[Marxism] Viewpoint on Bolivia: A new nationalism

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Wed Oct 10 08:59:04 MDT 2007

 Viewpoint on Bolivia: A new nationalism

Rodrigo Vazquez, Director, Looking for the Revolution


After Che Guevara's death in the Bolivian jungle, the military that
executed him controlled the country's indigenous population for 38

They brutally suppressed dissent among civilians as they tried to
impose capitalism in the Andes and finally turned this place into what
it is now - a cocaine factory.

The Cold War in South America was financed through the arms and drugs
trade, although few cases became as well known as the "Iran-Contra
affair" that involved the late US President Ronald Reagan in the

The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, puts it bluntly: "The
Americans used the drug trade to infiltrate our countries. They
brought cocaine to Bolivia, as here we only used to chew the coca from
the times of the Incas.

"We believe in a democratic revolution, an indigenous revolution, to
claim back our land and all of our natural resources."

But what is this revolution really about? Has it got anything to do
with Che's ideals? Or is it the birth of a new ideology?

'Culture of death'

The first Bolivian who wrote about the need to create a new breed of
ethnic nationalism in Bolivia was Facundo Reinaga, a man of mixed
blood who was abandoned by his white father as a baby and raised in
utter poverty in the slums of La Paz, Bolivia's administrative

Reinaga wrote a book entitled The Indian Revolution in which he
proposed a break with the Judaeo-Christian ideological tradition and
the rediscovery of the old Inca culture and way of life.

Reinaga said that the Inca way of thinking was radically different and
far superior to capitalism and socialism in terms of humanity's

"For the Incas, there was a sacred balance in the world, one which men
had the duty to preserve - the balance between man, nature and
cosmos," he wrote.

"Capitalism is the right hand and Communism the left.

"With both hands the white man strangles the indigenous nation,
slaving us and nature to machines.

"There's nothing they [Europe] can give us that we didn't already have
before the Spanish came. Only their culture of death."

Such a strong-worded message spread across the Andes like wildfire
after the 500th anniversary of the conquest in 1992, when Evo Morales
and a few Indigenous intellectuals formed the Indigenous Movement and
decided to run for elections.

Ideological relic?

Today, the push to dignify the poor and excluded, the "copper nation"
as Reinaga wrote, is being systematised in policies and treaties,
studies and essays at the same time.

I call it "indigenous nationalism". But this trend, however original
it may seem, is just one of many ideological undercurrents unleashed
by Evo Morales' electoral victory two years ago, in December 2005.

In fact, indigenous nationalism is one of the few ideologies in the
making that has the chance to translate its ideas into government
policies straight away. But it still has to face the old and new
left-wing militants, unions and politicians that make up the
indigenous movement.

Is the left afraid of being left behind as some ancient ideological
relic in South America's poorest country? I met one of Che's former

"Che decided to teach French in the jungle, as well as Quechua, but we
had no Quechua teachers, so he just taught French. No wonder he never
got through to anybody there," said Ramiro Reinaga, Facundo Reinaga's
son and former guerrilla fighter.

"No wonder Che was perceived by my people as one among thousands of
foreign invaders and mercenaries.

Intricate struggle

In meeting after meeting with President Morales' colleagues and
friends, like Vice-President Alvaro Garcia or Senator Sanchez Ramirez,
I felt this sense of ideological search within the indigenous movement
today, a search that is only possible due to the new political climate
made possible by the 2005 indigenous victory.

An intricate ideological struggle is taking place within the
government that will determine the movement's revolutionary identity.

A coca peasant once told me that all his people wanted was a decent
house, a job, their kids to go to school, just like everybody else.

Two years after President Morales came to power, the poorest peasants
have free healthcare and literacy programmes have been set up across
the country.

A new constitution is being written that will ideally borrow less from
the political systems of the West and more from the Inca traditions
and political system, entirely based on the idea of community as
opposed to the individual, and on the balance between man, nature and

This sounds wishy-washy to many but is nevertheless being discussed at
the Constitutional Assembly.

There's one thing, though, that is very clear to me, after spending
two years making this film about the Bolivian Revolution - it is not
what Che was fighting for, and for that the Bolivians thank Mother

Looking for the Revolution is part of the BBC's Why Democracy? season
and will be broadcast on Tuesday 9 October at 2230 BST on BBC Four.

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