A Guaraní journalist questions the lack of critical coverage of oil production in the Gran Chaco

Photo of Elías Cerezo taken by Jessica Peñaloza Cladera for Rising Voices.

A group of 11 young people from various Indigenous and Afro-Bolivian communities in the Gran Chaco region in Bolivia participated in the workshop entitled “Roipea Taperai” (“Opening Paths,” in the Guaraní language). The workshop focused on the terms used in Bolivian media when reporting on climate change or Indigenous peoples in the region (more about the workshop is available to read here). What follows is an interview with one of the participants in this workshop.

Elías Cerezo is from the Caraparicito community, located in the Alto Parapetí Captaincy in Santa Cruz. He was part of the group of students in the second graduating class of the Escuela de Periodismo Indígena (School of Indigenous Journalism). “I came to the workshops to learn and report news that is not known in our communities,” he says.

He believes that the media should make visible the problems that the drought has caused in his community in recent years. Also, he says, it would be important to show that oil production is not only synonymous with progress, because behind the job creation there are environmental impacts to which the inhabitants of these regions are silent witnesses. In this interview he shares his views on the problems he would like to see made visible in order to find solutions.

Word cloud for the terms “Chaco” and “communities” generated by Media Cloud.

Rising Voices (RV): During the workshop participants chose a word cloud and identified terms. In your case, you chose the cloud resulting from the search for “Chaco” and “Communities”. Within that cloud, you identified the term “oil” as the word you wanted to reflect on. In that sense, how have you seen that term represented in the media?

Elías Cerezo (EC): Esta palabra se representa en los medios relacionada al desarrollo en diferentes fases a nivel nacional, departamental y a nivel comunal.

[Los medios] Siempre muestran este término como si fuera algo bueno porque hay infinidad de trabajo y recursos económicos y porque se dan proyectos también a nivel departamental y a nivel municipal.

Elías Cerezo (EC): This word is represented in the media in relation to developments occurring in different phases at the national, departmental, and municipal levels.

[The media] always show this term as if it were something good because there is an infinity of jobs and economic income and because there are also projects at the departmental and municipal levels.

RV: What words should a word cloud have for the term you chose?

EC: Debería enfocar un poquito más en los impactos que causa y que deja [la actividad petrolera] dentro del territorio. También se debería hablar del tema de salud, porque impacta también en tema de salud y educación y a nivel social hay impacto porque provoca conflictos a nivel social.

EC: It should focus a bit more on the impacts caused and left by [oil activity] within the territory. We should also talk about health, because [oil projects] also impact healthcare and education, because it provokes social conflicts.

RV: During the workshop, the group created an imaginary word cloud with terms they feel represent them. Explain what words you highlighted in your cloud and why?

EC: Nuevamente voy a hablar del impacto, porque a nivel de la TCO, a nivel comunal, hay mucho impacto a nivel social y económico también. La parte económica trae un conflicto en la organización y a nivel comunal.

EC: Once again I am going to talk about the impact [of oil extraction], because at the municipal level, there are a lot of social and economic repercussions as well. The economic part brings conflict within the local organization.

RV: What are the things that are not being told or talked about in the media in your area?

EC: Lo que no hablan los medios de comunicación en este caso es todo el impacto que deja [la actividad petrolera] después de los trabajos. Nosotros allá en la región tenemos la construcción del túnel y también tenemos los pozos que alimentan, es el sector en el que se está explotando petróleo. No se está cumpliendo los compromisos de acuerdo con la licencia ambiental, no se está mitigando completamente en  diferentes fases [el impacto al medioambiente]. Al suelo, al aire, al agua … Del agua, una vez que trabajaron en la construcción del túnel, vimos que ha bajado el nivel de agua para el consumo humano. No solamente en mi región, también en las otras regiones.

EC: What the media does not talk about is all the effects that [oil activity] leaves after the jobs. In the region we have the construction of the tunnel and we also have the wells; it is the area where oil is being extracted. They are not complying with environmental licenses, they are not fully mitigating [their impact on the environment]. To the soil, to the air, to the water … As for the water, once they worked on the construction of the tunnel, we saw that the water level for human consumption has dropped. Not only in my area but also in other regions.

RV: What examples of damaging or incorrect information have you seen in the media or social networks about your area?

EC: Ellos simplemente te están mostrando todo lo que es productivo y superficial, pero no se está mostrando en realidad el problema que deja la empresa. No muestran los impactos después del hecho.

EC: They just show you everything that is productive and superficial, but they are not really showing the problems that the company is leaving behind. They don't show the aftermath.

RV: What do you want the people of the Gran Chaco to know about climate change in the region?

EC: Prácticamente eso tendríamos que trabajarlo como un proyecto para poder difundir cómo se puede trabajar en la importancia de cuidar el medioambiente en nuestra región. La contaminación que es muy grande a nivel nacional, entonces nosotros debemos comenzar a difundir esta información, quizá en algún documental  para que la gente deje de contaminar o dejar de botar basura.

EC: In practice, we would have to develop this as a project to be able to disseminate how to care for the environment in our region. Pollution is very high at the country level, so we should begin to disseminate this information, perhaps in a documentary, so that people stop polluting or stop throwing garbage away.

RV: What do you want the people of Bolivia and the world to know about climate change in your area?

EC: Ahora, en nuestra región afectó mucho el tema de la sequía. Entonces quisiera que se sepa que todos los productores han perdido prácticamente su sembradío, sus productos. Ahora hay una susceptibilidad de que al año que viene otra vez va a volver a cambiar el clima y que ya no va a llover. 

EC: Currently, drought has had a great impact on our region. So I would like it to be known that all the producers have practically lost their crops, their products. Now there is a susceptibility that next year the weather is going to change again and that it will no longer rain.

The Roipea Taperai media literacy workshop was held on July 2 and 3, 2022 in the town of Charagua, located in the south of the department of Santa Cruz (Bolivia). It was promoted by Global Voices, a partner of the Fundación Avina, in the project “Exploring and shifting narratives on climate change in the Gran Chaco” within the framework of the global project “Voices for Just Climate Action.” For this workshop, Global Voices collaborated with the School of Indigenous Journalism, a project carried out by the ORÉ – Legal and Social Support Organization.
Jessica Peñaloza Cladera participated in this interview with Elías Cerezo.

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