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The Battle over Bolivia's Constituent Assembly: Class, race and nation in Bolivia

In March 8 in reply to an article I posted on the Marxmail list written by Pablo Stefanoni and entitled “New tendency in the government: Evo moves away from Chavista style in order to attract the middle classes”, David Walters wrote
I think this essay deserves some consideration. If the essayist is correct, what Evo has done, and, for essayists, what he hasn't done, represents a broad-based retreat from the days of his election and May of last year. What do people think, what do people know of this since Bolivia has been out of news of late?
I responded by writing
why is it a "retreat" to want to consolidate forces, particular amongst an important sector of society who have begun to be won away in part to the project of capital, in order to gather strength before the next big battle?
Walters never replied.

Now, 3 months later it is clear what these moves - or "retreats" - particularly the agreement reached in the constituent assembly over the method of voting (two-thirds vs simple majority), has enabled the Morales government to.

As I explain in an article i have submitted to Green Left Weekly

The breaking of a six-month deadlock in Bolivia’s constituent assembly, has paved the way for the opening of an intense debate and discussion on the future of this highly polarised country, nestled in the heart of South America.......having finally agreed on rules for debate and procedure for the Constituent Assembly, delegates have began to discuss and draft proposals for Bolivia’s future constitution. The right-wing opposition, having hoped to both weaken the powers and credibility of the body and enforce a minority veto on any radical measures, had been pushing vigorous for a two-third majority voting system, stalling the process from moving ahead.
A comprise agreement was reached on February 14, which sets out a plan to attempt to reach two-thirds consensus, whilst leaving it open for controversy issues to go directly to a vote in the referendum.Since then delegates have spent 6 weeks back in their electorate, discussion with the communities there proposals for the new constitution, along with forming 21 commissions to draft up proposals to present to the assembly.

So this tactical retreat, as opposed to a political retreat, has shifted the public debate away from petty regulations of debate to discussion over differing visions of Bolivia's future, and once again allowed popular forces to go on the offensive. This has scared the pants of the opposition.

Stratfor explains it like this:

Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) appears to have gathered enough third-party votes to push a reconfiguration of Bolivia's political structure through committee in the South American country's Constitutional Assembly.......

A series of maneuvers by Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) over the past few days could lead opposition party Podemos to conclude it has been disenfranchised from a vital component of the Constitutional Assembly process......

The committee in charge of drafting an article on the political division of powers in Bolivia is expected to vote on proposals June 13. MAS' main proposal is almost certain to gain a majority of votes, creating autonomous regions based on traditional indigenous territories, with many of these situated in lowland areas ruled by the primarily ethnic European opposition. The proposal breaks a compromise MAS announced just last week, which would have incorporated the indigenous districts only within the existing departmental and municipal framework.

Even more alarming for the opposition, it now appears MAS has secured enough votes from third-party delegates to co-opt the dissenting minority proposal as well. It had been assumed that Podemos' proposal, which expressed the Media Luna lowland region's preference for regional autonomy without new indigenous zones, would gain the second-highest number of votes and hence move on for consideration as the minority proposal.

However, a third proposal, also by MAS, was submitted unexpectedly June 11 as a second minority position. Assuming MAS can get enough votes to force the committee to approve both of its proposals before the June 21 deadline (it currently needs only two more votes to do so), Podemos will lose all its power in this committee. The strategy is a bold move by MAS, but by abandoning its earlier compromise consensus, the party risks forcing the opposition to move to derail the assembly altogether.

Stratfor now even has no shame in complaining that:
Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) appears to have gathered enough third-party votes to push a reconfiguration of Bolivia's political structure through committee in the South American country's Constitutional Assembly.
Funny that, only a few months ago the opposition was mobilising under the banner of “democracy” to defend two-thirds. Now that MAS might have two-thirds, the opposition is no longer concerned about this issue.

Instead now according to Stratfor (and the opposition themselves),
the region could be left with no option other than street protests and quitting the assembly.
So what can we take in from all this. The MAS forces, inside and outside the Constitent Assembly by taking a step sideway, have paved the way towards an opening of discussion on more favourable turf, over the politicis of what the new Bolivia should look like. This is exactly where the opposition is weakest because they lack any alternative project in the face of the growing national hegemony of the indigenous-popular bloc headed by MAS.

