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New Day for Bolivia | The Nation

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New Day for Bolivia

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Tom Hayden's previous article on Bolivia for The Nation was "Bolivia's Indian Revolt", June 21,
2004.

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Tom Hayden
Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and...

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Whatever Evo Morales decides on the immediate question of textiles, it would be premature to categorize the Bolivian revolution as over, or to dismiss it as merely "neoliberalism with an Indian face." But this is the thrust of some on the Left, as in the recent Democracy Now! interview with James Petras, a longtime expert on the region, who says that Morales is only a social democratic reformer Washington can live with. Petras may be right that the new Bolivia will seek to avoid the kind of confrontation with the United States exemplified by oil-rich Venezuela, but such criticism underestimates the moral and political importance of the Bolivian revolution for the indigenous poor. What Petras may be underplaying is the large, radical left indigenous movement in Bolivia--such as the movment led by Felipe Quispe--that is evaluating his every policy move. The "Indian question" has rarely been an emphasis of the left, but it still remains the central question in Bolivia, in the Andes, in Chiapas, and much of Latin America.

Few whites or mestizos understand this as well as Linares, whose life has been devoted to what he calls the "decolonization of the state" so that indigenous people will govern, ending a fault line that has existed between society and the state in Bolivia for 180 years. "Fifteen years ago, we thought that it could come about through an armed uprising of the communities. Today, we think it is an objective that we can attain through a great electoral triumph." He calls for a new dialogue between "indigenism" and a Marxism which only perceived the Indians as reactionary or the dependent clients of humanitarian non-governmental organizations.

Nothing illustrates the profound importance of this shift more than the inaugural ceremonies over the past weekend. Since Linares was sworn in as vice president first, it became his duty to place the presidential sash over the shoulders of Morales. In a moment that millions watched on television, Morales visibly shed a tear, buckled slightly, then embraced his friend and became Bolivia's first indigenous president. Not only had the indigenous majority voted for him, but also at least one-third of the white or mestizo privileged classes, an outcome that ended centuries of brutal discrimination and marginalization.

Even more important was the ceremony on Saturday, when indigenous spiritual leaders inaugurated Evo Morales in their own way, at the pre-Inca ruins known as Tiwanaku, on the remote altiplano near Lake Titikaka. There, as 30,000 or more waited and witnessed, Aymara leaders changed Evo's clothes into native ones, removed his shoes so that he would stand on Pachamama (Mother Earth), and gave him a walking stick decorated in gold and silver, representing the transfer of authority for the first time in five centuries.

There the world watched the rising of another kind of power, one more cultural than political, that of a postmodern Indian icon. Garbed in a red ceremonial robe and holding the staff of power, Evo Morales stood in a portal cut from a single block of stone ten feet high, eleven feet wide, estimated to weigh ten tons. Like the ancient portals at Newgrange in Ireland or Maya sites in Central America, the stone portal was designed to receive the rays of the sun at the equinoxes, a reminder of pre-Inca science and cosmology.

The image flooded the world, over the heads of the technicians of power and stenographers in the media, a visceral reminder that another globalization is possible, and that the "Indian question" is not over, not for the United States, not for Western culture, not for the progressive left, but only beginning again.

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