Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Political Science

Publication Date



This paper introduces readers to conflict during the presidency of Juan Evo Morales Ayma over construction of a highway through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in Bolivia. The Morales government is pursuing the highway project that will facilitate local development tied to the capitalist world-system and serve as a segment of a transcontinental system giving Brazil access to ports on the Pacific Ocean, thereby making engagement in the capitalist world-economy by regional South American power blocs more profitable and enhancing Bolivia’s economic and political status internationally. This development is made possible by the exercise of state sovereignty and cooptation of indigenous self-government. It is generating ongoing political unrest and violence, undermining indigenous autonomy, and threatening forest homelands of the Moxeño, Yurakaré and Chimane peoples, designated as both a national park and an autonomous indigenous territory. As a contribution to the discussion of sovereignty and indigenous peoples, this paper examines sovereignty as a mechanism by which capitalist development is imposed in indigenous territories, by both indigenous and nonindigenous political actors. The TIPNIS case illustrates that sovereignty precludes indigenous autonomy and continues to threaten the survival of indigenous cultures and the ecosystems that have sustained them since time immemorial.