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An Interview with Bernardo Peredo

Indigenous Communities, Biodiversity, Natural Resources,
and Sustainable Development in Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

Bernardo Peredo in La Paz.

Bernardo Peredo in La Paz. All photos by Nic Paget-Clarke.

In among the reeds on Lake Titicaca, La Paz department, near the border with Peru.

In among the reeds on Lake Titicaca, La Paz department, near the border with Peru.
On Kala Uta island in Lake Titicaca looking towards the Cordillera Real range of the Andes, Bolivia.
On Kala Uta island in Lake Titicaca looking towards the Cordillera Real range of the Andes, Bolivia. (Click to see larger image).
Fields and mountains in Santa Cruz department, eastern Bolivia.
Fields and mountains in Santa Cruz department, eastern Bolivia.
The Piraí River in Santa Cruz department, eastern Bolivia.
The Piraí River in Santa Cruz department, eastern Bolivia.
On the Altiplano, among the Andes Mounatins, Mount Sajama National Park, Oruro department, near the border with Chile.
On the Altiplano, among the Andes Mountains, Sajama National Park, Oruro department, near the border with Chile.
Vicuña in Sajama National Park, Oruro department. To read an interview with Juana Benavides about sustainable management of vicuña management in Sajama National Park, click here.
More vicuña.
More photos.
Bernardo Peredo is “… a Bolivian citizen working in sustainable and environmental governance, political ecology, biodiversity conservation, and local economic development.” He is also a doctoral candidate at Oxford University (Oxford University Centre for the Environment), under the supervision of Prof. Diana Liverman, doing his research in Bolivia. He has been a consultant for the Center for International Forestry Research, the United Nations Development Program, the Canadian International Development Agency, Conservation International, the Andean Development Corporation, the Swiss Intercooperation, Fauna Australis at the Catholic University of Chile, and various national Bolivian organizations and government agencies.

In Bolivia, he has worked with indigenous communities on natural resources management and development projects in the highlands (the Andes) and in the Amazon lowlands. Currently, he is Director in the Closing Phase of the Regional Programme in support of indigenous communities in the Amazon (PRAIA) funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Andean Development Corporation. He has master’s degrees in biodiversity management (Oxford) and environmental and business management (Costa Rica) and a degree in Environmental Leadership from the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC).

This interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on September 1, 2006 in La Paz, Bolivia. In May 2007, Bernardo Peredo added observations based on his academic and professional work after the interview.

Biodiversity and poverty

In Motion Magazine: Can you talk about biodiversity and Bolivia? What is the situation for biodiversity in Bolivia?

Bernardo Peredo: Bolivia is one of the mega-diverse countries, according to international organizations. It’s the seventh most diverse country in the world relating to bird species, and among the ten richest countries in the world, in biodiversity in general. It is part of the Tropical Andes hotspot, together with Peru and Colombia and Ecuador, which are the other mega-diverse countries besides Brazil. This hotspot represents one of the most important natural regions and has been considered as the epicenter of biodiversity in the world.

However, Bolivia is also an economically poor country. Since at least the end of the 1990s, Bolivia suffered from a lot of conflicts and institutional crises, lack of governance, institutional weakness, and economic and political crises.

In this current context, there is a lot of discussion about natural resources and how local people and indigenous people have never benefited from this natural richness. This is inserted in the Bolivian mentality because of the legacy of the mining exploitation in colonial times, when the Spanish took all the richness to Spain. As an example, Potosi was considered one of the most important economic cities in the colonial period and is now one of the poorest regions in Bolivia. Local and indigenous peoples never benefited from mining and this happened again in the republican era with other natural resources: for example, rubber in the Amazon, and, in recent times, gas and hydrocarbons. This has led to very violent confrontations in terms of not only political issues, but also concepts. What are the benefits of being rich in natural resources, in being a biodiverse country, if the country never benefits from this natural condition? This is related to the concept of “the curse of natural resources”.

Bolivia, because of its geography and topography is very interesting and a particular nation. It is a small country that has more than forty ecological regions that go from the Andes in the highlands to cloud forests and intermediate forests, crossing through different transition regions, and down to the lowlands, to the Amazon, savannas, dry forests and the Chaco region. This is a very interesting natural context that is the basis for many different species, which according to scientific institutions represents one of the most interesting contexts for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This is precisely why Bolivia is part of the Tropical Andes hotspot, according to the Norman Myers concept and definition.

But, despite this richness, there are increasing threats to biodiversity and sustainability in terms of overexploitation and in terms of root causes that are affecting biodiversity, without achieving desired patterns for a sustainable use of biodiversity and benefit-sharing. Nonetheless, thousands of people depend on those biological resources, both directly and indirectly. They depend on ecosystem services provided from these natural areas.

There is a very intense, let’s say debate, which is trying to analyze how we can benefit from these natural resources. I think the discussion is emerging from “Are we going to conserve the resources or are we going to use those resources?” and is evolving into a process of “How can we achieve sustainable use of biodiversity?” “How can this biodiversity benefit local people, indigenous people at the local level?” But also, how can these resources benefit the country, the state, the region?

Sustainable mechanisms

To summarize what is happening, Bolivia’s deforestation rates are increasing very fast. There are some reports suggesting that Bolivia is behind Brazil as the second largest deforester, in Latin America. And in terms of economic issues, we have been living in a stagnated economy, and we are trying to recover from years of very serious economic crises that are beginning to improve based on an export-led growth thanks to the rise of international prices for commodities. Our commodities, hydrocarbons, minerals, and non-traditional exports represent more than 80% of Bolivian exports, at this moment.

