Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bolivia: Random Thoughts On Evo's New Government

This might be dated, but I just read MABB's good post on the "Pre-Inaguration" of President Morales, where Evo in the Unku or traditional robe of the Colla high priest, was invested with authority in a ceremony at Tiahuanacu.

A comment from a poster said it reminded her of "post-colonial ceremonies" in newly independent third world countries, that is not off the mark. No matter what his politics and policies, Evo's acension resonates enormously with the indigenous people of the Andean region. And Evo in a very shrewd move, modified the traditional robe and staff of the Aymara to incorporate the indigenous peoples of the lowlands by adding Anacondas to the Condors in the robe, and lowland wood to the silver and gold in his staff.

If anything, Evo's skills as a politician and tactician have never been in doubt. Ecuador's indigenous movement, up to now considered the most well-organized, took a long time to reach such unity between lowlands and sierra people's. Evo not only united them, he also mobilized them effectively to deliver votes.

Historical Claims To Bolivia's Geography?

And there is historical precedent for his claim of authority over this territory, despite what some authors have said about Bolivia simply being "geographically" a country, and not a Nation. The Collasuyu extended from its center on the shores of Lake Titicaca, through the Andean plateau, into the lower valleys, and lowlands of Western Bolivia, as well as parts of Northern Chile, Argentina, and Peru. Lowland peoples such as the Guarani's and some Amazonic tribes are descendants from more nomadic Collas who pushed into that area. The unifier was the Aymara language, and the family/community agricultural system, the Ayllu, which started with familiar and tribal clusters, and which was ruled from above in a complex and interwoven system.

When the Inca ruler from Cuzco defeated the Collas militarily, he was able to incorporate the entire Collasuyu rather easily. TheAyllus of the region, simply switched alleigances to the Inca, whose peoples had also borrowed the communal arrangement from the Collas centuries before.

The rulers from Cuzco, built roads through the Collasuyu, and pushed at the frontier trying to conquer lowland tribes, and populating these regions with Collas, whom were pushed out of parts of the Altiplano and subsituted by Quechua speakers. A good part of what became Alto Peru (and Bolivia) after the Spanish conquest is simply imposed over the borders that the Inca had defined, which was essentially the Collasuyu with some added territory. It simply reflects the natural movements of peoples out of the Andes, incorporating lowlands and tropical regions.

If there is any such thing as a collective memory, the Altiplano peoples, with their common languages, have such a conception of a Nation reaching down the valleys and into the jungles.

Use of Symbols

The fact that we are at this stage in the country, is partly due to Bolivia's largely Andean ruling and middle classes There is a legacy of brutal mistreatment that extended well into the 20th century including a system of quasi-slavery for Indians, known as pongos. Racist attitudes against Indians are strong, Indio De Mierda ("Shit Indian) is a common expression among the upper and middle classes. The obvious irony is that a good chunk of these folks, are clearly descended from the same Aymaras, not only in appearance but clearly in attitude and behavior.

This kind of self-hatred, creates a strange form of self-enforced apartheid, where a premium is put on how "white" vis "brown" you look. It reminds me of the infamous "brown bag" test, used by certain creole social clubs in New Orleans, the lighter the better. There is a

Bolivia's upper and middle classes were finally confronted with the reality of highland native peoples, in the Chaco conflict. Urban youth, shared trenches and misery with the poor Indian conscripts, some dragged in chains from highland mines and farms and delivered to the lowland brush. When they returned from the war, these same veterans wanted to remake Bolivia, to actually create a sense of nation, and improve the Indians life.

The problem was that in order to sell this project to the largely middle class, nationalist voters, they adopted the strategy of referring to the Indians as "peasants" in order to incorporate them into the Bolivian polity. So after the 1952 Revolution, this was largely the focus, and the practical results were the organization of sectors of miners and farm workers, as class-based interest groups, which served as bases of support and votes for the MNR. Given their reality of the country, it might have seemed the only practical thing to do.

In the end, this compromise, might have been a mis-reading of Bolivian reality. They failed to create a sense of nation, which incorporated the largest segment of society - one which was linked by blood to many of the Andean elite. They also failed to connect with the lowlands, and generated resentment that continues to this day. Contrast that to Mexico where the Revolution adopted the symbols of their native peoples and made them part and parcel of the "official" nationalist myth. At the very least that gives everyone a sense of "nationhood" and rich kids are named after Aztec emperors. Sometimes symbols do matter.

Looks like Evo has managed to project a specific view of the Nation, incorporating the native peoples of the highlands and the lowlands, with the traditional nationalistic middle classes in the highlands and in Cochabamba. And Evo also has to remember that the last time around this Nation also collapsed like a deck of cards. This could get interesting.


eric said...

wow, thoughtful commentary!!

A.M. Mora y Leon said...

What a great post!

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