Bolivian President Evo Morales' favorite cause-célèbre has always been coca — the small leaf that is a key element of Andean culture and is central to cocaine production. But recently, he's seemed more keen to stump on behalf of Mother Earth, chastising the developed world's lamentable environmental track record and vowing to lead the planet toward a more sustainable future. Last week, his government made history when the U.N. voted unanimously to accept Bolivia's proposal to make water a human right. "In the hands of capitalism everything becomes a commodity: the water, the soil, the ancestral cultures and life itself," Morales wrote in a 2008 open letter on climate change. "Humankind is capable of saving the earth if we recover the principles of solidarity, complementarity and harmony with nature."
Yet in his own backyard, Morales isn't looking so eco-valiant. Indeed, a series of environmentally disruptive development projects have many critics claiming that the leader of Bolivia is more talk than walk when it comes to the fragile planet earth. "Morales' environmental crusade feels like just a show," An indigenous community located within Bolivia's Isiboro-Sécure National Park (TIPNIS), where construction is about to begin on a highway that will cut through the heart of protected area.
The government insists projects like the one through Isiboro-Sécure must be done. Furthermore, the Morales administration says that the 300-km road that runs through the preserve will connect the states of Beni and Cochabamba and is necessary to enhance goods transport between the regions. Currently getting from one side to the other means driving three times as far through the eastern state of Santa Cruz.
But Isiboro-Sécure is home to numerous unique flora and fauna species, including 11 endangered animals. Meanwhile, TIPNIS is the last remaining territory where Moya's ethnic Mojene people live in relative cultural isolation. Thus, the highway has provoked outrage and protests that have already claimed two lives. "We know we need development, but it shouldn't have to lead to extinction."
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