Also, there is a political context of how indigenous people, according to the new government, were discriminated against and not successfully included at all in any development program before this new government. How are they going to take the lead on these issues? How are they going to work on their development and use of resources? Thus, the question at a national and regional level is -- Are we going to be able to use those resources in sustainable ways, with sustainable mechanisms? I think that there’s a paradigm right now, a paradox, based on how this current government, in this particular context, is going to include the discussion of biodiversity and renewable natural resources in their political, social and economic agenda.

The perception, based on my work and research, is that “sustainable development” as a concept is so abstract that it is useless and not of use any more and I am not sure if any nation in the developing world can achieve these sustainable development goals. These renewable natural resources were not the main priorities for previous governments. Bolivia’s economy has always been dependent on non-renewable resources, tin, minerals, hydrocarbons -- oil and gas particularly. But now renewable natural resources are becoming a priority in terms of political agenda.

How this process is going to build a bridge in terms of economic and social agenda is going to be the main part of discussions. Probably we are going to have some interesting outcomes in the next few years. On the other hand, there’s a lot of interest and political will in various economic processes that are not sustainable and have a short-term vision. There’s the danger that people that never benefited probably won’t benefit at all if the use of biodiversity is not sustainable in the medium and long term.

After Rio and the Convention on Biological Diversity

In Motion Magazine: Why is biodiversity so important?

Bernardo Peredo: This is one of the key topics of my PhD research. What is the importance of not only biodiversity but renewable resources for Bolivia’s economic development and sustainable livelihoods? As I just said, it seems that the discussions are based on the theoretical frameworks from the curse of natural resources. Furthermore, in this context, you will need institutional governance, a lot of transparency in political and economic foundations to really achieve a sustainable process and Bolivia at this moment doesn’t have the required governance, and a needed institutional capacity. But again, as I said, we are recovering from these very serious political and social conflicts. The importance of biodiversity is starting to, as a measure, be part of a national dialogue and national debate.

Since Rio
(editor: the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD], 1992, Rio de Janeiro) biodiversity has become part of the international agenda, of national commitments and different agreements. Hence, in Bolivia, biodiversity started to receive a lot of attention because of the natural context and richness previously described.

Different international organizations came to Bolivia, mainly BINGOs
(big international non-governmental organizations), and especially U.S.-based organizations working in biodiversity conservation -- TNC (The Nature Conservancy), CI (Conservation International), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), WWF (World Wildlife Foundation), etc. Bolivia started to include biodiversity in their institutional framework. Bolivia was the first country to create a Ministry of Sustainable Development, which had a directorate for biodiversity conservation.

But, I did interviews with more than 150 political representatives from different parties, even parties with completely opposite visions throughout this process, and they all recognized that this was just a theoretical process that emerged after Rio. It was a commitment but they never took it seriously in Bolivia. Biodiversity as a concept never got into the political and economic agenda, partly because biodiversity was considered and perceived as a realm of scientific purpose only and not related to economic and social development.

Since 1999: a new stage with social movements

Now, though, even some analysts consider that one stage is closing and we need to consider that we have a new process of development. It is combined with the political process that has emerged in Bolivia, since 1999, with the emergence of social movements -- the cocalero movements, the indigenous people’s movements -- which have started to participate actively since the new millennium in the discussions of Bolivia’s development and political and economic agendas.

One of the key aspects is how indigenous peoples have included biodiversity resources in their agendas, how biodiversity is so important for sustainable livelihoods and local development and livelihoods in terms of political issues, in terms of territories. This agenda advanced in the year 2002 after different manifestations, demonstrations, after different conflicts. There was a request initially from indigenous peoples in lowlands suggesting the need for the Constituent Assembly that we are having today, in order to address land issues and economic development issues. Therefore, the use of the natural resources, including renewable resources, was part of the key topics of the agenda.

Local development processes

In this context, we have experienced three or four years of different confrontations, deliberations, negotiations, and discussions. This is related to the paradox that I just mentioned -- sustainable development is so abstract and has not been appropriated. Environmental issues are somehow seen as imposed or part of the agenda of the wealthiest countries, that they may not provide the economic benefits needed in biodiversity-rich countries. And, as I said, this was reflected by the more than 150 interviews I did with different high-level political, social and indigenous leaders. But natural resources, and here we are talking about renewable natural resources, are becoming a main priority for opportunities to achieve local development processes and sustainable livelihoods, to benefit not only at a community level but a regional or even national scale.

Biodiversity has been recognized as one important asset for Bolivia, but still the discussion is: How do you envisage biodiversity? What do you think of species richness, species endemism? Do you think of all the living forms on earth according to the CBD
(Convention on Biological Diversity) definition, or do you think as well on these definitions as direct products of biodiversity, medicinal plants, ecosystem services, timber, and organic products?

The economic value of biodiversity

In terms of biodiversity, discussions in the scientific biological community, recently, include other social actors. Suddenly with these political and economic contexts and concepts, biodiversity is receiving a lot of attention in terms of the definition of the total economic value of biodiversity. That means that biodiversity has value in direct outputs and products, direct services, and an intrinsic value. For example, there is the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources / World Conservation Union) definition suggesting that biodiversity has a direct economic value of great importance to local people, an indirect value related to ecosystems functions and services of regional and global importance, and an option and existence value as well, which should be conserved for future generations and for the intrinsic value of biodiversity.

Hence, I’m not talking specifically about organizations working in biodiversity conservation; I’m talking about social actors, indigenous peoples, livelihoods and local development processes, thinking of the benefits of biodiversity in terms of direct products and outcomes. If we consider biodiversity in this sense plus ecosystem services and renewable natural resources, these resources could provide one of the most important contributions to not only Bolivia’s economy but more importantly a tangible opportunity for human well-being and sustainable livelihoods.

How to improve life conditions

In Motion Magazine: You have worked with indigenous peoples in various parts of the country in relation to the sustainable use of Bolivia’s resources.

