Five days at a time, Luis Pardo López was now in the fires around Chiquitina, in the south-east of Bolivia. The owner of a men’s fashion store in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s fourth largest city, is one of hundreds of volunteers who have mobilized in the Andean state in recent days to fight the forest fires in the country. Neither did they want to wait for the help of the government, nor did they trust that it actually arrives. After all, the fires have been raging since the beginning of August, and little has been done about it. Despite the call of civil society to finally allow international aid, the government around Evo Morales was passive for weeks. There was a lot of time left until a large tanker and fire-extinguishing helicopter was launched.
It burns not only in the Amazon rain forest, but also in the Gran Chaco, a hundreds of square miles big Region with different vegetation, which extends from Argentina through Paraguay to Bolivia. Chiquitina in the Santa Cruz department, surrounded by the Brazilian border, is part of it.
Fyour laid with old car tires
Meanwhile, over a Million hectares of Land have been burned. This corresponds to one tenth of Switzerland. However, the actual effects will only become apparent in a few weeks. Because still many fires are not cleared. Some have been burning for some time, others have been added. “The current Chaos”, explains Luis Pardo via WhatsApp, “is used to set additional fires.“The 33-year-old, who is on site together with his roughly thirty compañeros, speaks of fires that had been laid with the help of old car tires and dry tree trunks; every 20 to 25 meters they would have found appropriate fireplaces. “We have to carry this disaster to the public,” says Pardo, tired of night duty. “I want people to know what is happening in my country.”
Others in Bolivia, such as the students of the communication sciences at the University of Cochabamba, also want to do so. Many of them are young mothers who cannot enter the crisis zone because of their children. This is why, like elsewhere in the country, they have organised a WhatsApp group consisting of volunteers, firefighters, Housewives, veterinarians and national and international journalists. There is talk of relief supplies, new gloves, face masks, boots, drinking water and food. Even if the WhatsApp messages appear somewhat chaotic in between: they allow rapid communication between city and country, between supply centers and crisis areas. It also shows the commitment of civil society.
Every day new pictures, Videos, and eyes to run of witnesses reports in the news channel: charred, water pigs, and Tapirs, of meters high flames, and even higher smoke. On one of the Videos you can see helpers who are desperately trying to protect their comunidad from the blight of fire by Hand. On Tuesday, Chiquitania police arrested two men who tried to clean up more areas with petrol and old car tires. Apparently, according to the responsible police commander, the men had lost control of the fire - as elsewhere.
How much calculation is actually behind the fires is difficult to say, especially since fires in the affected Region are everyday in this season. However, they were additionally legitimized by Evo Morales at the beginning of July. By decree, the Bolivian President has approved controlled fires to open up new agricultural areas in Beni and Santa Cruz, exactly where the fire is currently raging. “We have the task and Mission that Bolivia is growing economically,” said Evo Morales, at the time, and called on livestock farmers to build modern cooling systems to Bolivian meat in the world export.
Bolivia will export meat for $ 150 million in 2020, the president of the Bolivian Institute of foreign trade recently told the Online Portal dialogochino.net I told you. The aim was, however, to increase the number of cattle within ten years from 10 million to 17 million animals. According to the Bolivian livestock farmers and their 2020-2030 plan, which was presented at the beginning of 2019, the area for livestock farming would have to be increased from currently 13 million hectares to 20 million hectares. Fire extinguishing is the fastest and cheapest way to do this. Since the turn of the millennium, the agriculture industry has made considerable use of it. Between 2000 and 2013 alone, 32 million hectares were burned throughout the country, mainly for livestock and agriculture; one third of these were forest fires.
On a wavelength with Jair Bolsonaro
The Bolivian livestock farmers feel strengthened by the high demand from China with its fast-growing middle class. A soya Export agreement was concluded at the end of 2018, one for meat in April of this year. As the most important donor of the Andean state, China has now established itself in the Bolivian lowland with various infrastructure and raw material projects-mainly oil and Gas. Morales also had his fingers in the game when he announced in mid-2015, to drive corresponding projects in protected areas. This was a “wise and responsible decision,” he said at the time, saying that Bolivia would not submit to the foundations and NGOs from Europe and the United States that opposed these activities.
