Photo by Outside Magazine
Photo by El Boliviano En Vivo

Javier Zavaleta

Minister of Defense

Bolivian Government


Minister of Defense


Bolivian Government








What makes Javier Zavaleta a Global Shaker?

While an inferno rages, threatening peoples’ homes, lives and livelihoods, the only thing that matters is putting out the fire.

So it goes in Bolivia, a country shielded from global scrutiny by a laser focus on Brazil, though a country in which a minimum of 1.2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest have burned this year. That’s equivalent to almost 5% of the country’s total Amazon forest. Fires charged through Chiquitania, a western region in Santa Cruz, affecting 1,817 families from rural and indigenous communities.

After far too much time dawdling and refusing international help, the Bolivian Government arranged for a Boeing Supertanker 747 to come and tame the wildfires. 150,000 litres of water were carried and deployed by the specially outfitted plane, pulling the damage under control.

The man ultimately responsible for the activity was the country’s Defense Minister, Javier Zavaleta.

In a press conference, quoted by FM Bolivia, he said: “We believe that the more the Bolivian Air Force helicopters work; the more water discharges made by the Supertanker, which has already dropped water on the site; and the more drops made over the rest of the morning, we’ll manage to reduce the fire in the area.”

Zavaleta also organised support from Peru and Argentina, with armed forces from neighbouring countries joining efforts to drop water from helicopters over various burning regions — including the northern parts of San Ignacio de Velasco, close to the border with Brazil.

Yet the Government Minister is not free from blame. There has been considerable pushback against Zavaleta’s Government, led by long-term incumbent Evo Morales. The President — first elected in 2006, and now running for a constitutionally impossible fourth term — recently issued a presidential order loosening restrictions for land-clearing fires in the Amazon from 5 to 20 hectares.

Current enforcement is painfully week, with fines for clearing forests reaching just $6.60 per hectare burned — compared to a cost of $1,000 to replant the area.

The Morales Government has also faced stinging criticism for violent repression of indigenous protest against plans to build a highway through a national park and hydroelectric dams in protected areas.

It’s anticipated that it will take the Bolivian rainforest 300 years to recover from the recent spate of fires.

Tags: Amazon Rainforest, Bolivia, Defense, Fires

Last updated: September 5, 2019