Bernardo Peredo: That’s right.

In Motion Magazine: Can you talk about some specific examples of what that means and how it works?

Bernardo Peredo: I have been fortunate to work in different contexts and several communities in different regions, from highlands in the Andes region on the border with Chile and the Tropical Andes to lowlands, including Pando in the Bolivian Amazon, Beni, Santa Cruz and northern La Paz. One of the common grounds that I have found is it doesn’t matter what the cultural origin is, or the region these people belong to -- and there are a lot of differentiations about the people from highlands being very different to lowlands -- what I found is it doesn’t matter if they are “Camba (lowlands) or Colla (Andean)”, the main goal they want to achieve is to live better conditions, to improve their life conditions and their well being in sustainable ways -- for them, for their children. They want to accomplish those goals and they need to do that because of the existing socioeconomic conditions in Bolivia. The difference is in how they perceive, are thinking, to accomplish that vision. Indigenous peoples have very important traditional and cultural knowledge they want to apply and strengthen in different initiatives.

It’s very interesting because I don’t agree with the idea of the noble savage; that all indigenous people will be very good at managing resources in a communal vision and are very “noble” in terms of managing resources. I have found there have been various cases of corruption of leaders and mismanagement, once they get into project management and they received resources. I have witnessed many projects fail because the leaders or a group of families they just get benefits for themselves and they get into corruption. However, there are also several cases of very appealing and advanced visions in terms of achieving better livelihoods and well-being.

“It’s for our children / I want them to manage our projects”

For example, and this is kind of an anecdote, when we traveled into the northern part of Bolivia in the Amazon, where we were to meet with an indigenous leader of one of the less populated indigenous communities -- something like 60 or 80 families of an indigenous community -- when we met the leader we were thinking about this individual in terms of the old image of a naked person with feathers and arrows. But when we get there and the guy approached us, he was wearing a Nike t-shirt and an Adidas cap, fake copies probably bought from the local market. It was totally different. And this happened 8, 9 years ago.

When we met and we started talking with this leader and a group of members of the community -- “What do you need for your community? What would you like to have?” – kind of the old and typical questions to explore “How do you perceive the assistance needed for this very isolated community” -- one of the members told us, “What would be very important for us, very good for the community? -- then we thought about water, we thought about a health center, a productive project or something similar – but he told us, “We would like to have some computers and Internet.”

At that moment, that was very surprising for us. At that time, Bolivia didn’t have a lot of Internet connections. But he learned somehow that another indigenous community project had developed a very interesting eco-tourism initiative. They were starting to get connected and starting to get tourists and receive a lot of funding and generating income, receiving loads of support, developing skills and training.

We asked, “Why do you think you would like a computer?” and he told us, “It’s not for me, it’s for our children. I want them to know not only how to write and read -- which would be quite a progress regarding current conditions of many people -- I want them to manage the project. I want them to be able to talk to other people, to tourists, to government and international agencies; therefore they will have more opportunities in terms of not only long-term income and actions, but also maintaining our culture, our cultural traditions.” They want that kind of improvement in their life.

That was very interesting and a particular experience which taught me a dreadfully innovative lesson and this experience happened almost a decade ago. If you talk now with different indigenous peoples, you see that they are trying to promote projects -- whether you call them productive projects or call them conservation and development approaches – and a huge majority of them are trying to engage in some activities and propose initiatives that will allow them to have better opportunities for the community, in terms of natural resources management, cultural and organizational strengthening and income generation.

Managing / not managing their resources

One of the main discussions here in Bolivia is about land, land tenure, and indigenous territories. Yet, local people could be very good at managing some projects or they could be very bad because of different factors – lack of skills, lack of education, corruption, fragmented communities.

There are some interesting examples. In Madidi National Park, there is a most promising process in eco-tourism represented by indigenous and communitarian projects that have been implemented in the last decade and are very successful. After more than seven years, these projects are operating and are receiving international recognition. The very community owns these projects and the same people are managing and working on these ventures. They are strengthening their traditional cultures and they are strengthening their skills. A lot of young people are working on them. They are not migrating to the capital cities. This also happens with the management of the vicuña in the highlands, with the support of different government agencies. They are achieving results though obviously it is a slow process.

But, as I said, there is also the other side of the situation where you have local communities that are not managing their resources because of different factors. They are migrating to other areas and they are causing some impacts based on slash/burn deforestation, even in the same Madidi National Park.

I think there is the need to understand the cultural diversity of Bolivia in terms of indigenous peoples. They are so different from one region to another region. Even in the same department there are very different groups. There are very different results and outcomes. But, what they have as a common ground is they want to improve their conditions and livelihoods and they are considering biodiversity as a potential asset (including ecotourism, organic products, wildlife, timber and non-timber forest products, amongst others) to use in a sustainable way, which will be an essential bridge to be built in terms of sustainability.

Bolivia is one of the most indigenous countries with a high portion of population living below poverty lines with few basic needs attended to, but with a huge diversity of natural resources and cultural assets. This is a very difficult challenge that we have to undertake in terms of political participation, in terms of organizations, of local and indigenous peoples getting results and achievements.

As I said, it is a slow process but I think you can find very interesting examples of indigenous organizations. They are evolving from indigenous communities to indigenous organizations and from that to indigenous entrepreneurs, which I found as the most interesting of all. They are participating actively within the government, but also, most importantly, there are many organizations and ventures who were working before this current administration. This is incredibly good. It is a very important step in Bolivia in terms of a political process. You cannot work on political issues and not have this be accompanied by economic and development issues, that is the task and the challenge now.

Opportunities for building bridges: Eco-tourism

In Motion Magazine: Can you further describe one or two of those positive examples?

