Issue - June 2007

June 2007

This month's issue: Dual Tourism. Bolivian Theatre. More from the Museum of Archaeology. The Peace Corps in Bolivia and many others! Read on and familiarize yourself with some of Cochabamba's happenings! Do not forget...we enjoy recieving feedback from our please write to us and share your comments with us and the rest of Cochabamba! more...

June 2007

New Path for an Old Way of Life

Chapare´s Yuracare and Trinitario tribes are under constant threat from creeping coca plantations. But a new eco-tourism project could bring a different future to these indigenous groups, finds Melanie Stern

By Melanie Stern
Journalism volunteer, Projects Abroad
Photos on location: By Lamin Kamara
Journalism volunteer, Projects Abroad

From a small, somewhat sparse flatshare-cum-office on the Blanco Galindo, with panoramic views of the Cordillera Tunari and Cochabamba´s wealthier northern suburbs, Bastian Muller and Alex Lisperguer Rosales are trying to help preserve two of the Chapare´s threatened indigenous tribes.

Co-founders of the four-month old non-profit “Yuracaré- Trinitario”, German-born tourism graduate Bastien and Bolivian biologist Alex have cannily brought together contacts in the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) field working in the Chapare region and tribal leaders to establish what they dub “dual tourism” as a sustainable alternative for these indigenous groups to becoming cocaleros in the future. Cocha-Banner spoke with Bastien about the initiative and why he needs to campaign for local and federal support.

Cocha-Banner: How did this project get started?

Bastien Muller: I met Alan in Munich while he was writing his thesis about indigenous communites. He got some idea of the problems these communities face while working on this thesis, and came up with the idea of establishing a tourism project there, which was also the wish of the indigenous people. I had been to South America many times before – it is my favourite continent and I´m really interested in the culture - so I got really interested and intended just to visit him there.

But he told me about his wish to start something, we came up with the idea of this project and establishing it together, with my background in tourism, social geography and economics. I had visited many similar projects on other continents, in Africa and Asia, so I had a good idea of what we could do and how we could make it work. We have a friend working for an NGO in the region; he knows the authorities and indigenous organisations so he created some contacts for us. He knows the indigenous leader for the Territario Communitario de Origen, or TCO, where we work now. This leader wanted to start a tourism project too.

CB: Tell us about the purpose of your project?

BM: The purpose is to help the people by giving more value to their culture which could otherwise be lost. Our idea is more that tourism can give more value to their culture, when tourists visit and live with the people, get to know this culture, teach them their language, show them how they cook and so on. There are not many tourists travelling there currently.

The objective is to show the indigenous people that there is interest in them and if they keep practising their culture and traditions, they can have a future. These people could live by growing coca, but they would have to abandon their way of life. The government has said that there will be no change in the power of the cocaleros, and believes if there are more people employed to make money by growing coca, then it helps stabilise the economy, so why should they stop them? Seventy percent of the coca coming from Bolivia is grown in the national parks, so preserving these tribes is the very last consideration.

CB: Do you have any support from local or federal government?

SM: Up until now we haven´t had much dialogue with government organisations, but we have a meeting shortly with the mayor of Villa Tunari. Villa Tunari is interested in giving these tribes an alternative living too. We had a meeting with the prefecture of Cochabamba in January, but the riots in January concerning Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando seeking independence from the state - which concerned the cocaleros, who are Evo Morales´people – put a stop to that. However, Morales´ government brought in a law that gives land titles to communities, so they can be owners of this territory and have the right to keep out anyone who tries to take over their land for coca growing. If these people can then make money through tourism on their land, a huge area would be protected. The government could then make money by using the land in a productive way, not by growing coca. We are geared to getting this project sustainable and for this to happen our work should allow indigenous people to take their pro t on by themselves without us, because if they always need us then it has not worked. So, we are trying to establish education for the children through this sponsorship, because up until now none of the people have been able to leave the community and gain further education.

CB: Do you have volunteers staying with these tribes now?

SM: No, right now we have volunteers in our office mostly dedicating their time to the tourist side of what we do, to promote us. One works with the tourist office to help prepare tourists going to the region to be ready for the culture shock, so they can adapt and help the people there more quickly. Another volunteer started a child sponsorship program.

CB: Who is working for you now and are you expecting more?

SM: We have two volunteers staying a few months and we had two Australian girls who were here, but we have at least two volunteers signed up with us for the rest of 2007. But this is in our office - it is hard to send volunteers to the communities on their own without us being there. We have one young indigenous guy there who is the president of the association of the indigenous people; he has joined our tourism project, so we are training him and we want him to take on more responsibility. But it is a long process. For these people, living in the jungle is easy, they have everything they need and there is no pressure: If you tell them, call me tomorrow, it could be five days – though actually they don’t have a phone anyway! Our first step towards having volunteers stay in the community was sending Miko, who is an anthropologist and is studying life there, staying by himself. But no one from the community was told to take care of him: he had to look after himself after being shown how tolive there. We have a small cabin there but we still need volunteers to build more infrastructure there, paths, utilities and more.

CB:What type of people can help you?

SM: We need people who can identify what the indigenous people need, and we need real experience. For example, we have a breeding project for Jochi, a wild pig living here naturally which is hunted by the indigenous people and more recently by coca farmers. The tribes are learning to breed them for sale to Villa Tunari, where there is demand. The two Australian girls worked for various NGOs before, while another had finished intercultural studies, and Miko is an experienced anthropologist. A guy who will join us soon has studied and worked with ecological project management.

The Guacharo Birds Canyon
It is now recognized that our community must work to conserve bio-diversity. Bolivia cannot fail to awaken the interests of visitors to discover this countrys amazing natural, cultural and rich bio-diversity resources...
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