In a fascinating report “The state of the state in Bolivia” (only available in Spanish), the authors argue that a new emerging common sense, or hegemony, is emerging in Bolivia. For them it is based on five simple premises:
“Despite the conflicts, we are optimists, we want change and Bolivia is changing”

“Democracy is all of us: this implies conflicts and conciliation, participation and control”

“We support the nationalisation of gas: natural resources belong to all of us and should be the basis of our development”

“We are Aymaras, mestizos, cambas and collas: we are diverse but before everything else we are Bolivians and we make up one pluri-nation”

“The Constituent Assembly is citizens participation and social justice, it is the scenario for a new social pact”

Instead the opposition is once again forced to raise fears of instability through street confrontations and the spectre of Bolivia's disintegration, two issues that play heavily on the minds of the middle class and the military. Politically they know they cannot win the argument, this helps explain why they have attempted to cloak themselves in a nationalist guise. For the majority of Bolivia society the days of neoliberal plundering are over, and anyone who dares try to raise a return to the past will be dealt with accordingly.

In this context, the position of maintaining unity amongst the differing indigenous groups and organisations and social movement, strengthening the alliance with the middle classes which has wavered in its approach to the first indigenous government and early this year had begun to shift to the opposition, promoting the nationalist sentiments within the military to try build support for his project there, and pushing forward with MASs project for a new Bolivia - at a pace that keeps all this, and the international and national balance of class forces, in mind - seems a much more sensible policy that “socialist revolution now”.

One question though that i would like to raise to get peoples' thoughts on (Im working on an article for the following issue of Green Left Weekly which will touch on this, so help would be appreciated) is one that Fred Feldman raised a while ago on the Marxmail list. Responding to an article "Evo's Errors"by ex-minister of hydrocarbons, Andres Soliz Rada, were he wrote
It is incompatible to defend the Great Bolivarian Homeland whilst holding some of the positions that MAS has inside the Constituent Assembly which attempt to splinter the republic, such as the reconstruction of 39 indigenous nations and the reterritorialisation of Bolivia within a new pluri-national state. This is heavenly music for the agents of eastern separatism, who last September founded in Guayaquil – with delegates from this Ecuadorian region and the Venezuelan state of Zulia – the “International Confederation for Freedom and Regional Autonomy” of Latin America, financed by petroleum companies who yearn to control important gas and petroleum fields in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Fred Feldman replied
There may be contradictions in the concrete circumstances, but a "Great Bolivarian Homeland" in Bolivia must be built in part on a distinction between the nationalism of the oppressed and that of the oppressor, and that must include a radically different attitude even toward the separatism of the oppresse and the separatism of the oppressor. If the Bolivian project does not yet have the political strength to make this distinction and base policy on it, THAT IS A PROBLEM.

The various indigenous projects, some of which may be positive and some not, have to be distinguished from the Eastern elite operation on this basis and dealt with on the basis of this distinction. If the Bolivian regime cannot operate on the basis of this fundamental democratic distinction, rather than getting tangled in bourgeois-democratic abstractions that place the drive for autonomy among the land and oil barons in the East and the long-suppressed aspirations of the indigenous people on the same level of rights, THAT IS A PROBLEM.
In this case, I agree wholeheartly with Feldman: the two issues are fundamentally different and need to treated as such (I imagine Soliz Rada would agree too). But this doesn't full answer the question of what position socialists should take to in regards to some calls for the reconstitution of pre-colonial indigenous “nations”, or the argument against the call for a plurinational state which says that by establishing a plurinational state, as opposed to a pluricultural state, you are opening the door to the break up of Bolivia, as the acceptance of nations also means the acceptance of their rights to form their own nation-state (one which Soliz Rada agrees with) .