Bernardo Peredo: Again, I will just mention the Chalalan project in Madidi National Park. It started about ten years ago with the support of Conservation International and the IDB (International Development Bank) and now they are paying for their own education in the community school. They are paying taxes just as any other company. Most importantly, they are funding education and health initiatives within the same community that otherwise would not receive support. They paid the land title process. They are achieving high levels of re-distribution inside the community. This has emerged as an alternative of income generation to the creation of protected areas where indigenous peoples were not allowed to clear land, to work on timber, or to hunt or to fish. They started these processes as an economic guarantee.

Now, obviously, there were some expectations that projects with indigenous communities with little education, with almost no experience in project management, would collapse in five to six years or when the external funding was over. But this project (Chalalan) has now achieved financial and technical sustainability and, therefore, it created interest in other communities to replicate it. There are four projects in the same region that are currently ongoing and they are achieving interesting outcomes.

Alternatives: non-timber forest products

In terms of other initiatives, related to indigenous communities, non-timber forest products and organic products are another increasing area. There are local entrepreneurs working with organic producing organizations in Bolivia that are joining with several local communities and groups, producing different organic products that are exported to different countries as part of non-traditional exports. This is one of the key topics for the government in terms of policies oriented towards small and community enterprises. Undoubtedly, there are a lot of gaps, predominantly in technological and technical skills that need to be resolved, but because of what we talked about before, about Bolivia’s biodiversity, this could be a very important aspect.

Alternatives: forest management

And the last part is the initiative related to forest management. There is a community forest management process, especially in the lowlands, with the ASL (Asociación Solidadarias de Lugar) where communities are getting to manage their forests, preparing management plans, trying to be part of the sustainable productive chains and the export process. Results are mixed, though. There are very important steps related to economic and political dimensions, and there are questions still about the positive results on conservation and in terms of governance and avoided deforestation.

Owning the resources again: two visions

And this is part of the national context, as well as the micro-context, that we talked about before. There is a very inherent, a very deep feeling about the property of natural resources in Bolivia. There are plenty of myths, a lot of things that are not true completely, but the widespread feeling is, and this is part of the political change that we are living, that natural resources, especially renewable natural resources in Bolivia, were overexploited and never benefited local people.

In recent times, there is the perception, and many cases evidenced this feeling, particularly with non-renewable resources, where the property and benefits of exploitation accrued to foreign companies supported by economic reforms. This mentality is clearly expressed in this government to get back the ownership of natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. Therefore, there is a current trend of “nationalization” resulting in natural resources as property of the State again, which even includes the nationalization of protected areas. However, it does not inherently imply a better management of those resources, particularly renewable, neither achieving sustainable patterns nor benefit-sharing per se.

In Motion Magazine: When you say economic reforms, you mean the neo-liberal approach?

Bernardo Peredo: That’s right. That happened very clearly with hydrocarbons and mining, but every natural resource is perceived as having been part of that approach, including the very sensitive issues or forests. There is the feeling now that the people of Bolivia own those resources again, that they have property of those resources, from the national to the community level. Nonetheless, there’s the need to conceptualize this process.

There are two aspects of that. One is suggesting that with this framework in hand we will value our resources more because we will know that they are part of the community, the municipality, the government, etcetera. The other aspect is related to some arguments suggesting for example that: “America (the U.S.) developed because they exploited their natural resources very intensely, so we will do the same because we are a poor country. After we get more development we will think about the environment”. Both are very opposite concepts. However, we cannot afford now to think in this way.

I think we have to get in the middle of that. Indigenous communities could have more opportunity to get into the middle of that because in many cases they can manage renewable resources in a positive way. There are some legal processes at work towards this direction. They can achieve sustainable processes like organic products, ecotourism, non-timber forest products, community forest management. We cannot afford to go in the other direction and use intensively and extensively all these natural resources because it’s a very fragile ecosystem, with a lot of degradation, soil deprivation, deforestation. This is one of the discussions that are happening right now.

(Similarly), there is the vision saying that Bolivia is an agricultural country. This is part of the legacy from the 1952 revolution and the expansion of the import of substitution models, including the expansion of the agricultural frontier and food security, but in terms of mono-production. We cannot afford to do this, either – the lack of competitiveness, lack of technological innovation and infrastructure, lack of even soils, despite being a low-populated country. Most of the lowlands are thought to be part of the agricultural process but the reality is that it cannot sustain intensive agricultural production. This vision of community development by agriculture only is very dangerous.

Rather, there is the vision of community development based on natural resources, renewable natural resources, organic, non-timber forest products, eco-tourism, community forest management that would be more consistent with Bolivia’s geography, Bolivia’s characteristics, conditions and natural context and diversity. That’s the process that we will need to go into the middle of -- a better sustainable process.

Women from different neighborhoods of El Alto and La Paz support women's rights to education.

Women from different neighborhoods of El Alto and La Paz support women's rights to education.

Eco-tourism in Sajama National Park. The main visitors' lodge with dining room and several cabins at the foot of Mount Sajama. Oruro department.

The 17th century church Comarapi Virgen Rosario and Mount Sajama in Caripe, Oruro department (altitude 15,000 feet).

The 17th century church Comarapi Virgen Rosario and Mount Sajama in Caripe, Oruro department (altitude 15,000 feet).
Sewing up bags of cacao at the Fair Trade chocolate CEIBO factory in El Alto.
Sewing up bags of cacao at the Fair Trade chocolate CEIBO factory in El Alto on the Altiplano above La Paz.
Handmade garments from the Fair Trade artesanal company ASARBOLSEM in El Alto .
Handmade garments from the Fair Trade artesanal company ASARBOLSEM in El Alto .
Actors not beneficiaries

In Motion Magazine: When these communities make these decisions, how are they making them? Are they based on traditional internal structures?

