[Marxism] S. America's indigenous uproar

Fred Fuentes fuentf01 at tartarus.uwa.edu.au
Thu Jul 22 01:20:18 MDT 2004

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Headline:  S. America's indigenous uproar
Byline:  Lucien O. Chauvin Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 07/20/2004

(LIMA, PERU)Back in April, indigenous people in Ilave, on the shores of Lake
Titicaca in southern Peru, lynched the town's mayor after accusing him
of corruption, leaving the area in turmoil ever since.

That same month, across the Andes in Brazil, a dozen indigenous people
in the Amazon massacred 29 miners who were believed to be illegally
extracting diamonds from their land.

Next door in Bolivia, tens of thousands of indigenous protesters took
to the streets last October to protest the government's energy policy,
ultimately forcing the president to resign. They also killed a mayor
for alleged corruption. And to the north in Ecuador, indigenous groups
are asking the UN to step in to avoid bloodshed in an escalating
conflict that they say is being stoked by the president.

Across South America, some of the region's 55 million indigenous people
have been making noise lately - sometimes violently - fighting against
abject poverty, inequality, and scant political representation in.
While the problems vary from country to country, they reflect the
difficulties facing indigenous movements here as they attempt to
translate gains made over the past decade into lasting political

"The challenge of the indigenous movement is to understand what it
means to have political power, what we can do with it," says Tarcila
Rivera, a Peruvian indigenous leader and chair of the Fourth
International Meeting of Indigenous Women, held recently in Peru.

The indigenous movement in Bolivia, for example, has been unable to
coalesce around an individual leader or common agenda. While the two
main indigenous parties were able to elect more than 30 lawmakers to
the 130-member House of Representatives two years ago, they were on
opposite sides of the aisle over Sunday's referendum on the future of
the country's vast natural gas reserves. The referendum asked voters
whether Bolivia should allow private energy companies to continue
exporting its natural gas.

Evo Morales, a native Aymara and former coca grower who leads the
Movement to Socialism (MAS), campaigned in favor of the referendum,
while former Rep. Felipe Quispe, also an Aymara, and his Pachakutik
Indigenous Movement called on voters to boycott the vote and demanded
nationalization of the energy sector.

The government's plan, which includes export of the country's 55
trillion cubic feet of gas, won by a large margin, even in the heavily
Aymara highlands around the capital where Mr. Quispe and his party are
based. Despite losing by margins as great as 9 to 1 on one of the five
questions in the referendum, Quispe told the Bolivian media that the
fight was not over.

Quispe preaches a blend of Marxism and indigenous nationalism, calling
on his followers to reestablish the Aymara nation that existed before
the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. It is by far the most
radical approach of the different indigenous movements in the region.
Mr. Morales, though also a leftist, is looking to build a more
traditional political base ahead of the 2007 presidential elections.

Alvaro Garcia, a sociology professor at the San Andres National
University in La Paz, says the fight between the two parties is a
reflection of a fragmented indigenous movement that has different
visions for the future of Bolivia.

"What we are seeing is a moderate indigenous movement with the MAS
building a political movement on one side, and a radical indigenous
movement led by Mr. Quispe on the other. Mr. Quispe wants to continue
the process of last October [when President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
was ousted], leading an insurrection that brings him to power," Mr.
Garcia says.

In Ecuador, the country's indigenous movement, one of the strongest in
the world, could be splitting. In the 14 years since the first
nationwide uprising in June 1990, which protested the use of natural
resources, Ecuador's indigenous movement helped overthrow two
presidents - Abdala Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000 - and
usher in important constitutional changes guaranteeing respect for
their rights.

In 2002 the movement was instrumental in electing current President
Lucio Gutierrez. But indigenous leaders have since broken with Mr.
Gutierrez citing his failure to follow through on campaign promises,
such as scrapping the US dollar as its currency and returning to the

The country's principle indigenous groups are now calling for outside
monitors. They have accused the government of instituting plans to
divide their organizations and fuel violence.

"Lucio Gutierrez took advantage of all the sacrifices made by the
indigenous movement and then betrayed us. I believe that his goal is to
eliminate the indigenous movement," says Luis Macas, a longtime
indigenous leader who served as agriculture minister in the Gutierrez

Authorities in Peru are closely watching Bolivia, fearing that an
uprising by Quispe could influence the already turbulent political
situation in Ilave and other highland areas. Indigenous leaders in Peru
blame President Alejandro Toledo for promising much and delivering
little since campaigning as a champion of indigenous peoples in 2001.

Even his creation of a National Commission of Andean, Amazonian, and
Afro-Peruvian Peoples has failed to appease indigenous leaders. Most
groups have pulled out of the commission and many have demanded that it
be completely overhauled or simply shut down. Peru's indigenous leaders
say the commission reflects the general way governments throughout the
region have treated them since European conquerors arrived more than
500 years ago, appointing someone to speak for or represent them
instead of respecting their rights.

"We are tired of people speaking for us. We need to overcome the
paternalism of the political system," says Abel Chapay, vice president
of the newly formed Indigenous Parliament in Peru.

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