According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population aged 15 and over is of indigenous origin, although the 2017 projections from the National Statistics Institute (INE) indicate that this may now have increased to 48%.1 Of the 36 peoples recognised in the country, most Quechua (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%) speakers live in the Andean area where they self-identify into 16 nationalities.
Indigenous peoples in Bolivia
There are 38 recognized peoples in Bolivia. With the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and a new Constitution, Bolivia adopted the status of a plurinational state. However, the country's indigenous peoples still face challenges, especially in terms of seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves and hydroelectric projects.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was approved by Law in November 2007. Since 1991, Bolivia is a signatory of ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
The Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous groups
According to the 2012 National Census, 41% of the Bolivian population over the age of 15 are of indigenous origin, although the National Institute of Statistics’ (INE) 2017 projections indicate that this percentage is likely to have increased to 48%.
There are 38 recognised peoples in Bolivia, the majority in the Andes are Quechua-speaking peoples (49.5%) and Aymara (40.6%), who self-identify as 16 nations. In the lowlands, the Chiquitano (3.6%), Guaran. (2.5%) and Moje.o (1.4%) peoples are in the majority and, together with the remaining 2.4%, make up 34 recognised indigenous peoples.
Main challenges for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples
A major challenge for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia relates to the seismic work in search of new oil and gas reserves, as well as hydroelectric projects. They directly impact the people inhabiting the territory of the projects, often indigenous peoples and peasants.
Progress for Bolivia's indigenous peoples
To date, the indigenous peoples have consolidated 23 million ha. of collective property under the status of Community Lands of Origin (TCOs), representing 21% of the country’s total land mass.
Thanks to the Framework Law on Autonomies 031/10 of 22 July, a number of indigenous peoples are now forming their own self-governments. Thirty-six indigenous autonomies have commenced the process for accessing self-government, 21 by means of municipal conversion and 15 by territorial means or TIOC. Three of them have already established their self-government, and another five have achieved their autonomous status through a declaration of constitutionality.
In 2017, the government of Bolivia decided to revive the conflict over the building of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway through the Isiboro S.ruce National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) by approving Law No. 969/17 on 13 August. However, the VIII Indigenous March, supported by all of the country’s indigenous organisations, stopped this construction of the highway.
Hundreds of indigenous Bolivians have started a second long march against the construction of a road through Tipnis National Park. Last year a similar march led to the cancellation of the project but after other communities has been in favour of the road Evo Morales has backtracked and are now saying that all communities in the area will vote on the road plan. The protesters plan to march 500 km from Trinidad in the Amazon to La Paz in the Andes. They hope to attract more supporters as they go.
On 25 March the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, delivered a lecture on international human rights and indigenous peoples at a conference hosted by the Andean University Simón Bolivar and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in La Paz. During his presentation, Anaya addressed the objectives of consultation and consent mechanisms.
The Special Rapporteur, James Anaya, issued an urgent warning about the situation of growing social tensions in Bolivia generated by the march of about 1,500 indigenous people against the construction of a highway through the indigenous territory and national park Isaboro Secure (TIPNIS). The Special Rapporteur called for the initiation, as soon as possible, of a process of good faith consultation with the indigenous peoples affected, in order to find a peaceful solution to this situation and address the underlying problems related to the construction of the road through the TIPNIS reserve. In addition, the Special Rapporteur urged the Government of Bolivia to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of persons participating in the march, and to prevent, investigate and punish any acts that affect their lives or physical integrity.