Bernardo Peredo: There are different contexts, and that is why it’s difficult to generalize, it’s difficult to get a homogeneous perspective. Some indigenous communities are very fragmented. Some are managed by just a group of families that are powerful, that are the leaders. And some communities have very well structured processes, very democratic processes, including gender dimensions.

One of the main reasons for some projects to work is how the communities are getting organized. When you have a traditional control of the community by only a powerful leader, as we have seen, there is the danger to get into corruption very easily. This happened in both the highlands and the lowlands. When it is very fragmented there is the difficulty of sustainability of the project. If the leader or the promoter dies or something happens, the project probably will not be appropriated by the other members of the community.

But, in other cases, traditional controls and traditional structures in the community have a long legacy of processes that are maintained up to this moment. They have their own forms of elections, their leaders which became the engine, their own process of what they have to do in terms of community. I don’t like too much the word empowerment, but in communities where this process occurs people are getting more confident, organized, and therefore, they are becoming actors.

One of the key concepts that I always like to emphasize is that they are actors and not beneficiaries. In terms of ecotourism, now, they are actors not entertainers. There were some conceptions that people would go to indigenous communities because there will be this experience of “I’ve been to an indigenous community”, “I’ve met authentic indigenous people”, or “they danced” or “they played traditional music” and in this sense they are “entertaining” tourists.

But they are actors not entertainers. They are actors, not beneficiaries. The case of the indigenous enterprises in Madidi and Pilon Lajas regions is just extraordinary. Obviously in this process to become an actor from what used to be a marginalized group is a very slow process and you will have a lot of mistakes and errors. But Bolivia nowadays is having a change and indigenous communities are becoming part of an action that is going to continue, both at the regional and local level. Sometimes they go very radical and sometimes they go with the perspective that I mentioned in the anecdote. They have varied perspectives; they are very interested in managing their own process. This is very useful. They have to be the leaders of their own, whatever you may want to call it: development, livelihoods, future, process.

Economic reforms to benefit vulnerable groups

In Motion Magazine: Could you speak some more of the recent changes that the president has been making in regards to the hydrocarbons and the forests being nationalized resources?

Bernardo Peredo: In terms of natural resources, renewable resources, I think that they are following the nationalization discourse based on hydrocarbons. But there are two visions: One suggesting Bolivia should develop and use intensively resources, including the expansion of the agricultural frontier, without including environmental topics at all, at this stage. However, the other vision which may include indigenous territories and small and micro-enterprises shall pose a couple of key questions: How are we going to include biodiversity as part of that important resource of Bolivia that will effectively benefit local and indigenous communities to the contrary of non-renewable resources which does not produce many direct benefits at this scale? And, how are we going to achieve a sustainable use of biodiversity? This is a task that is going to be very challenging for the coming context. This is clearly related to the economic aspect. Even though forests as a sector have not been privatized, there is the feeling that they must be nationalized to benefit our people. Thus the government is including forests in this discourse because of this feeling. However, this is based on the previously explained perceptions of natural resources.

Political process

Moreover, I think these are challenging and interesting times for Bolivia; hopefully they will be peaceful times. We have had a lot of confrontations and violence in the last five years, more than any other Latin American country. From 1999 until 2005 there were a lot of conflicts. There is some data suggesting that from 2003 to 2004 there was an average of 600 conflicts per month. Conflict is seen as a barrier to any development process.

This is a process that Bolivia would have to take and Bolivia is making the change now -- which is very good. There were some structures in Bolivia that were not working. In terms of political context, this is a very interesting change.

One of the main reasons for Bolivia’s fragmentation is inequality. Inequality is one of the most difficult, most challenging aspects that we need to tackle. With these political changes some parts of the inequality aspects are going to be tackled -- which is very positive.

Thirty years ago, to think about having an indigenous or at least indigenous-origin president was inconceivable and simply unthinkable. Now here is a president, he has a lot of support. He has been elected. That is very important; he has been elected by a majority. It is a historic process for Bolivia. What I am afraid of is to get into a dialogue in a form of a pendulum, kind of A or Z, opposite frameworks. What I think is what this government is to be measured by is how they work on economic and development issues.

The political change is already there. They made a change. You will or will not agree with that or how are they doing that -- still that is a change. But the main task for this government, the main challenge, is how are they going to undertake economic issues, economic reforms in order to benefit especially those vulnerable groups that are part of the new government. Hopefully, there will be some clever initiatives on that. So far, everything was political, now there is the need to consolidate that political basis and move forward with the economic processes.

This government has an opportunity to reduce this conflict, to work better with peaceful ways than previous governments. But also there is a very dangerous, delicate situation with some key issues like land with political considerations that could lead to more confrontations. This is going to be an opportunity or a threat to this government -- how they are going to handle these issues.

In Motion Magazine: Such as the autonomy situation in Santa Cruz?

Bernardo Peredo: That’s right. A couple of years ago, we were at the brink of very dangerous and violent confrontations, even it was common to hear voices calling for a civil war. If this is going to happen again now we will have two reasons: land and autonomy. Land and autonomy are much related. We need a very wise government and serious leadership. If we go into a radical posture I think that will exacerbate matters into severe problems.

Wealth redistribution / micro-enterprises / macro economics

When you are talking about economics in Bolivia you have, let’s say, three key factors to consider. Redistribution is one: wealth re-distribution is poor in Bolivia. This is one of the aspects, of inequality, when 10% of the population is the richest population and 90% have very low income. This pyramid is not going to last. Redistribution is very important.

The second factor is employment and how are we going to deal with these small, micro-enterprises, how are they going to be supported -- because the government is not going to solve the economy. They have to build the frameworks so that the entrepreneurship, the private sector, these community enterprises, are going to be the engines of development in Bolivia.

