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Recognizing our common allegiance

At a minimum, Bolivia has five very distinct geographical regions. The treeless high plain or 'altiplano' resting at between 3,000 and 4,000 metres lies in the shadow of Andean peaks rising up to well above 6,000 metres.

At a minimum, Bolivia has five very distinct geographical regions.

The treeless high plain or ‘altiplano’ resting at between 3,000 and 4,000 metres lies in the shadow of Andean peaks rising up to well above 6,000 metres. This region probably provides the mental image that most Yukoners have of this central South American land.

But it also has a broad low plain to the east called the Chaco and the Amazonian rainforest to the north.

Temperate transition zones like the Yungas separate the Bolivian highs and lows.

It had another zone until 1883 when, after losing the War of the Pacific to Chile, the peace treaty awarded some 350 kilometres of nitrate-rich Pacific coastline and Bolivia’s outlet to the sea to the victor.

Other bits and pieces have been carved off Bolivia, such as a 100,000-square-kilometre chunk of Amazonia extorted by Brazil during the rapacious days of the rubber boom in the early 1900s.

Paraguay grabbed another 225,000 square kilometres after defeating Bolivia in the Chaco War in 1935. This proxy resource war saw contending oil corporations seeking to extract resource control from the blood being shed. Standard Oil backed Bolivia and Shell took Paraguay’s side.

It has been nearly 40 years since I first visited Bolivia.

At that time, being Bolivian was way down the list of identifiers for most people. First they were Quechua, Aymara or Spanish, then religion would be the next personal marker.

Following those, people would likely describe themselves as being from one of the geographical regions or a particular city. Last, they would say Bolivian.

The global communication revolution has touched even the most remote Bolivian communities.

Evo Morales, the charismatic Bolivian president, as an Aymara person, has gone some distance in engaging the 55 per cent of this nation’s population who are indigenous, in national affairs. Still the idea of Bolivia remains fragile. Two-thirds of Bolivia’s nine departments, the equivalent of our provinces, want more autonomy. The natural-gas-rich Santa Cruz department has groups in it calling for outright independence.

Bolivia isn’t so much a failed state maybe as a pre-state. In some ways it serves as an analogy of our current global situation. I don’t imagine that many of us would consider ourselves first of all as “Earthlings.” The idea of identifying with the whole of the planet and our collective fate on it remains remote.

We still are bound up in old concepts that limit our ability to behave in planet sustaining ways.

This week, France has again tried to claim a larger percentage of the potentially hydrocarbon-rich seabed off St. Pierre and Miquelon on Canada’s Atlantic Coast. The US wants to angle the line from our border with Alaska significantly eastward once it hits the Beaufort Sea.

The race for resources in the Arctic has all circumpolar countries seeking to lay claim to vast swaths of ocean floor far from their coasts.

Maybe it is time to regard off shore resources as part of a global commons as much for the benefit of landlocked Bolivians as for those in bordering countries who tenaciously demand proprietorial rights to them.

This could be a first step in the direction of recognizing our very basic common allegiance to this planet and its and our collective well-being.

The annual Maddison Chair in Northern Justice lecture this year will be given by Ken Coates, dean of arts at the University of Waterloo, at Yukon College in The Pit on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The lecture’s title is Arctic Front—The Sovereignty Debate and the Future of the Canadian North. All are welcome.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste Notes

Sunday, March 29—Fifth Sunday of Lent. A suggested reading is John 12: 20-33.

Monday, March 30—Male African-Americans in the USA won the right to vote in 1870 with the passing of the 15th Amendment to their constitution.

Tuesday, April 1—Nunavut, “Our Land,” is formed from the division of the Northwest Territories in 1999 to help develop and protect Inuit culture.

Friday, April 3—Ramanavami is the Hindu celebration of the birth of Lord Rama, as recalled in the epic religious poem, The Ramayana.