The first email arrived on July 14. “Reaching out to pass along some fresh ‘industry happenings’ from the heart of Bolivia’s golden dorado region,” it began. “I figured the Drake might be interested in looking into it, as it seems on par with the prior articles investigating Deneki.”
The “happenings” had occurred the week before, when the Angling Frontiers (AF) lodge owned by Bolivian-born/Dallas-based outfitters Patrick Taendler and Frederico Marancenbaum was burned to the ground in the Bolivian jungle. One might assume that this initial email, and the stream of texts, in-person probing, and inquisitive phone calls that followed it, would’ve all asked the same two-part question: Who did this, and why?
But the question many were asking was far more specific: Was AF’s torched lodge the work—directly or indirectly—of competing outfitter Marcelo Perez, owner of Untamed Angling (UA) and a man considered by Taendler and Marancenbaum to be their central if not sole adversary in the fight to sell pricey South American flyfishing trips.
“This seems like the unfortunate climax to a long history of sabotages between Bolivia’s two dorado operators,” the July email continued. “With the ‘hearsay’ culprit in this case being Untamed Angling. And now, UA has an unchallenged monopoly in the country.”
Attention spans being what they are these days, flyfishing-community chatter about the incident tapered off for a few weeks. But speculation exploded again on Sept. 5, when Angling Frontiers made an incendiary Instagram post featuring photos of its burnt lodge and descriptions of what had happened to the company’s base of operations, which they call “Casare Camp” due to its proximity to the Casare River. Neither Perez nor Untamed Angling is named directly, but anyone familiar with the Bolivian market for dorado flyfishing knows that AF and
UA are the only two companies that occupy it.
The AF post received more than a hundred supportive comments, including a few of the “we know who did this” variety. Despite not naming a suspect, whoever wrote the Sept. 5 diatribe seemed clear on the perpetrator’s motives, and placed blame not only on “the competition” but on any person or company in the flyfishing industry that chooses to support that competition: “Unethical competitors become a toxic and cancerous presence that continues to grow due to support they get from some members of the industry who may not even know they are contributing to an operator that engages in immoral and even criminal behavior,” the post reads. “This support fuels the unethical competitor and perpetuates the damage they cause to countless people and even to areas that would otherwise be protected by some other ethical operation.”
Based on this very public sharing of their perspective, it is clear that Taendler and Marancenbaum view Angling Frontiers as an ethical operation and their competition as an unethical operation. What’s less clear is how AF is viewed beyond those posting positive vibes on its social page. Specifically, what opinions of Angling Frontiers are held by the Tsimane people living near its base in the Beni department of Bolivia? Whoever authored AF’s impassioned ’Gram post addressed this question in his final comment: “Our relationship with our indigenous partners was going strong as always.”
The ten-year history of Angling Frontiers’ operations in Bolivia suggests otherwise. Indeed, a pattern of discord had begun by 2012, four years before AF’s lodge was even built.
According to a 2013 story in El Guardián Beniano (a digital newspaper covering the department of Beni), a tour operator named Jhonny Leigue signed an agreement on March 26, 2012, to be the exclusive provider of sportfishing tours in an area controlled by the Gran Concejo Chiman (Great Tsimane Council). This organization represents the Tsimane indigenous communities settled inside and outside TIPNIS—Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure, also known as Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory. TIPNIS is double-protected: environmentally as a national park since 1965, and culturally and legally as indigenous community land since 1990. It is not only home to three indigenous peoples—the Yuracaré, Mojeño-Trinitario, and Chimán—but, since June 2009, these three indigenous groups also collectively hold its title.
Leigue’s agreement was signed by then Tsimane Council president Enrique Cunay. But Leigue claimed a second agreement was signed just ten months later, in Jan. 2013, “with Angling Frontier, a company of North American origin represented by
Mr. Patrick Taendler, to exploit the same Sport Fishing Circuit.”
According to the El Guardián story, the agreement with Angling Frontier “was modified in January 2015 with clauses totally contrary to the rights of the noble Tsimane people, prohibiting work in said area for indigenous people living as tourist guides and forcing them to participate in other tasks without remuneration, prohibiting them from partaking even in the traditional fishing they carry out for their subsistance, and worse, including a confidentiality clause, wanting to hide the harmfulness of this agreement.”