Currently there are some studies suggesting that micro-enterprises are the engine of the economic dynamics in Bolivia. Yet, the analysis is also suggesting that they are the dynamics of the economic subsistence of Bolivia. But you need to achieve far more than that, which means a lot of investment in technological issues, strengthening skills and innovation. How we are going to work towards this micro-framework is going to be very important. How are they going to work on market access? How are they going to work to solve the problem, for example, with the American market trade agreement that is going to end soon. They will have to negotiate other agreements related to these small enterprises, particularly in the field of non-traditional exports.

And the third one is how are we going to build a macro-micro economic relationship so that the stability of the macroeconomic level will continue. We are having the highest rates of exports, with a great contribution of hydrocarbons and mining, but at the micro level there are high levels of unemployment, high levels of this informal sector that cannot be included in the economy. This is one of the main challenges. According to the elections and surveys, employment is the key economic factor for the majority of Bolivians. How are they going to create the level of employment required? How are they going to create better conditions for employment? This is extremely serious.

Improving livelihoods / a democratic process

In Motion Magazine: In the communities where indigenous people are developing a sustainable use of biodiversity, has this concretely improved their lives? Is there a connection between the struggle to develop sustainable use, much of it coming from traditional understanding, and the development of these political movements, to a better understanding of how to implement democracy?

Bernardo Peredo: One thing is that this has to be analyzed case by case. Previous economic reforms generally have had one size fits all and this approach does not exist, especially in Bolivia. It cannot be applied.

In some cases people are improving their livelihoods. Just as an example, the eco-tourism process, what I evidenced is very positive. I have met members of the community and evidenced how much they have improved their leadership and their self-confidence, their participation and organization. They improved 180 degrees from where it was five years before.

There are some people that improved their self-confidence and improved their participation, and now they are quite radical and they don’t want anything if it does not comply with what they are thinking. But many communities are acting differently and have benefited in that way. They are learning accountancy and administrative skills, they are learning how to implement projects and to manage financial resources, and therefore, they are building their own positive change.

Obviously, I am not a big fan of (short term) projects, but if we think about scenarios, ten years before without those initiatives, ten years with those initiatives, that is a big change. You can really see it. They have improved livelihoods, in terms of basic needs, as well as providing improvement and partial solutions to serious economic problems: income generation, employment, economic diversification and benefit redistribution, including health and education such as the aforementioned Chalalan case.

The multiplier effect

As I mentioned, this initiative in Madidi started with water access to the community and they have now secondary education, energy access, and better food security. They gave very important steps for improvement, thus the economic impact is very interesting because they are generating more income. I don’t like to measure income purely in terms of wages, but in terms of economic diversification it is very important because they have sustainable processes and eco-tourism is providing many additional benefits.

They used to migrate to cities and bigger rural towns for various seasons, now they live in the same region and provide income and other social benefits to the community. For example, they used to work for some timber companies on logging and after earning some money they came back to the communities. Or they went to ranches and worked for agricultural processes, for harvesting, and they came back to the community. In terms of migration, that is very important. In terms of income generation and distribution throughout the year, that is exceedingly important.

But obviously there are cases where projects failed, people failed, and they get discouraged to be part of this process. The key question is to build the foundations for a long-term process but obtaining short-term results simultaneously. What I think is that eco-tourism could benefit various communities, --you will see that clearly as a replication process, a multiplier effect--, but it won’t benefit all the communities. Ecotourism is not a panacea.

The answer is you have to consider numerous factors. You cannot only measure success by if they are receiving more household income than before, or they are participating better than before, you have to achieve a holistic approach.

Nevertheless, a long-term process would need policies to support that and this is probably a weakness in Bolivia. All the projects have to have very related practical inputs and outputs. There are countless projects that are only pilot projects, and that’s it. “We’ve finished the project. We comply with the donors and we close the project”, no sustainability. That’s a problem. I don’t think that’s beneficial. They must have more than a project approach.

Therefore, you have to include a process approach. If it’s very local and you cannot scale up, that’s a problem. There are, though, some attempts to include municipal policies on issues like organic products which combine communities and local governments, and even the private sector or the international community. But there is the need to build regional and national policies not only in the tourism sector but articulated to other key sectors such as infrastructure, security, economic policies. Otherwise ecotourism will face serious bottlenecks to move forward.

This is why I think policies have to be for practical issues, not only for legal or theoretical approaches. You can see some cases in which municipalities are working very closely with communities because the project of the community is working very successfully.

And the second part of the question was?

Different municipality processes

In Motion Magazine: Political action. Are the communities going to the municipalities and saying, “You need to understand what we are doing here”, or is it the other way around?

Bernardo Peredo: That’s a key point. How are they going to articulate, how are they going to get integrated in the policy process, and in the political and economic processes. For some areas, for example in the lowlands, some indigenous organizations are very, very strong and in others they are quite weak. Some of the organizations, because of this process, have representatives in the municipality. They are councilors and they are in the indigenous municipality context; and in the current context and administration, they have promoted their leaders to be elected as members of the Parliament or in many cases vice-ministers or directors working in the Executive Power.

Political exclusion was a main characteristic until the last couple of elections, where you had the same traditional political parties rotating the government and making alliances between them every time to access the required majority to be elected. This included a lot of political control over certain regions where you have some traditional families which were key representatives of certain political parties. Then, suddenly we are having this “local” force from the other side, from the community groups and grassroots organizations participating and receiving more support not only from the same communities but also from other sectors tired of the appalling corruption cases and inefficient traditional political parties.

While in some more traditional rural areas there are indigenous members from those organizations that have been elected and now they are participating in the municipality or the national government, in other regions, local communities are running and managing projects, most of them related to the sustainable subjects we talked of before, and therefore, they are addressing the other great problems of exclusion: social and economic. This is interesting because it opens up a very democratic process.