It seems to me the position that MAS advocates – indigenous autonomy, within the framework of the unity of Bolivia – is the correct one. It is also true that this is the majority sentiment amongst Bolivians (both indigenous and non-indigenous) who want to see the various national and ethnic groups inserted into the international community through a diverse but united Bolivia, and who above all else identify as Bolivians. There are some trends who maintain a firmer indigenist vision of the return to Qullasuyu and the reconstitution of the original indigenous territoriess (which have been expressed in difference within MAS over certain positions such as whether land and natural resources should be under state or indigenous control) but they are a minority. Anyways, I would appreciate any comments on this.

8 Com:

Richard Fidler [GLW List] | June 16, 2007

:Federico Fuentes wrote (SV-Circle, Marxmail, GLW Discussion):

«. . . But this doesn't full[y] answer the question of what position
socialists should take [...] in regards to some calls for the reconstitution
of pre-colonial indigenous "nations", or the argument against the call for a
plurinational state which says that by establishing a plurinational state,
as opposed to a pluricultural state, you are opening the door to the break
up of Bolivia, as the acceptance of nations also means the acceptance of
their rights to form their own nation-state (one which Soliz Rada agrees
with) .

«It seems to me the position that MAS advocates – indigenous autonomy,
within the framework of the unity of Bolivia – is the correct one. It is
also true that this is the majority sentiment amongst Bolivians (both
indigenous and non-indigenous) who want to see the various national and
ethnic groups inserted into the international community through a diverse
but united Bolivia, and who above all else identify as Bolivians. There are
some trends who maintain a firmer indigenist vision of the return to
Qullasuyu and the reconstitution of the original indigenous territories
(which have been expressed in difference within MAS over certain positions
such as whether land and natural resources should be under state or
indigenous control) but they are a minority. Anyways, I would appreciate any
comments on this.»


Given that the indigenous peoples inhabiting Bolivia have achieved their
greatest success politically within the existing Bolivian state, they would
be ill-advised to abandon that foothold in favour of some hypothetical, less
realizable state form that would have to be hewed in part out of one or more
other states.

As an indigenous majority within Bolivia, they have every interest in using
the control of the government they have gained through the MAS and its
allies to refashion the Bolivian state. And that appears to be what they are
now doing.

The “Vision of the country commission majority report”, posted by Federico
on his Bolivia Rising blog, is an extremely important statement which, if
incorporated in some form into the new Constitution, will mark an historic
advance not only for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia but for all “original
[or aboriginal] nations”. For example, it will be very relevant to some
current debates in Canada, and particularly in Quebec, as I will indicate

The preamble makes clear that the proposed constitution is to “reconstruct
the identities of the indigenous nations”, which have suffered permanent
exclusion through a colonial and republican system that has overridden their
“ancestral territories, institutions, judicial systems, politics, languages
and culture”.

The document redefines Bolivia as a “united, plurinational, communitarian
state”. It recognizes some three dozen “official languages”, all but Spanish
being languages of the indigenous peoples, and pledges state protection and
development of those languages “in each of the regions where they are

It indicates clearly the meaning of each of the defining terms.

“United” means a common territory of all Bolivians; the explicit rejection
of federalism is a constitutional check on the “autonomist” aspirations of
the Spanish and mestizo elite in Santa Cruz, strengthened by the statement
that this state is “indivisible and inviolable” while respecting “economic,
political, social and cultural diversity”.

“Plurinational” means the state is “diverse and not mono-cultural” and
“guarantees and promotes the identity, government, judicial pluralism and
intercultural integration of each of the nations” within Bolivia.

“Communitarian” means that the state “promotes communitarian, cooperative
and associative forms and strategies of organization of society under the
principles of solidarity, reciprocity, democracy, complementarity and
equitable distribution of the social product in order to ‘live well’.”

These provisions — and there is much more in this statement, which should be
studied closely by all of us — open the door wide for the adoption of
affirmative action measures and programs to enhance the status and
development of the indigenous majority in Bolivia. And they yield nothing to
regional separatism.

