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Bolivian indigenous struggle to be heard – by indigenous President Morales

Indigenous groups across Latin America are increasingly butting heads with leaders they elected and demanding greater participation in decisions that affect their ancestral lands.

Residents walk to set up a roadblock Sept. 20 to keep protesters from continuing their march to La Paz, Bolivia, to rally against the construction of a road through the TIPNIS nature preserve.

Juan Karita/AP

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When Evo Morales was elected Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2005, José Ortiz, a national indigenous leader, was hopeful.

But today Mr. Ortiz stands in Plaza San Francisco in Bolivia's administrative capital of La Paz protesting against the man who was once his key ally. Marchers carry signs calling Mr. Morales a liar during a nationwide strike after police quashed a deadly protest against a road through rain forest that the government vowed to build, despite indigenous protests.

"At the beginning it was different; we worked together. The government even comes from humble beginnings. It identified itself as an indigenous government." Now, he says, "we've lost confidence."

Ortiz's disappointment is being felt in pockets across a continent once optimistic that the tide had finally turned in favor of indigenous rights.

Morales's election, followed by inaugurations across the region of presidents promising more social inclusion, had spurred hopes that new leaders would stand up for the interests of native peoples. But many groups are increasingly butting heads with the governments they elected and demanding greater participation in decisions that affect their ancestral lands, especially as it relates to massive energy and infrastructure projects these fast-growing nations see as key to their development.

Rifts in the Andean region


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