[Marxism] (no subject)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Apr 3 10:00:30 MST 2004

This is for people who have the impression that things in Bolivia have
quieted down since the upsurge that ousted the US-supported government.
A revolution is still taking place.  The article highlights the
importance of workers collaborating and coordinating with the Indian
peasantry to advance the revolution.  Unlike most of the Bolivian
upsurges since 1952, this is an opportunity for a REAL PEOPLE'S
REVOLUTION, something which unfailingly repels the real sects.  

Another thing worth noting is that the Aymara people consider the
generic term "Indios" an insult.  I have come across this with people
who are generally lumped in this country as "Hispanics" or "Latinos" who
often prefer to be referred to by their specific nationality (Peruvians,
Colombians, Salvadorans, etc. -- I suspect that with Bolivian workers,
the situation is even more complicated.  Of course, it is difficult for
someone like myself with a poor short-term memory, just like remembering
people's names tends to be.  
Fred Feldman


Peasant Power in Bolivia
A fragile government in La Paz is further weakened as more and more
indigenous people rise up and take control of their villages.
By Héctor Tobar
Times Staff Writer

March 31, 2004

SORATA, Bolivia — The police won't return to this village in the Andes
unless the peasants promise not to throw rocks at them.

The peasants rose up and chased the police out months ago, along with
the local representative of the provincial government, the judges and
even the army. The authorities fled Sept. 20 in the face of a crowd of
Aymara Indians armed with little more than sticks and stones, enraged by
an insult uttered by an army general hours earlier, and moved by
centuries of pent-up frustration.

Since the uprising, this corner of Bolivia — where the dry Altiplano, a
high plateau, around Lake Titicaca meets lush tropical mountains — has
become a kind of an Indian liberated zone.

"Before, they were the bosses. They made us work, they would run
everything," said Felix Puña Mamani, a resident of the neighboring
village of Viacha, referring to the people of European descent who have
dominated Bolivian society since the 16th century Spanish conquest. "But
people realize what's going on now. It's not like it was before."

As many as 1.5 million people — almost a fifth of Bolivia's population —
live in areas where indigenous authorities have replaced at least some
government functions, said Alvaro Garcia Linera, a university professor
in La Paz who has studied the popular movements of Bolivia's two main
indigenous groups, the Aymara and the Quechua.

"Since 2000, we have seen an enormous, continual uprising of indigenous
people, with a strong element of Indian nationalism," Garcia Linera
said. "In many places, the institutions of the Republic of Bolivia have
begun to fade away."

Bolivia's new president, Carlos Mesa, is attempting to lead a sharply
divided country and a democracy teetering on the brink of collapse a
generation after the last in a series of military dictators stepped
down. His government has shown little inclination to confront the

Guido Arandia, the chief of police for La Paz department, says his
officers won't go back to Sorata and the other towns in rebellion unless
they are welcomed.

"It's not that we don't want to return," Arandia said. "But as long as
there are no guarantees from the community and its leaders, we cannot
place our people at risk."

In Sorata as in other towns of the region, the locally elected mayor and
City Council remain in office — most of them are Aymara speakers and
appear to have the support of the town's non-Indian minority. But
Sorata's connection to the federal and provincial governments in La Paz
remains tenuous at best. The City Council recently considered a hunger
strike to force provincial authorities to free up education funds.

With the police gone, "peasant union police" are the only forces of
order. They wear the tasseled chicote staff that is an ancient Aymara
symbol of village authority.

The Aymara are redistributing land in communal assemblies called Open
Councils that issue edicts in the mode of government pronouncements. At
some public schools, the rainbow-colored Indian wipata flag flies in
place of the Bolivian flag.

People in villages such as Sorata feel that Bolivia's highly centralized
government has failed them. Even before the uprising, the long, slow
decline of that government — which seems more cash-strapped and corrupt
with each passing year — had led the Aymara to rely more on their own,
pre-Columbian forms of communal rule.

For Sorata City Council President Eulogio Soto, government neglect is
just another example of "that racial discrimination and social injustice
which has always been practiced against the Aymara."

Last year, the federal government failed to disburse half of the
$500,000 in public funds promised to Sorata in the annual federal
budget, Soto said.

