In Historic Move, Bolivian President Grants Indigenous Group Land Ownership Titles

By lmcfarlane

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Bolivia – On July 3, Bolivian president Evo Morales granted the Chiquitano indigenous group permanent land titles over Monte Verde, the group’s ancestral territory. International development and relief agency Oxfam welcomed the historic move and congratulated the group for its persistent work over the last 12 years which resulted in this peaceful conclusion.

Monte Verde, known to the Chiquitanos as Casa Grande, or Big House, is a territory of almost 2.5 million acres located in south-eastern Bolivia near the Brazilian border.

The land titling victory follows more than a decade of grassroots organizing in indigenous communities which resulted in successful advocacy work and public pressure, including five peaceful protest marches where indigenous men, women and children walked nearly 600 miles to reach their local governments to claim their rights to their lands.

“This allows the Chiquitano people to recover land which has traditionally belonged to them,” said Jorge Velazquez of Oxfam International in Bolivia. “It is the beginning of a new stage of their history.”

“We want to recognize the work of organizations within the Chiquitano community – including Concepción, San Javier, Lomerío,” continued Velazquez. “They stood up for their rights and got their land back.”

The land titling recognizes the Chiquitano people’s ownership of the land, which will enable them to strengthen their development initiatives as they seek the best way to manage their forests and renewable resources for future generations.

This is a substantial victory for indigenous peoples and their rights as outlined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples, a policy that has been included in Bolivian legislation as Law No. 1257.

“Oxfam International sees this as a historic moment because land is a critical element of indigenous identity - not only does it provide natural resources for sustenance, but it is also their natural habitat, they are united to it by a series of cultural and spiritual values that give them their meaning, affirm their identity, and guide their lives,” Velazquez concluded.

The Coordinating Committee of Ethnic Peoples of Chiquitania (CPESC), the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB), and the Center for Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS) have worked together during this process, with the support of Oxfam International, to advocate for the Chiquitano people, and to help them build organizing capacity and negotiation skills so that they could play a more active role in Bolivian society.

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