Moving Territories: Strategic Selection of Boundary Concepts by Indigenous People in the Bolivian Amazon - an Element of Constitutionality?


In this case study, we analyse to what extent the establishment of the Pilón Lajas Indigenous Territory and Biosphere Reserve in the Bolivian Amazon reflects the six elements of the concept of constitutionality. Our analysis elucidates what happened during the second phase of establishment, in which land rights of lowland indigenous peoples were extended to collective territorial rights including highland indigenous peoples and peasants. The case adds a dynamic perspective on the constitutionality framework by providing a longitudinal analysis of a bottom-up institution building process for natural resource governance.

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  1. 1.

    The executive committee of the CRTM consists of a President, a Vice-President, and one person responsible for the issues Land and Territory, Health, Education, and Gender.

  2. 2.

    During the research period, the Biosphere Reserve saw three Directors, of which two were rangers, assuming their position ad interim.

  3. 3.

    Household and village size vary significantly over time due to the high mobility of residents. During the research period, between 8 and 15 adults lived in Gredal, and between 8 and 12 adults lived in San Luis Grande.

  4. 4.

    Tsimane, Multiétnico 1, Sirionó, and Isiboro-Securé in 1990, and Weenhayek, Araona, Pilón Lajas, and Yuqui in 1992 (see Law No. 1715 1996).

  5. 5.

    CIDOB; Unique Confederation of Rural Laborers of Bolivia (CSUTCB); Confederation of Peasant Indigenous Native Women “Bartolina Sisa” (CNCIOB-BS); Syndicalist Confederation of Intercultural Communities of Bolivia (CSCIB); and the Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ).

  6. 6.

    The TCO’s Tsimane and Mosetene both have a population density of about 2 people/km2 (Ringhofer 2010; von Stosch 2010), while the population density in Pilón Lajas is about 0.5 people/km2 (Bottazzi 2008).

  7. 7.

    Bono Juancito Pinto (incentive for school attendance), Bono Juana Azurduy (support to new mothers), and Renta Dignidad (universal pension fund).

  8. 8.

    Based on a feasibility study conducted by the Italian company Geodata in 2016, the project was recently adapted to consist of two dams, the Chepite and El Bala. The El Bala artificial lake would, at full capacity, flood an area of 9300 ha, of which roughly 4800 ha would directly affect Pilón Lajas (Geodata 2016).

  9. 9.

    Indeed, lowland indigenous peoples, representing roughly 5% of the national population, claim 21% of the national area as indigenous territories (Fundación Tierra 2011; INE 2013). However, it should be noted that lowland indigenous peoples’ lifestyles that are based on hunting and shifting cultivation that require larger areas with little human encroachment.


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The authors thank Jill Belsky and four anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the draft of the article, and Darcy Alexandra and Tina Hirschbuehl for language editing.

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Correspondence to Helen Gambon.

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All actors involved in this research were informed about the aims of the study in a comprehensible manner; their decision to participate or not was respected throughout the research period.

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Gambon, H., Rist, S. Moving Territories: Strategic Selection of Boundary Concepts by Indigenous People in the Bolivian Amazon - an Element of Constitutionality?. Hum Ecol 46, 27–40 (2018).

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  • Bolivian Amazon
  • Conservation
  • Protected areas
  • Indigenous rights
  • Collective property rights