Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

Natural Gas, Indigenous Mobilization, and the Bolivian State

Author:Thomas Perreault
Date: 2008
Publication:Identities, Conflict and Cohesion Programme Paper No. 12, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), 27pp.

This study examines the relationship between natural gas extraction, state restructuring and political mobilization among indigenous peoples in Bolivia. Natural gas has emerged both as Bolivia’s major source of export revenue and as a source of political tensions involving regional governments, the central state, transnational hydrocarbons firms and indigenous peoples. During the 1990s, the Bolivian government, under President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, passed a series of neoliberal measures designed to attract international investment to gas and oil development, and facilitate hydrocarbons exports. Opposition to the government’s plan to export liquefied natural gas to the United States erupted into violent protest in October 2003, forcing Sánchez de Lozada out of office. Continued protests brought down the subsequent government and led eventually to the election in December 2005 of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous campesino president. Protests over the management and distribution of benefits derived from natural gas extraction contributed directly to Morales’ election, and the associated ascendancy of indigenous and campesino social movements as political actors within the state, in contrast to their previous oppositional position external to the state apparatus. In Bolivia, the interests of dominant indigenous groups have become “mainstreamed” in political discourse. But Bolivia’s indigenous population is large and diverse, and divisions remain between the numerous and politically influential Quechua and Aymara peoples of the country’s Andean west, and the numerous, smaller indigenous groups of the eastern lowlands.


Thomas Perreault
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 11/30/2010 21:24:47