Nazareth Flores Cabao: A marcher’s story

28 Feb, 2012 | Sharoll Fernadez and Xenia Elsaesser

Culture and Social issues

Nazareth Flores Cabao is the Vice president of CEPIB, Central de pueblos indigenas de Beni. She is of Italoma heritage and comes from Magdalena, a town in Beni near the Brazilian border. She recently arrived in La Paz with the TIPNIS marchers. Here she tells us her story.

We began planning the march in April. As soon as we found out that they were going to build the road we began our community meetings to figure out how we could stop it. No one paid any attention to us. So we organised our meetings and soon signed our first document: a declaration that the highway should not cross the TIPNIS.
The TIPNIS is the last green lung in the world left to us. It's not that as indigenous communities we don't want roads or communication. We do. We've been waiting for years to become better connected to the outside world. But building that road would be like breaking the heart of the TIPNIS in two.

I left my family behind to march, and that caused my mother a lot of pain. She's diabetic, and during the march she had to be hospitalised. She was so upset, she called me up in tears and wanted me to come home…but how could I when I'm one of the main leaders? I had to be here.

I don't have any children, but I was going to have my first baby during the course of the march. I lost him.

I think things first started going badly for my pregnancy when the police clamped down on us. It was at the beginning of the march: they grabbed everyone, and made no allowances for the old, women, children, no one. They said horrible things to us. If we didn't give in we were beaten, but as the leaders we had to defend what we were doing. We shouted that we weren't going quietly, our march was peaceful, and they were violating our constitutional right.

They grabbed me. They knew I was one of the leaders because they ordered me to be taken first. First they took away our mobile phones, then I was taken to the roadside and told to sit down. When I didn't listen they kicked me in the stomach. There were other people lying there, and the police were standing over them with their boots on their necks. After that they picked us up and threw us into the van. We were tied-up like animals, and fell in there on top of each other. It was terrible: there were children separated from their families and crying for their mothers. They said you could hear the sobbing from far. It was after that fear and stress that I began to feel the first pains in my stomach. But we continued our march.

I realised I was going to lose my baby when we got to Chuspipata. They were supposed to take me in an ambulance, but there was a whole group of sick women and children there, so I said I'd let them go instead. But when we got to Chuspipata I fainted. After that I can't remember much more, I think it was foggy, and raining. I couldn't go to the doctor because there were so many sick people already….then I had this meeting I had to go to. Finally it was three in the morning, I was alone in my tent, and I realised I was suffering a haemorrhage. But there was nothing I could do.

All I could think was that my baby definitely wasn't there, because of the amount of blood everywhere. There are no words for what I felt then. Losing your baby is a terrible thing. I hope that this sacrifice I made as a human being, and as a woman, will come to something.

I decided to carry on marching, and did not relinquish my position. The public were very benevolent to us on the march, but even that could be problematic, because then we had to transport what they gave us. Caritas helped us out with transport for some time, but there were so many of us that it was never going to be enough. And the people were often dissatisfied despite the fact that the committee was trying our hardest. But they had no idea what we were doing, and what had to be done in order to get the bare minimum of support. We were running around all the time trying to get things done. During the day we never got any rest because donations would arrive until late in the night. Then we'd often had to be up at five or six in the morning to sort out logistics and share out what food we had.

Once I had to stay behind with a woman whose arm had been broken. We managed to find some transport and eventually caught up again. When we reached the other marchers we saw that there was no water. But everyone was crying out for water. So when we got the next camp I had to direct the leaders to get water immediately, and we went and found some to give out. It was such a painful experience for me, seeing all my companions marching on and crying out for water. I think that the reception we received in La Paz was like a consolation for all the suffering we'd had on the road, the hunger, the thirst. I'd heard that Paceños are all masistas, that people wouldn't receive us well here. But I think that people were outraged at what had had been done to us en route, to practically defenceless marchers.

From this experience, I've learnt that you have to fight for your rights. The indigenous people are conservationists. We won't tolerate colonisers or anyone else coming in here to tear down our forests. Otherwise we'd have nothing left. If necessary I would do it again. And I'd say to anyone else whose human rights are being violated that you have to fight. As human beings we have to fight for a heritagethat's not just about us Bolivians, but about the inheritance of the earth.

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