[Translation of an article from La Razón of La Paz, Bolivia, for October 2. See original here.]
By Jorge Quispe
“Why the worry? We are going to continue working for this process and we will see who is with us.” This was the emphatic and certain response of Julia Ramos, executive of the Confederación de Mujeres Campesinas Bartolina Sisa [Bartolina Sisa Confederation of Campesina Women] when she was asked if there is a rift between the government and the indigenous peoples.
Has the indigenous idyll with President Evo Morales broken down? Five years after taking office in 2006, the head of the Plurinational State is faced with a crisis in his relations with this sector, particularly with those of the Tierras Bajas [the lowlands of eastern Bolivia].
The violent police repression meant to break up the march by the indigenous in defense of the Territorio Indígena del Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS – Indigenous Territory of the Isiboro Sécure National Park) has been srongly questioned by the population. Last Tuesday, less than 100 meters from the Palacio de Gobierno, some citizens were asking for President Morales to resign.
He won in the December/January gasolinazo [in which government fuel subsidies were ended] but now, under social pressure, he has had to accept the resignations of his interior and defense ministers, Sacha Llorenti and Cecilia Chacón respectively.
The departmental head of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in Cochabamba, Leonilda Zurita, believes that the TIPNIS crisis “had little effect” on the government’s image. The former Bartolinas executive, as leaders of the Confederación de Mujeres Campesinas are called, points to former masistas who incited indigenous opposition to the authorities. Julia Ramos holds the same opinion and urges the former masistas, Gustavo Guzmán, Alejandro Almaraz and Lino Villca, who met with the TIPNIS marchers and who, according to the government, instigated the taking of Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca as hostage to live with the indigenous to witness reality within Isiboro Sécure.
Political analyst Helena Argirakis of Santa Cruz says that it is not easy to know whether the relation between the indigenous and the government is broken, and that the TIPNIS crisis is part of the “natural give and take within a system of change.”
In her opinion, there may perhaps be some differences within the government concerning how to administer the state along the lines of development as a cause of tension with the indigenous. “But I don’t see the relation between the indigenous and the government as in conflict,” she states.
It is up to Morales as well to lead in the context of the current surge in the role of the indigenous of the Tierras Bajas as advocates. “In 2000 it was those of the Tierras Altas [the highlands of western Bolivia] and now the pendulum has swung to the Amazonian indigenous.”
Indigenista and leader of the Movimiento Pachakuti, Felipe Quispe, has no doubt about Morales’ distance from the indigenous sector. “I say that Indians have not yet arrived at the Palacio de Gobierno, nor even gained power.”
Anthropologist and Jesuit priest Xavier Albó, a dedicated student of indigenous movements, prefers to use a typical phrase to describe the government’s actions in relation to TIPNIS: “Otra cosa es con guitarra – It’s easier said than done.”
“It’s impossible to describe it simply, because there are different tendencies, as much within the ministries as among the rest. It’s easier said than done and now they have to know about many different things and I believe that a lot of people of indigenous origin in the government have experienced this and have to see all sides and to maneuver to be okay with some and also with others. I believe that many in the government are learning.”
One who does believe there is a rupture between the government and the indigenous peoples is sociologist María Teresa Zegada, for whom, nevertheless, what is most troubling is that this sector has lost confidence in Morales and his government. “It would be too early to declare that this link has been broken, but I believe that confidence between the indigenous and government management has been broken, and that is a serious matter.”
She believes nevertheless that identification of the figure of the president with the indigenous peoples has not been broken, although it is up to him to recuperate “the (political) content that was lost with this conflict.”
The day after the violent repression in Chaparina, in Yucumo, Fernando Gualdoni wrote in the influential Spanish newspaper El País, “The end of the indigenous idyll.” “The repression by the government of Evo Morales against the indigenous march demonstrates the deception of the Bolivian president’s idyll with the community that was fundamental to the political rise of the Aymara unionist.”
“The government was never indigenous and never will be and Morales is an outdated indigenous person. They are being unmasked because it was never an indigenous government and Morales is the Pharisee of the Pachamama [Mother Earth].” This is the firm opinion of Pachacuti Acarapi, of the youths of the Movimiento Indianista Tahuantino of El Alto.
Valentín Vargas of the Consejo Nacional de Markas y Ayllus del Qullasuyu (Conamaq) believes the violent repression on Sunday uncovers the real face of the current government. “The mask fell. We are sad, we do not know what he believes, so we have to redirect the process of change, which belongs to the indigenous”…
Others believe nevertheless that Morales never distanced himself. “It’s just that now the right is looking for anything to try to discredit the president; he will never abandon the indigenous, that is why he meets with them and he was even in TIPNIS,” says Pedro Calderón of the Confederación Sindical de Comunidades Interculturales de Bolivia (CSCIB), the former colonizers, one of the three blocks of the Pacto de Unidad that support the government.
The executive secretary of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), Roberto Coraite, warned last week about the risk of insisting on the highway. “We cannot abandon the process of change because of a highway project.”
Troubled waters, a blessing for the rightist fishermen
The proverb says: “Troubled waters, a blessing for the fishermen.” This could be happening in the current political crisis, with the proviso that they are rightist fishermen, in the case of the crisis in relations between the government and the indigenous over the TIPNIS conflict.
The example given by political analyst Helena Argirakis serves, she says, to illustrate how the international right organizes behind these crises experienced by governments like that of Evo Morales. “There is a sort of split, a discord, and it makes for an easy game for the international right, which claims that there is a division, that the process has broken down and that there are indigenous peoples in the Tierras Bajas and indigenous peoples in the Tierras Altas with different visions, and that now a divided process is being established. And that is dangerous,” the analyst argues.
Argirakis believes this discord began toward the end of 2009 and 2010, and that a discrepancy between the indigenous and the government, who are accusing one another mutually of being rightists, is not the same as accusing one another of being the enemy “when the adversary is world capitalism, which creates mechanisms to generate contradictions and to take advantage of this.”
Beneath the debate about TIPNIS, according to Argirakis, is the economic model; the current government, for example, is attempting to move forward by means of a highway at a time when the world crisis affects global capitalism. “Many take advantage of these conflicts to work in bad faith.”
Navarro admits a “separation” with the top leadership
There is a split, but with the indigenous top leadership. That is the message of César Navarro, vice minister of Coordinación con los Movimientos Sociales, who recognizes a rift between the government and that social sector.
After the violent police repression against the indigenous and the national anger, the authority admits that there is a split with the leaders of the Territorio Indígena Nacional Parque Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS), but not so with the bases of that region.
“There is a separation between the upper leadership and the government. I believe also that it is a structural separation.”
As evidence of this, Navarro recalls how the president met with the indigenous in Santo Domingo and San Francisco, inside TIPNIS. “He has been well received there and that gives us a signal that the indigenous of the base have a very different relation and perception of their president.”
Julia Ramos and Leonilda Zurita, leaders of the Confederación de Campesinas de Bolivia and of MAS, respectively, are of the same opinion. Navarro does not believe that the leaders of the march against the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway “are the political sum total of close to 150,000 indigenous people throughout the country.”
Furthermore, she accuses the domestic right of having been behind these mobilizations and, she says, they have achieved part of their objective, which was to provoke precisely these splits. She is nevertheless confident that this image can be reversed through dialogue.
While President Evo Morales has announced a departmental referendum, the marchers were ready on Friday to resume their march from Quiquibey to La Paz by another route.