The argument (advanced by Soliz Rada, apparently) that a plurinational state
will lead to the break-up of Bolivia by giving the white-skinned,
pro-imperialist economic and commercial elite a constitutional pretext to
establish an “autonomous” or independent national state of their own can
only be true if each “nation” within this “plurinational” state is seen as
an exclusive category with a right of national self-determination that
trumps the right of self-determination of every other nation sharing all or
part of the territory of Bolivia. It identifies nation with distinct
territory, and presumes that more than one nation cannot share a common

Historically, the concept of the right of national self-determination
originated in the epoch of the rising bourgeoisie, which had a class
interest in asserting its control over territory to the exclusion of the
feudal aristocracy and absolute monarchs. Nation became identified with
territory and, where possible, a common public language, to facilitate
transport, communications, a common tariff, and all the other attributes of
the bourgeois state. Marxists initially developed their thinking on the
national question on the basis of this reasoning, and early discussions
(even as late as Stalin’s in 1913) tend to remain within that framework of
viewing the national question as fundamentally a problem of completing the
bourgeois-democratic revolution in the advanced capitalist countries.

As Marxists began to study the phenomenon of imperialism, however, they soon
realized that in most of the world the national question was more complex
and took other forms than it did in Europe. The colonial structures rode
roughshod over the languages, cultures and traditions of the indigenous
peoples, whose anti-imperialist revolt in turn unfolded within the framework
of a struggle for national identity and national liberation that could, with
proletarian leadership, go beyond capitalism and move toward socialism while
attempting to preserve and enhance national identities rooted in
precapitalist conditions. In the colonies and semicolonies, local
capitalism, to the degree it developed at all, was integrally bound up with
the interests of imperialism and offered nothing to the indigenous peoples
but assimilation and further oppression.

And even within the advanced capitalist countries, indigenous and once
precapitalist peoples are now organizing themselves under the banner of
“nation” and cultural, linguistic and territorial expressions of national
sovereignty. This is true in the majority of European countries, including
Spain, Britain, and even France — the classic countries of predatory
imperialism. Their struggles destabilize capitalist rule and can create
important openings for anticapitalist advance.

These new nations and nationalisms, unfolding within existing state
frameworks established by imperialism or the triumphant bourgeoisie, are
primarily concerned with achieving sovereignty over all matters of concern
to their national identity: language and culture, of course, but not
necessarily exclusive control of their own state. In some instances, they
may coexist within a given state with a particular minority nation or a
broader movement asserting its own national demands in the form of a
struggle for its own independent, territorial state. Most Bolivians, for
example, have a common interest in defending and promoting control and
development by Bolivians over their natural resources. Their success in
achieving this goal will help provide a basis for state promotion of the
national identities (language, culture, customs, etc.) of the indigenous
peoples within Bolivia.

In Quebec we have a further example of how indigenous struggles intersect
with the national struggle of the French-speaking Québécois, a minority
within Canada (24%) but the overwhelming majority (83%) of the population of
the province of Quebec. The Québécois national struggle is one for control
of the territory of that province, exclusive of control by the Canadian
state over jurisdictions integral to the national identity of the Québécois.
This is generally defined as a struggle for Quebec “sovereignty”. For
decades now, polls and a referendum have shown that a majority of
Francophone Quebeckers support the formation of a sovereign state, although
opinions differ among them as to possible forms of association that might be
established with the rest of Canada following a declaration of sovereignty
or independence. (Only a minority support full independence without some
formal association.)

But the Quebec nationalist movement came up against a problem almost from
the time it began to develop its modern expressions, in the 1960s. Most of
the territory of the province of Quebec itself is inhabited primarily by
indigenous peoples, and these peoples have asserted their “sovereign” rights
over the northern regions and territories they inhabit, in opposition to the
hydro-electric and other development projects that are crucial to the
economic prosperity of Quebec industries and cities in the south.

In Canada, the indigenous peoples now refer to themselves as “First
Nations”; many assert their right to constitutional recognition and status
on a par with the English and French colonizers and their descendants. In
Quebec, this has resulted in conflicts of respective sovereignty aspirations
of native and non-native peoples.