Eco-tourism: where it works

In Motion Magazine: A couple of clarifying type things. When you talked about actors and entertainers, there was some early criticism of eco-tourism. Was that the entertainment aspect?

Bernardo Peredo: Yes.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think of it now?

Bernardo Peredo: First of all eco-tourism is not a solution for every community. Eco-tourism, as I previously mentioned, will work in some regions and will not in other locations for different reasons: access, infrastructure, service quality, natural attractions, the community itself. (In relation to your questions) there were some problems where external agencies or companies went to that place just because there was an indigenous community. That was the entertainment part and almost all the benefits were to the agency, to the intermediate sectors. That happened in many places.

Where there were positive experiences, other indigenous communities’ people are thinking, “How they are operating, it is working. It’s not an indigenous problem. They are doing it very successfully. We can do things and work in a similar way.” So the multiplier effect is growing. You have to understand, though, that not all the ecotourism projects or ventures are going to work per se. In some regions people are thinking about eco-tourism – “We are an indigenous community or we are a local municipality, and this is a natural area, it is going to work”. It takes much more than that; it takes hundred of hours of investment in training, marketing, organization, product service, and participation.

Bolivia has actually a comparative advantage in terms of sustainable tourism but it is quite difficult to turn it into a competitive advantage. However, there are many things to work on, especially marketing and promotion and infrastructure, which have been identified as the common weakness. People are thinking on that as a main challenge but we really can establish a position ourselves as a country based on the authentic and successful indigenous entrepreneurial ventures.

The Amazon has already established a position of world recognition with Brazil, the Andean region with Peru and Machu Pichu; the rain forest is already with Costa Rica and the Manu region in Peru. Nevertheless, these regions and countries do not have a national policy on indigenous tourism or a recognized ethnic and communitarian eco-tourism vision and process where the very indigenous communities and organizations are the main actors, owners and managers of their own projects, of their own micro-enterprises, represented by more than fifty ventures throughout the country. They were indigenous leaders and now they are indigenous managers and entrepreneurs. This is the real value added and the main opportunity to avoid the historic patterns of exclusion and inequality characteristic of South America.

This is really a tangible result of the hard-working and magnificent entrepreneurial vision of not only one or two indigenous groups, but for many successful and promising ventures that are being recognized nationally and internationally. I can affirm Bolivia is the first country in Latin America with an indigenous tourism widespread process based on the community entrepreneurs, which is currently supported by a national policy developed thanks to the very positive results obtained in the Madidi and Pilon Lajas amongst other regions.

The multiplier effect we talked before is just crystal clear in this case, which was brought from the first experience, Chalalan, that was previously mentioned. Also, we have new ventures with different products and services in the Rurrenabaque region, including the following interesting initiatives: Mapajo, San Miguel del Bala, the Social and Ecological Tourism (TES), an indigenous venture to focus on marketing called Eslabon, and many other projects in other regions in Santa Cruz, Chapare, the Lake Titicaca, Sajama National Park, the Salt Lakes in Potosi, to mention just a few.

We undertook in recent months a workshop with all the indigenous entrepreneurs working in the Rurrenabaque region, and they all are very motivated to join together to overcome common problems that will not only strengthen and consolidate the communitarian tourism in the region, but more importantly, will join efforts and skills in addressing different challenges and barriers, including promotion and marketing, circuits, better services and many other aspects. This is just one image of the very positive process that is currently happening.

After at least 8 years of this process, results are being obtained in the short-term perspective, but, more importantly, providing very strong foundations for a sustainable future. One of the most interesting indicators of sustainability emerged from our work with these indigenous entrepreneurs. For them, a clear and long-term indicator that the project is going to be successful is when a young kid aged ten years-old (who is participating in all the activities because he is the son of one of the main entrepreneurs, and therefore, he is listening, learning, accompanying this process), when he turns thirty years-old, he will be the manager.

But a better manager with better skills, studies, able to complete not only high school (almost all of the current entrepreneurs were not able to finish school) but also to hold a university-related degree, able to speak in Spanish and English; able to get connected into the web and to participate in the Tourism Event in Berlin. He will not feel intimidated by non-indigenous but also will not be radical against them; on the contrary working with non-indigenous people while being proud to maintain his culture. This vision expressed by these incredible entrepreneurs makes me proud of these initiatives and to be participating in this process.

Policies, incentives

To summarize, I will give you some concrete details about my thinking in terms of sustainable policies and economic incentives. One of the most important economic potential alternatives to develop this “sustainable development” paradigm in Bolivia is eco-tourism, but not by itself -- it should be part of a process and must be articulated to other economic sectors as I explained. The second one is forest products and manufacturing. The third one is organic products, organic agriculture. And the fourth is ecosystem services (payment watershed conservation and avoided-deforestation incentives for climate change).

But we must have a connection in terms of different economic and sustainable policies, and in terms of incentives. If you don’t have a macroeconomic policy for that, if you don’t have infrastructure or if your infrastructure within indigenous communities is very poor and the indigenous communities are without the conditions to improve themselves and provide a service, because this service is business in the case of ecotourism or sustainable tourism, probably it won’t succeed.

You have to build a vision from the micro to the macro level, a policy, a framework, and incentives in order to work as a local and national agenda. And that includes airfares, communications, security; that you will go to a place and you won’t get in a roadblock or be kidnapped. It has to be a very national agenda.

We can work towards some better integration of policies at the local and national level. For example, we’re moving from the old-fashion entertainment view to the actor and entrepreneur one. People are getting trained. They are learning. They are not only guides; they are managers and have project management skills. We are in that phase. But we have to complete a phase and think we have to work on this integration from micro to macro. In that way, this could be important for Bolivia’s economy. Otherwise we are going to be dependent on soy exports, hydrocarbon and mining exports, (just like sixty or seventy years ago) and this is not sustainable and includes very few re-distribution projects.

