Local NGOs and Amnesty International call for suspension of Supreme Decree 3973 allowing “controlled burns” and investigation into perpetrators responsible for forest fires crisis
An open letter was sent to president Evo Morales calling for the suspension of Decree 3973.
Bolivia’s liberalisation of
agricultural expansion into forest lands – itself deemed illegal by analysts –
has resulted in fires burning over two million hectares (ha) since mid-August,
particularly in the country’s South-eastern Chiquitanía.
The fires, which have killed at
least two fire fighters, have prompted 21 Bolivian NGOs to describe them
of the worst natural disasters” in Bolivian history and call for the
Supreme Decree 3973 – a controversial July 2019 policy greenlighting millions of hectares of additional agricultural expansion into previously protected areas – authorises the use of “controlled burns” of state or private forests by those developing agricultural lands in El Beni and Santa Cruz departments – mostly cattle ranching and soy farms.
Prior to Decree 3973 such burns were restricted
to private lands in Santa Cruz alone.
In late August Bolivian
Tiempos reported that the NGO Tierra Foundation had found that 70% of
the fires were in “fiscal properties owned by agricultural companies” in areas
recently opened up by the decree.
The local conservation group FAN
has identified 700,000ha of fires in forests within protected reserves in the
Amnesty International has also
intervened, issuing a 9 September Open
Letter to Evo Morales arguing that “the State of Bolivia should
suspend the application of Decree No. 3973 until it can confirm with certainty
that its implementation has not contributed to the causes of the fires”.
Amnesty also calls for legal
justice, suggesting that “the State has an obligation to investigate the causes
of the fires and, if it corresponds, to identify and punish those responsible
with full respect of national legislation and international human rights law”.
For their part, the NGOs squarely
lay the blame at the feet of the Forest and Land Authority (ABT), which “as a
specialized technical instance, had to reject the proposals for clearing near
the Chiquitano Dry Forest and propose alternative methods to controlled
In August, ABT’s director
suggested most fires had not been authorised, alleging that less than 3% of the
fires were approved.
Bolivia’s National Agrarian
Reform Institute (INRA) has also been highlighted as having responsibility,
with the Secretary General of the Government of Santa Cruz, Roly Aguilera,
reporting that fires had started in forest lands granted by INRA in ways that
constituted an “illegal
While the fires have reduced in
scale and ferocity in recent days, it remains to be seen if Decree 3973 will be
suspended or if a credible investigation will be undertaken.