His words recall those of Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, said after the announcement of Germany and Norway, to suspend their financial support for the protection of the Amazon, succinctly: “Norway Is the country that kills over at the North pole, whales and oil? They have nothing to offer us and are supposed to give Angela Merkel their money for the afforestation of Germany.”
The European governments may have a double discourse: on the one hand conclude trade agreements for grain and meat imports with Latin American States, and on the other hand donate money to protect the Amazon. In addition, after the fire of Notre Dame in Paris in April 850 million dollars was promised in a very short time, but the G7 wants to support the countries of the South American rain forest “only” with 20 million. Rejecting international aid, as Brazil and Bolivia are currently doing, is almost cynical in times of climate change.
Evo Morales, the first indigenous President of Latin America, was once started as the hope of a whole continent, he, the Coca farmer from Isallavi, a small community of Aymaras in the southwest of the country. Today, the former union leader is compared with the far-right president of his neighbouring country and has been accused of environmental genocide by the Indigenous organizations of the Amazon basin last week. How weak his connection to Pachamama, Mother Earth, was shown a few days ago, when he first forced himself into a jumpsuit and equipped with a water tank media efficaciously helped to clear the fires in Chiquitania. The fact that he lost about an hour in the woods can be noted as a marginal note. However, the fact that he did not enter the cameras 24 hours later with the Chinese ambassador in Santa Cruz and the Export of the first 24 tons of beef to East Asia is proof of the dependence on the agricultural industry, one of the most influential sectors of the Bolivian economy.
Coca plantations destroy the soil
Daniela Leyton Michovich, political analyst, and activist from La Paz, is not surprised by the behavior of the Bolivian President and the two faces of Evo Morales highlights’: to the outside of the friend of mother earth, a so-called Pachamamista, to the Inside, a servant of the elites. Morales had already been romanticized, especially from abroad, without his actual interests were perceived. “His political Agenda was reduced to coca farmers,” says Daniela Leyton in conversation. “He was not interested in a political reorientation of Bolivia and has to this day to recognize his own people – in particular indigenous people of other comunidades.”
Leyton refers to the conflict in the Tipnis National Park in the center of the country, where Morales announced, despite the fierce resistance of the local comunidades, to build a motorway across the Park. Even as a leader of the cocoons, he wanted to open up this fertile area, “this he owed his base, the cocaleros”. In 2011, when he launched the motorway project as president of the Republic, this was also a sign of the cocoons, which began to sow more and more in the National Park. “The coca plant,” explains Leyton, “ dries out the soil sooner or later, and producers have to search for new areas.”
In a month and a half, presidential elections will take place in Bolivia and Evo Morales, who has been in office since 2006, will run for a fourth term. According to analyst Daniela Leyton Michovich, he will be able to get the votes of the coca farmers, as well as those of the livestock farmers and the soy producers. “The fires ultimately serve the old elites in the country, as well as Morales himself.“Those who suffer, on the other hand, are once again the indigenous people who, according to Leyton, will be expelled from their territories in the coming months and years. It expects that illegal landings will soon occur in the areas affected by the fires. In this context, it must be mentioned that in Santa Cruz since 2001 can be cleared by fire. However, the deforestation since the decree in July is also possible on community territory, ie: in the territories of the indigenous.
From different sides it was heard these days that cattle breeders from the USA are already interested in the cleared land. Also interesting are the coca farmers who appreciate the proximity to Brazil and Paraguay. “Because,” says Leyton, “ all this goes hand in hand with drug trafficking.”
However, she does not want to say any more about this. It merely refers to a study from the year 2017, which concludes that only a small part of the Bolivian population consumes Coca in its traditional Form, namely chewing. For this consumption, 15,000 hectares of cultivated land would be enough. However, 22,000 hectares are approved by the government. And the United Nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC) estimates that across the country there were 24,500 hectares of Coca are sown. So the question arises, what happens to the difference. “The answer,” says Leyton, “we can imagine.”