McNeish, John-Andrew. “Extraction, Protest and Indigeneity in Bolivia: The TIPNIS Effect.” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 8:2 (July 2013): 221-242.

Using the 2011 protests against the construction of a road through the Isobore Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), McNeish argues that the dynamics indigeneity in Bolivia are more complex and contradictory than previous authors have claimed. Contrary to common assumptions about indigenous groups, residents of TIPNIS didn’t actually oppose all development, but rather many opposed development that was not in their best interest and threatened the land and their culture. He also argues that the Bolivan government has not fulfilled its legal duty to protect the rights of self-determination of indigenous people and that the current Western individual rights narrative perpetuates the reduction of the right of indigenous people to determine the rules of their own communities.

McNeish uses qualitative analysis of the TIPNIS protests, ethnographic research, semi-structured interviews and secondary sources as the evidence for his argument. The article is written in a narrative style, providing background information with layers of complexity added as the story is told. This method of presentation is effective and engaging, although the narrative background information takes up a majority of the paper. In addition, McNeish demonstrates his authority on the subject by citing personal conversations with community leaders. However, his argument might have been stronger if he had included images to illustrate his experiences and more details of the experiences of the indigenous people he interviewed.

This article reveals an underlying disagreement about what rights indigenous people and the land itself have. It also ties to a major theme in our course, which is that rights have little meaning unless they are enforced. The Bolivian government has portrayed itself as respecting the rights of “mother earth”, while supporting development and resource extraction that threatens the traditional livelihoods of indigenous people. The government was found to not have fulfilled their legal obligation to complete a consulta with indigenous communities before starting construction of the road. McNeish also criticizes narratives of the protests that support a ‘rights-based’ discourse, which he argues rejects customary values in favor of Western views of individual rights. This is relevant to our discussion of whether rights are universal or vary by culture. Should the right of communities to govern themselves take precedence over what the international community defines as ‘human rights’?

tipnis march

This image depicts indigenous people in Bolivia marching to protect TIPNIS from the construction of the road. The photograph was sourced from a WordPress website that publishes news on Bolivia in English called “Bolivian Diary”. Rather than showing a map of where the road would be constructed, I chose this image because it is essential to remember the human impact of political decisions. These people are marching to protect both the land and their communities, both of which are inextricable from each other. Some also carry the Bolivian flag and there is probably a deep, personal meaning to each person for carrying the flag.


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