too, becomes represented here. What do representations in positions “alternative” to indigenous organisations demonstrate about indigenous groups and indigenous organisations? This paper explores these questions by analysing the ways in which Tacana individuals in state leadership positions fervently defend land and resources from incoming highland migrants ( colonos ), even more vigorously than their mestizo (mixed) counterparts and that it is from the position of proud cambas (lowlanders) and not “indigenous people” that Tacana leaders struggle to ‘save’ their land. In this manner tension over resources becomes one not between indigenous and wealthy mestizo land-owners or the municipality but instead between lowland indigenous and highland indigenous.    

Keywords: Amazon, Leadership, Bolivia, Inter-indigenous conflict, Regionalism

Author: Lopez, Esther (University of Sussex, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)

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