Hochland- und Tieflandindigene im Konflikt : Land- und Ressourcen-Nutzung in Alto Beni, Bolivien

  • Conflicts between indigenous peoples of the highlands and lowlands : land and resource use in the Alto Beni region of Bolivia

von Stosch, Kristina; Schoop, Wolfgang (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : Publikationsserver der RWTH Aachen University (2011)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Aachen, Techn. Hochsch., Diss., 2010


Land is the fundamental basis of existence of small scale farmers in Latin America. Vast areas of the tropical lowlands in Bolivia were given to indigenous farmers from the Andean highlands for agricultural use. This agrarian colonization started one generation ago without taking into account the ownership and usage rights of the indigenous peoples of the lowlands. The present study investigates the resulting interethnic conflicts between indigenous peoples from the highlands and lowlands. These conflicts relate primarily to the use of the land and its resources (in particular with respect to logging). In terms of modern conflict investigation this treatise aims not only to describe the conflicting situation, but also to present an assessment of the proposals accepted as solutions by the people concerned. The investigation is based on the following split thesis: "Conflicts over the use of land and resources endanger the cultures of ethnic minorities (in this case the Mosetenes). An intercultural approach to conflict prevention not only contributes to encouraging peace, but might also contribute to the preservation of cultural values." The Alto Beni region was chosen for its relatively small, self-contained location, which is highly suitable for an illustrative analysis. Based on the work of the international research for the promotion of peace and including existing local analysis, the terminology and taxonomy of the field are applied to this region and its specific conflict areas. Some first-hand field investigation has been added to these sources. The research methods are qualitative, including "problem-oriented, structured interviews" and "group interviews" to obtain helpful information. This participative procedure enables statements about self- and external assessment of the opponents in the respective conflict situations. A review of the historical development of both ethnic groups is necessary at this stage. They have different experiences with regional mobility, which can explain the divergence in their culture-specific thought-process. Particularly noteworthy are the different concepts of land-ownership and land-use in both eco-zones: the individual allotment (tierra) in the highlands contrasting with the communal agricultural plot (territorio) in the lowlands. Both concepts have spiritual roots, which have to be factored into the analysis of the conflict. Similarly, the organisational structure of the two groups developed differently. The highland people live in close family units (ayllus) and have a long tradition of trade unions. In recent years they have furthermore acquired a considerable political standing, which they know to use for their own benefits. Contrary to this, the indigenous people of the lowland are often associated with a semi-settled lifestyle and irregular gathering activities. This has long since led to widespread negative attitudes towards this group. Further differences to be considered when analysing the conflicts are the national laws that apply in different ways to the indigenous people of the highlands and the lowlands. On the one hand, the agrarian reform was taken advantage of mainly by highland farmers, while the declaration of the indigenous territories secured the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the lowlands. Occasionally these social-political decisions lead to opposing claims affecting the same piece of land. The study furthermore investigates additional causes of conflicts. This concerns the integration of people affected by the conflicts in judging the roles and interests of the conflict participants. A sustainable management of the conflicts in order to secure lasting peace can only be achieved by incorporating solutions proposed and supported by the people and other participants. The same applies to third parties involved in the conflict (terceros), whose perceptions and assessment have been integrated through expert- and key- person- interviews. The analysis of the conflicts has shown that it was necessary not only to give a systematic overview over the complex conflicting relations but also to develop conflict patterns. Furthermore, the review of the respective conflict behaviour of both groups has lead to the acknowledgment of the interethnic dialogue by the participants themselves. Based on proposals of all involved persons a catalogue has been developed, containing all mentioned solution strategies and preventing measures. It contains political and legal solutions (e.g. strengthening the indigenous autonomy); operative solutions (e.g. the use of global positioning systems and employing land guardians); as well as socio-cultural solutions (e.g. improving both basic and adult education). A comprehensive evaluation method checks the viability of these solutions. The investigation shows that a peaceful coexistence is desired, and indeed possible. However, this requires all those involved, including the government, development organizations and representatives from the economy, to be willing to work for an agreement and to take responsibility for upholding it. Additionally, the analysis confirms that the cultural minority of lowland indigenous people has become increasingly aware of their own identity, drawing strength from this new situation. Now it is important to continue this process of intercultural dialogue. Development organizations and governmental institutions (the body overseeing the agrarian reform, the national forestry commission) have likewise been involved in this study and contributed to the catalogue of solutions. They await the results of this investigation with great interest, which in parts will form the basis of new legislation, developed in agreement with both conflict parties, to improve their protection.


  • Economic Geography of Services Teaching and Research Area [551720]
  • Division of Earth Sciences and Geography [530000]