This is a process that, interestingly, Bolivia is making some steps forward on, but there’s a long way to go.

BINGOs: the need to evolve

In Motion Magazine: You mentioned BINGOs. Can you talk about the situation with them?

Bernardo Peredo: Briefly, I have two comments on that. Obviously most of these processes happened because of the support of BINGOs, technically and especially financially. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened. But there is the need to evolve. We are living in a different context now and BINGOs and all this agenda has to evolve.

If you have a very narrow agenda, just the conservation of a species (for example), and that is the priority and you don’t understand the political economy, you don’t understand the social changes and the political changes that are happening, you don’t understand the structure of the economy, this is going to be very poignant.

There are lots of criticisms about BINGOs in different regions in the world. They have their agenda and they are going to implement that. Sometimes they impose actions and they don’t articulate all that is happening in that country, in that region.

In some positive cases, they support indigenous communities, they support them in very important ways, but the message here is everything in that context happened 15 years ago and it was a different context, a different scenario; now it’s completely different. They have to articulate new ways of integration, new ways of working with people. Most importantly they have to understand the political and economic situation of the countries. There’s a saying, “Conservation is going to win some battles, but they are going to lose the war because they are not changing its vision.”

In Motion Magazine: What is the new situation they have to realize?

Bernardo Peredo: I think that if BINGOs are going to work on just conservation issues by what has been defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity or in Washington, D.C. offices, and they have to stick to the agenda to the end, working only in conservation of species and biological research, it is useless. They can understand and improve ways to work towards a better development and sustainability process, including support of the aforementioned initiatives. Even the government’s official position is that international organizations that are going to work with communities in regions with protected areas, they have to implement development initiatives.

They need to understand that and say, “How are we going to develop better initiatives that will allow us to improve our actions here and to improve the conditions of the people, improve livelihoods, improve sustainability?” This is a process that unfortunately very few organizations are recognizing, are internalizing, and are having outcomes. What I think is that they have to adapt to the new conditions. If they stick to their previous framework it won’t work. This context is not going to change. It is a train going very fast.

Tackle inequality / acknowledge the role of biodiversity

In Motion Magazine: Is there anything you would like to add?

Bernardo Peredo: Some concluding thoughts. I think that indigenous communities can definitely play a vital role in achieving better results in sustainable livelihoods in this country -- the context we are living in is a very interesting one, thrilling times with many challenges ahead. We are a very diverse country with a basis of an indigenous country so we have to accept that and we have to enjoy that, but we don’t have to get into these pendulum-type visions. “Indigenous peoples were excluded for 500 years, now we are in power and the non-indigenous peoples are not with us.”

This was expressed frequently in radical discourses and there are a lot of discourses that have been moderating their tone in recent times. We heard that a lot from many leaders. But indigenous communities and indigenous peoples in Bolivia have to be, and they are, an asset. They are an important part of our human resource, our cultural resource and assets that we need to integrate in every level of the society, in every level of policy making, and in every level of the political and economic context.

In the political context, I mentioned that, there is a lot of progress. In the economic context, the key aspect to tackle is inequality and hopefully there is going to be a better framework to tackle inequality in this new context, where you have indigenous communities participating actively from being marginalized groups just fifteen years ago. Nonetheless, there are very severe challenges ahead. For example, we have one of the lowest population densities in the developing world, but land inequality is extremely high. We are one of the most unequal countries in Latin America behind Brazil. But in order to do that you have to think and acknowledge that biodiversity and renewable natural resources are a main asset for that and we cannot afford to lose those resources in the name of other types of “development” that are not going to be sustainable.

We cannot afford to conserve those resources in a kind of fortress conservation scheme but also we cannot use, extensively and intensively, our natural resources without sustainable patterns and foundations in the name of unsustainable growth with the justification of being a poor country.

For example, currently there is an inherent thinking on natural resources as part of the nationalization process to benefit local people because they were always exploited by outsiders, and there are plenty of discourses in every sector, even from those not related to the management of natural resources. However, there are utterly few, if any, thinking on managing resources in a sustainable way. It is not only a matter of property and ownership, “now we manage, control and exploit our natural resources for our own benefit”. There is an urgent matter to integrate them into rational decision-making in both economic and political terms oriented towards sustainability, and obviously in that sense we will benefit our people.

They have to be used wisely and they have to be integrated politically and economically and currently renewable natural resources are barely recognized in our national accounts. For that, there is a process that I think has been going on for a couple of years, but this process has to be strengthened. We have to implement lessons learned to improve ways and for that we need this multi-disciplinary approach. We need the government. We need the BINGOs. We need the private sector. We truly need indigenous communities. I think the message here is that indigenous communities are the actors but neither the entertainers nor the beneficiaries of development projects. That was a mistake.

And, just another anecdote to conclude in this regard. Before we
(my family) came to Bolivia from Oxford, the Queen delivered a speech in 2005 and she said “Diversity is the strength of Britain because we have a cultural diversity of different cultures from the world.” And, when I came here people were saying “Unidad en la diversidad” (Unity in diversity) because we are a very diverse country.

Some people are saying that this is why Bolivia is so fragmented, because we are very diverse. But there is the need to acknowledge that we are a diverse country; that one size fits all doesn’t work; that there is a common ground for indigenous people, and for all in the society. We want to improve our life conditions, livelihoods and well-being. I think the aim is to work towards this goal and for that we need to acknowledge the role of biodiversity, renewable natural resources and the role of indigenous communities in this process. That is the main task that we have to undertake in the current interesting and challenging circumstances in Bolivia.

Published in In Motion Magazine June 10, 2007.

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