For decades, council members have been asking the government to pave the
muddy, winding, avalanche-prone road that is the mountain town's only
link to the outside world. The single government bulldozer assigned to
the route is so overmatched by the constant mudslides that groups of
children have taken to working on the road themselves, hoping that
passing drivers will give them a few coins in thanks.

In the face of the central government's broken promises, City Council
members and Indian leaders in Sorata and elsewhere routinely organize
"methods of pressure," such as blocking roads. Since 2000, such tactics
have become commonplace throughout a wide swath of South America, from
Lima, Peru, to the northern Argentine provinces of Jujuy and Salta.

Indigenous Movements

In the Aymara villages of the Altiplano, the most vocal leader of the
rebellion is Felipe Quispe, a heavyset former professor and president of
the peasants union. Known to the Aymara as "el Malku," or the Condor, he
has promised to set off a guerrilla war if his demands on behalf of
Bolivia's indigenous people are not met.

True to his word, four years ago Quispe mustered 20,000 to 40,000
peasants in nearby Rojorojoni to form a "military headquarters."
Quispe's peasant army was equipped with sticks and rifles from the
1932-35 Chaco War against Paraguay, but fought no engagements.
Eventually, all his "troops" went home to their villages. But they have
organized more protests since then, repeatedly cutting off the
Altiplano's highways.

Quispe is something never before seen in Bolivia's racially divided
society: an Aymara nationalist with a mass following who advocates the
creation of an "Aymara Republic." The Aymara, Quechua and other
indigenous groups make up about 70% of Bolivia's 8.5 million people.

Another Aymara leader, Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism party,
has a large following among the mostly Quechua coca farmers of
east-central Bolivia. He finished second to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in
the June 2002 presidential election.

In September, Quispe and Morales announced a nationwide campaign of
protests and roadblocks to halt a plan to export Bolivia's natural gas
reserves, which they saw as a sellout to multinational interests.

Those protests, and the events they triggered in Sorata and neighboring
towns, would eventually bring down Sanchez de Lozada's government.

Sorata's annual religious festival, attended by hundreds of tourists,
was just concluding. The new roadblocks, however, left the tourists
stranded. Defense Minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain arrived to rescue

When word spread that a Cabinet minister had arrived, many people came
down from the hills surrounding the town. Few people here could remember
when such a high-ranking minister had come to Sorata. Community leaders
were eager to tell Sanchez Berzain everything Sorata needed from its

Councilman Marco Antonio Giranda wanted to bring up an irrigation
project. Councilwoman Cristina Quisber wanted to talk about a
long-running request to build a road just over the mountain to farmland
that lies fallow because it's too far to reach on foot.

But the minister said he wasn't interested. According to several
accounts, he was rude and arrogant. "I didn't come here to talk to
anyone," he reportedly said. "I'm here for the tourists."

An elderly woman known as Pacha stepped forward to confront Sanchez
Berzain, according to several witnesses. "And what are we?" she shouted.
"Are we just animals?"

Some residents say one man threw a punch at the minister, though Sanchez
Berzain later denied it. A few say he used the word indios, a slur for
indigenous people. All agree that his bodyguard fired a machine-gun
burst into the air to disperse the crowd.

Soon afterward, the army retreated with the tourists in a caravan of
buses. The police had already left in secret the day before, scared off
by the angry crowds gathering in the town.

Residents built barricades to block the tourist-army caravan as it tried
to wend its way out of Sorata's narrow valley. In an exchange of gunfire
outside town, a local man was killed.

In Sorata, news of the death set off a frenzy of rioting and looting.
Residents and peasants from surrounding villages sacked the local court
offices and the empty police station.

"The police made the campesinos [peasants] cry," said Pablo Choqui, a
40-year-old resident of a nearby village. "Our leaders told us to come
down to the town, that we needed to help. So we came."

Four prisoners were freed from the police station's flea-infested cells.
The released men lingered around the town plaza, afraid to run away lest
the police return and increase their sentences.

Weeks later, they were still sleeping there — waiting to see what would
happen next.

