Tourism suporting conservation

Madidi National Park History 

The heart of this mosaic is the Madidi National Park. Our efforts in the creation of this park began in the mid 1960’s, which was a time when ecology and conservation were far from people’s minds and we were frequently labeled as being ”insane and against progress”. At that time we also tried to title the lands of the indigenous people in the area, but these efforts did not have much success as, at that time, the local population could not conceive of the land having “owners.” The proposal for a protected area was seen as something strange and not necessary.

The first formal proposal to create a national park was made in the 1970s, for the creation of the Caquiahuaca Park. The proposal was denied.

In the 1980´s lumber companies were acquiring huge concessions and making alarming forays into the area. Rosa Maria Ruiz documented the damage and attempted to generate awareness in the local communities to demonstrate the urgent need for conservation in the area. She proposed the creation of the Madidi National Park. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she initiated encounters with the communities of the region, supporting their organization as indigenous peoples, and proposing the titling of their lands and the creation of national parks. During 1991 and 1992 she went to almost all the communities and family nuclei of the proposed Madidi National Park consulting their opinion on the creation of the same. At that time there were no roads or outboard motors in the region so she traveled by foot and by balsa. She held several meetings in each place explaining what a national park is, analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of a park, and identifying the concerns of the population. With this effort, she obtained unanimous support for the park’s creation. ( Enter to see copies of some of the letters of support from the communities ).

It was not until 1992, after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, that the Bolivian government agreed to consider the creation of the Madidi National Park. It was then that Rosa Maria Ruiz and her mother, Lucie Ruiz, created Eco Bolivia Foundation to strengthen the position to create protected areas that would help increase the quality of life of the local population. Through these efforts, in 1992 the World Bank decided to support the creation of Madidi National Park and committed funds for its administration thus awakening international interest on the importance of this area. During this process, the report of the Rapid Assessment Program led by ornithologist Ted Parker confirming the extraordinary biodiversity of the region was also important.

In spite of all of this evidence and support, the Bolivian government kept finding excuses not to create the park. Among the excuses was the existence of a lumber concession within the area proposed by Rosa Maria Ruiz, and the argument that the proposed area was too large (Rosa Maria’s original proposal covered an area of over four million hectares). On the face of this Eco Bolivia Foundation negotiated for three years with the lumber company, negotiations which were successful but resisted by the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. This government also attempted to reduce the proposed area to a narrow strip on the border with Peru (this would have given them access to the funds promised by the World Bank without protecting the most fragile parts of the region), and finally excluded unpopulated areas of extraordinary biodiversity, and very rich in lumber, from the park. Today these areas are being destroyed without mercy or benefit to the country.

Finally in 1995, thanks to the permanent pressure of Eco Bolivia Foundation, and to the conclusions of an analysis carried out by a consulting group hired by the government, conclusions that determined that the only thing that prevented the creation of Madidi National Park was the lack of political will, the decree creating the park was signed. Thanks to the intense work of Eco Bolivia Foundation, the decree respected all the recommendations made by the communities in the consultation carried out by Rosa Maria Ruiz, and established that the local population should have priority in all the benefits the protected area would generate.

Between 1992 and 2000 Eco Bolivia Foundation established an important network of infrastructure within Madidi National Park and the Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve. This infrastructure was used to empower the local population who learned about their legal rights and proceeded to create and strengthen their own organizations, and to receive and manage quality tourism to improve their quality of life. The Foundation also established strict protection in over 350,000 hectares of the most vulnerable areas of the region even before the park was declared. The irony was that when the government finally established an administrative system for the park, its administrators became its major destructors. Because Eco Bolivia Foundation denounced these deeds, it became the government’s major enemy, and the government proceeded to organize the theft and destruction of all of its belongings, and to carry out an expensive defamation campaign against this institution and its director. (see Bolivia Burning by Christine Fennesy on the internet).