Bolivian President Morales Bows to Pressure and Cancels Amazon Highway

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that he would rescind the contract awarded to Brazilian company OAS to build a road through the Amazon rainforest. This is the most recent complication in the production of the three-part road, intended to link Brazilian ports in the Amazon with those in Peru and Chile, resulting in better infrastructure that would encourage investment and trade in Bolivia. The $420 million construction project is primarily funded by the Brazilian bank BNDES, who is responsible for coming up with 80% percent of the project’s financial backing. For a variety of reasons, the construction of the road has become highly controversial. Indigenous groups–who have traditionally served as Morales’s support base, protested the road’s construction, which intends to cut through Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park or Tipnis. The cancellation of the contract with OAS by Morales casts further doubts about whether the road will ever be fully completed.

The road’s unpopularity sparked mass protest from over 1,500 Bolivians, primarily indigenous groups and their supporters, who marched 500km for 60 days to La Paz earlier this year. Critics of the road have suggested that this is an example of Brazil’s regional hegemony in Latin America, arguing that Morales has abandoned his promises to advocate for environmental and indigenous rights. In a piece run by the Guardian at the time of the protests, Ernesto Sanchez, one of the organizers, expressed concern that, “The highway is being built for Brazil so that it can export its products to Bolivia…Here we’d only be left with debts because all the benefits go to Brazil.” In response, Morales claimed that the road would no longer extend into the TIPNIS region. This decision was made in response to the overwhelming opposition from indigenous and leftist Bolivian groups.

Recent developments produced additional speculation as to whether the road’s construction will continue. According to oneBBC report, “the firm had repeatedly ignored instructions and failed to meet various contractual obligations.” Speculation has also been made that Morales’ next goal is to rescind the contracts for completing the other two parts of the road, between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos. President Morales said, “We’ve started a process to annul the road construction contract, which was granted to OAS, because the company hasn’t complied (with the terms),” according to The Chicago Tribune, which has also reported that Morales claimed that “the company had suspended work ‘without justification or authorization.’”

It is unclear whether the road project will now have the impetus to continue or whether OAS will be compensated.

Melissa Moskowitz is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.