In the current situation, a stable job in Bolivia is very important for every individual and his or her family. Having a job that one enjoys is an additional element difficult to assess. Having a job that not only fulfils you but satisfies you personally and professionally is a lot to ask. My work has both enabled me to fulfil my expectations and to be part of concrete actions that benefited people in need and contributed to the protection and conservation of nature. Such a situation exceeds anyone’s expectations and generates personal and professional motivation and satisfaction that is difficult to measure. In addition, receiving an award that openly recognizes and values my work, is a gift that only God, in his infinite power permits.
These are the feelings I have had since I received the news I would be given the Kenton Miller Award for Innovation in Protected Areas Management given by IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and I personally received the award at the IUCN World Conservation Congress held in Jeju, Korea. This is an award that is given to individuals who contribute new approaches, tools and methods to secure and sustain protected areas.
The overlap of protected areas and indigenous territories is legally compatible in Bolivia. The National Protected Areas Service (SERNAP) is the competent authority on protected areas in Bolivia and many indigenous peoples have pre-existing land rights in their territories. The possibility these two stakeholders can work together to construct a model that enables them to coexist and jointly manage these areas is an on-going process. However, this is not a new issue in Bolivia and there has been much progress already to date. This is important because while conservation of the common space is vital for the livelihoods of indigenous peoples who live in that territory, it is also important for conservation, ensuring maintenance of the natural heritage of all Bolivians.
The work between the Madidi Park and the Leco people of Apollo is an important contribution as they were able to address the little details that make a relationship of this nature easy or difficult. In this context, an important step forward has been the development of a consensus on topics on which joint decisions can be made and others that needed to be dealt with exclusively by one or the other. In addition, another key step is the prioritization of issues in which both actors see a need for capacity building or for design and development of basic instruments for promoting the development model (agreement, regulation, protection plan, communication strategy, etc).
However, work still continues. In Bolivia, fourteen of the twenty-two national protected areas that overlap with indigenous peoples’ territories are legally or legitimately recognized. There are two ways to manage these areas: 1) manage this common territory within a framework of respect for the rights of these peoples and of Mother Earth; or 2) impose actions, interventions or decisions without consultation or listening to others. The role of civil society must be to facilitate these processes and, as is shown in the relationship between the Lecos people and Madidi National Park, one can move forward in building bridges between the relevant authority and indigenous people. In the Madidi case, goodwill, clear rules and shared benefits have led to progress in the construction of a model of shared management.
I feel very fortunate to have been involved in the IUCN World Conservation Congress and to have been able to learn more about the difficult and complex work of IUCN as well as the enormous challenges that the global conservation agenda poses. I feel even more fortunate to work in an institution like the Wildlife Conservation Society which allows me to develop a career in what I love the most and also pays me to do it. I am also very fortunate and grateful to God for WCPA awarding me the Kenton Miller prize, after having been nominated by the Bolivian Protected Areas Commission and the IUCN National Committee This prize has increased my enthusiasm for working harder on the development of innovative tools to strengthen protected areas in the context of respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.