Consequently, the Council passed a resolution on July 20, 2015, suspending all tourist activities in the region, “until the legal situation of the contracts and agreements the companies signed prior to this resolution can be resolved.”
Whether the legal situation was never resolved, or AF simply ignored the suspension, three years later, in fall of 2018, Angling Frontiers received an eviction notice from the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) for operating on public land. A special commission had been formed earlier that year by representatives of Bolivia’s National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), INRA’s technical-legal team, and CIDOB, specifically to address charges against Angling Frontiers.
“A written complaint from CIDOB, dated September 13, 2018, against Patrick F. Taendler, legal representative of the tourism company Angling Frontiers, notified these people that they must leave these public lands within 10 days,” read a statement from Eloy Poma, INRA’s General Director of Land Administration at the time. “Otherwise, we have the power to take the corresponding legal actions.”
These legal actions include the option of “community justice,” which is essentially any equitable punishment delivered outside the confines of the official criminal-justice system. According to a 2021 research paper by the University of California Berkeley School of Law, Bolivia’s community justice system uses oral proceedings, and “authorities are free to make decisions based on the circumstances of any particular case.” The paper explains that while more serious crimes, like murder, are typically turned over to the “ordinary” authorities, a number of lesser offenses are most often handled via community justice. Number one on that list of lesser offenses is “conflicts over land.”
Bolivia incorporated these indigenous laws into its larger legal system more than thirty years ago, on the grounds that the “ordinary justice system” doesn’t extend to the country’s most remote areas. (Barely half of Bolivia’s smaller towns have judges, and less than a quarter have prosecutors.) Prior to 2009 these community judicial proceedings could still be overruled by the ordinary system, and prosecutors would sometimes seek charges against indigenous authorities for carrying out their judgments. That changed with the 2009 Constitution (Bolivia’s 17th since declaring independence from Spain in 1825). The latest version, with the backing of then President Evo Morales—Bolivia’s first indigenous president—removed the ability for the ordinary justice system to review or alter community-justice decisions.
On Dec. 5, 2018, after waiting nearly three months for AF to comply with its eviction notice, Gimena Borges, Departmental Director of INRA Beni; Pedro Vare, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB); and Sonia Ave, representative of Central de Indigenous Peoples of Beni (CPIB), filed a criminal complaint against Angling Frontiers with the prosecutor’s office at the Public Ministry, which allowed the Public Prosecutor’s Office to “investigate the illegal actions regarding the subjugation of land.”
An on-site commission had begun investigations in mid-Sept, immediately following the eviction notice. What it found “evidenced the permanence of this company within the fiscal territory,” according to a story published Dec. 5, 2018, on the Trinidad-based news site Informándote.
“We have shown that in this place there are personnel who are operating through a tourist company based in the city of Santa Cruz,” Borges said. “It offers services through web pages to foreigners, generating a profit of more than 5 thousand dollars per person, to carry out the indiscriminate hunting and fishing of our wild species that are probably in danger of extinction, and that these companies benefit from this illegal activity.”
As this story was unfolding in Bolivia, a strikingly similar one broke in the US over Thanksgiving, involving New Jersey-based outfitter Acute Angling being kicked out of Brazil for “operating without government approval and manipulating indigenous people.” Court documents in that case charge Acute Angling with distributing cash to a few local leaders in exchange for access.
It’s unclear whether the fire that befell Casare Camp was due purely to lack of permission or partly to lack of payment. Angling Frontiers charges $550 per guest to be “re-distributed by the indigenous leaders to all communities participating.”
The presence of a community justice system where Angling Frontiers built its lodge does not mean that a competing outfitter played no part in burning it down. But it does invite the obvious question: If the governing authority over this patch of Bolivian jungle has spent four years waiting for an outfitter to comply with an eviction notice, wouldn’t that governing body have plenty of motive to “take corresponding legal actions?” At a minimum, it seems fair to question the assertion—privately held and publicly shared by Angling Frontiers—that their lodge was burned down by “an unethical competitor.”
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.