April 2008: Update to the Global Board, May 2006: Training (Bolivia)

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Partnership of ACLO and The Hunger Project: Training Rural Indigenous Leaders for Local Development

Introduction

During 2007 and the early months of 2008, Bolivia has faced critical challenges in two arenas: (1) political unrest and civil strife surrounding the process of national constitutional reform; and (2) severe drought and floods resulting from the La Niña/El Niño Cycle. In addition to carrying out the ongoing activities in the training of rural indigenous leaders for local development, ACLO (Accion Cultural Loyola) created and implemented special initiatives in response to these political and natural crises.

Political Crisis of 2007 and ACLO’s Response

Throughout 2007 social unrest was a constant in Bolivia. Constitutional reform was a top priority of President Evo Morales’ new government, and a multi-party, multi-sector Constitutional Assembly was created to draft these reforms. The immediate challenge faced by the Assembly was reconciling two opposing visions for the future of Bolivia. One, supported by indigenous organizations and the popular majority bloc of the Assembly, is a unified, multicultural state recognizing the collective rights of indigenous people and promoting greater social and economic equality. The other, supported by business and civic leaders of Pando, Beni Santa Cruz and Tarija State/provinces, calls for the establishment of state/province autonomy and control of resources. Some of the most controversial issues are hydrocarbon taxation, location of the seat of the government, state/province autonomy and establishment of a mixed economic system.

Tensions were not confined within the Assembly itself, but also took the form of media smear campaigns, strikes and street demonstrations, often erupting into violence.

Attacks against various media and individual journalists began early in January 2007 and increased markedly in the second half of the year. Radio ACLO was named on a list of “Public Enemies” by opposition media sources and received arson threats which thankfully were not acted upon. Several Radio ACLO reporters were attacked personally and others were forced to leave Sucre for the safety of their families.

Consistent with its mission and vision, ACLO continued to support the work of the Constitutional Assembly to promote the participation of rural indigenous organizations in the national debate and in the process of drafting the new national constitution in its ongoing Training of Rural Indigenous Leaders for Local Development. In addition, Radio ACLO, together with the Bolivian Network for Radio Education, initiated a Constitutional Radio Forum with national coverage which reported on the events of the Constitutional Assembly, and brought the national debate between social organizations, constituents, social leaders and public authorities to rural indigenous communities all over Bolivia.

Grassroots leaders in rural communities came together in trainings and workshops which promoted dialogue and reflection on the constitutional process and national, prefectural and municipal government policies, as well as on clarifying such concepts as multinational states, state/province autonomy, cultural identity, and indigenous rights.

Radio ACLO played an important informational role during this process of change which we in Bolivia are now living—walking with the rural indigenous people in this historic journey towards regaining their rights and building a future of dignity.

Training Rural Indigenous Leaders for Local Development

This project’s three year goal is to train 360 leaders (210 men and 150 women) in the state/provinces of Chuquisaca, Potosi, and Tarija. The plan is to complete two training cycles, each cycle including a minimum of 180 participants.

Accomplishments of the first training cycle, begun July 2007, include:

  • 179 people (76 women and 103 men) participated in the three state/provinces;
  • 42% of participants were women;
  • Reached 94% of the planned municipios (34 municipios out of a planned 36);
  • Reached 75% of indigenous organizations in the region (9 out of possible 12);
  • Signed an agreement to train 50 additional leaders (30 women, 20 men) with Tacobamba Municipio in Potosi State/province;
  • Significantly heightened interest and focus on training local human resources in rural municipalities;
  • Signed Agreements with 7 Indigenous Organizations to create alliances for further trainings; and
  • Participants ranged from municipal authorities to grassroots community leaders to young students and academics.

Challenges encountered:

  • Participants who are leaders in indigenous organizations such as Single Women Native Peoples of Chuquisaca, have been called away to focus on issues raised by the Constitutional Assembly.
  • Leaders must balance their other responsibilities and accountabilities, resulting in inconsistent attendance.
  • We had difficulty achieving political diversity as a majority of participants are politically and ideologically aligned with MAS, the President’s party, and will tend to attract others with similar views for future training cycles.

Impacts:

  • Renewed and heightened recognition of and trust in the relevance of leadership skills and knowledge of, for example, civil and human rights and democratic and social institutions, which enables the leaders to guide and lead processes that contribute to the changing political, social and economic conditions.
  • Participant leaders are impacting public opinion in their communities and organizations towards exercising individual and collective citizenship, more active and responsible proposals, and at the same time creating demands for training in other areas such as computer skills, writing and public speaking skills.
  • Leaders are taking more public stands, speaking out on radio and in public forums.

La Niña/El Niño Cycle of Drought and Flood

The El Niño/La Niña phenomenon began its devastating effects in September, first with a prolonged drought that caused delays in the summer planting, then by torrential rainfall for the entire month of January and February causing considerable losses in agricultural production. Among the most significant are:

  • Loss of crops, livestock, tools and, in many cases, entire homes;
  • Loss of arable land and irrigation infrastructure (canals, sockets, pipes); and
  • Deterioration of roads (road landslides, collapse of bridges).

Economic development and its imbalances have also caused an increase in the overall vulnerability in many communities. The deterioration of the environment, poverty and social inequality are factors that contribute to disasters and multiply their fatal consequences.

ACLO Recovery and Preparedness Project

ACLO staff and volunteer people's reporters/community organizers first completed a diagnostic assessment of the damages and needs in four rural municipalities in ACLO’s working areas. While national and international emergency response is sufficient to having people meet their immediate survival needs, there is an urgent need for support of medium- and long-term recovery activities. ACLO created a special six-month initiative to work with 2,064 families in the affected communities with two objectives:

  • To provide humanitarian assistance and technical/logistical training and support to revitalize agricultural production in the short-term: e.g. rebuild soil, plant fast-maturing food crops, etc.; and
  • To strengthen the capacities of the affected communities to manage resources and better respond to emergencies resulting from natural disasters in the future through improved farming techniques, food security measures, etc.

The Hunger Project has made a special one-time grant of US$20,000 towards the costs of this project.