Expropriating Land

Luis Bocangel was at work at his La Paz restaurant when he got the
letter from Sorata delivered by a representative of the peasants union.

Typed out on official union stationery, the letter read much like a
government proclamation, despite a few spelling errors. "The honorable
Open Council of the Province of Larecaja, meeting in the city of Sorata
on Sept. 21," had officially declared Bocangel "a despot."

Signed by half a dozen peasant leaders, the letter offered an
"ultimatum" to Bocangel, who owned about 170 acres outside Sorata.
"Present yourself within 24 hours before the provincial and sectional
leaders [of the peasant union] or your land will be completely and
definitively expropriated."

Bocangel traveled to Sorata, met with the Open Council and reached a
deal. He would keep the 25 acres where he had built a home and planted a
stand of eucalyptus trees. He agreed to hand over the other 145 acres to
local peasants.

"I didn't want any problems, so I went along with them," he said. "There
is no rule of law in Bolivia anymore. What else could I do?"

Aymara leaders in Sorata believe they had every moral right to force
Bocangel and half a dozen other absentee landowners to give up their
property. The landowners were not complying with their "community
obligations," as defined by centuries-old Aymara customs.

"Every member of the community has to present himself at our civic
acts," said Gregorio Huanca, an Aymara leader from Sorata. "They have to
meet with their peasant brothers and share."

In Aymara culture, all adult men are expected to hold at least one of
several rotating community offices. One man in a village is responsible
for keeping the cattle from trampling on the crops, for example. Another
functions as a town crier.

"These people never show up to anything," Huanca continued. "They only
come once a year to say, 'This land is mine, don't touch it.' "

While the Open Council was busy expropriating land, the local courts
were being looted.

"The court clerks wanted a bribe for anything," said Roberto Garcia
Ortuño, in charge of the civil registry, which is housed in the same
building as the courts. "The people were tired of being abused."

Garcia Ortuño pleaded successfully with the mob not to destroy the civil
registry. But all of the criminal and civil court files were tossed from
windows and made into a bonfire. Months later, records of property
disputes and other civil cases were still drifting across the plaza.

A Wider Uprising

On the same day Sorata's courts were looted, nine people were killed
down the road in Warisata in battles between peasants and the army. News
of the bloodshed spread through the Altiplano, causing thousands of
peasants to join what soon became a regional uprising.

In nearby Achacachi, most of the town's able young men began to march
toward La Paz, a day's walk away.

"We sent many, many fighters to La Paz," Ramon Yujoa, director of the
Las Americas school in Achacachi, said proudly.

"They took whatever weapons they could find," he added, including relics
from Bolivia's last revolution, in 1952.

When the Achacachi residents reached the outskirts of the capital and
the sprawling, suburban township called El Alto, they discovered that
the indigenous people there had joined the uprising too.

With La Paz surrounded and all its road and air links to the outside
world cut off, President Sanchez de Lozada resigned Oct. 17. He went
into exile, as did his defense minister, Sanchez Berzain. Both are
living in the United States.

In a bid to cool passions, President Mesa approved a political reform
plan Feb. 20 that would allow the appointment of a constituent assembly
to rewrite Bolivia's Constitution to grant some local and regional power
to Indian communal assemblies. Although no date has been set, the
assembly is expected to convene this year.

For the time being, an uneasy truce holds sway. The Bolivian government
has made no effort to forcibly reinstate the police in the villages
where they have been chased away.

On Feb. 7, Quispe announced that another peasants' Open Council had held
court in Chuma, north of Sorata. They voted to expel the police, the
provincial representative and the mayor, he said.

The villagers raised the wipata flag over the empty police station.

In Sorata, meanwhile, the City Council has tried to persuade provincial
authorities to bring the police back. They fear that the lack of
officers is scaring away the tourist trade.

"The police told us they wanted a written guarantee that nobody would
hurt them, so we gave it to them, even though they are the ones who are
supposed to guarantee our safety," said Soto, the City Council
president. But then the police asked for a similar promise from the
peasants union and Aymara communal authorities, who have declined.

In the meantime, the prisoners freed in September have disappeared.

"They went to try their luck in the world," Garcia Ortuño said.

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