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The contemporary organizations of lowland indigenous peoples emerged in the 1980s and coalesced around the Indigenous Confederation of Eastern Bolivia (cidob). The event that put cidob definitively on the national public stage was the March for Territory and Dignity, which traveled from Trinidad to La Paz over thirty-four days in 1990. The motivations behind the march emerged especially in the department of Beni, as a reaction against the appropriation of ancestral indigenous lands by logging companies, and to the south of Moxos province, as a reaction against encroachment by illicit coca growers.

The march had a profound national impact. President Jaime Paz Zamora, accompanied by a delegation of cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders, went to meet the procession midroute, at the small subtropical hamlet of Yolosa, in the hopes of defusing it. Yet the marchers rejected the government’s concessions, which they considered inadequate, and continued on their way. When they arrived in the capital city, there was an outpouring of public sympathy. The march led to the passage of supreme decrees that recognized “indigenous territories” for the first time in the history of the country. The march also accelerated Bolivia’s ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, the so-called bill of rights for the world’s indigenous peoples. The account that follows, by the journalist Alex Contreras, comes from his prophetically titled book One Stage in a Long March (1991). In subsequent years, similar marches would have similarly significant national repercussions.

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