In the mid-1970s, the pro-federalist Liberal government was forced by Cree
Indian opposition to hydro-electric dam development to sign a wide-ranging
agreement promising autonomous Indian and Inuit development of wide areas of
northern Quebec; this was the first of the modern “treaties” signed by a
white government in Canada. It has been followed by other, similar treaty
agreements between the Quebec government and native nations. In the
mid-1980s, Quebec’s National Assembly, on the impetus of the pro-sovereignty
Parti Québécois government, formally recognized the existence within Quebec
of a dozen indigenous “nations” with certain rights to the use of their
language, control of schools, exclusive hunting and fishing rights, the
formation of development corporations owned and controlled by natives, etc.
Quebec is the only province to have recognized the indigenous peoples as
nations in this way. In recent years, some native leaders have begun to
identify with the goal of a sovereign or independent Quebec, in the belief
that one will be created and it is best to participate in that development
in order to provide indigenous input in defining the respective rights and
obligations of the nations within the nation.

This is not to say that relations between First Nations and Quebec
nationalists are smooth; on the contrary. (At Oka, near Montreal, a struggle
in 1990 by a native community to prevent illegal development by whites of a
golf course on their land became a military-type standoff between native
militants and Quebec police supported by federal troops.) But to the degree
that Quebec nationalists manage to win the indigenous peoples as their
allies, through meaningful recognition of indigenous nationhood, they will
strengthen their struggle and weaken Ottawa’s attempts to use its
constitutional jurisdiction over “Indians and Indian affairs” to further
divide the inhabitants of Quebec and use indigenous issues as a tool for
mobilizing public opinion against the Québécois national struggle.

Quebec’s indigenous peoples are oppressed by both the federal regime and
Quebec’s. Their struggle for self-determination is directed against both,
albeit in different ways. What is emerging, however, is a concept of
overlapping sovereignties, each respectful of the others’ need for cultural
and linguistic, etc. expression. Depending on the situation of each
particular indigenous nation, this may or may not primarily take the form of
a struggle for territorial sovereignty, although where the indigenous
peoples have managed to retain some partial control over territory
(reserves, occupation, etc.) they naturally seek to enhance that control.
But probably half of Quebec’s indigenous population are now city-dwellers,
often far from their native communities. They are severely discriminated
against as non-whites, of course, and any recognition of indigenous nations
must find ways to encompass this urban and off-reserve population.

The parallels with the situation in Bolivia are obvious, notwithstanding
many differences. But it seems to me that indigenous militants in Quebec and
Canada, as elsewhere, can find much to ponder and to inspire them in current
developments in Evo Morales’ Bolivia.


Michael A. Lebowitz | June 17, 2007

Richard Fidler stresses the obvious centrality of indigenous struggles and identity reflected in the proposed new Bolivian Constitution... and its relevance to indigenous struggles everywhere. My reaction was different: an absolutely essential aspect in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela is the focus upon the goal of full development of human potential and the explicit recognition that this is possible only through collective protagonism (ie., the concept of revolutionary practice). And, I've argued that this is the subversive element in the Bolivarian Constitution, a constitution which otherwise is supportive of capitalist relations, and that it has served very significantly in the struggle since its adoption. I was unhappy to see that the proposed Bolivian Constitution did not have a similar explicit subversive element to counter its acceptance of capitalist relations.
Michael A. Lebowitz

Bolivia Rising | June 18, 2007

Thank you very much to Richard and Michael for there thoughful and stimulating comment, it certainly got my brain juices flowing and have begun to write a follow up email i will post as i get more to work on my article for the next green left weekly [and Richard - makes me feel ashamed it has taken me so long to get back to you on the issue of similarities/differencies in the development of Canada, Australia and Argentina, promise i will get time to write something]

Just a quick response to a few points (written in a rush) and a comment about another issue that has now arisen in the CA and Bolivian politics more generally.

Also check out the article for this weeks GLW at http://www.greenleft.org.au/2007/714/37072

Whilst far from having the same positions that Soliz Rada has on many issues (for a good short summary of ASR's views see http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2006/11/bolivia-indomestizo-victory-andres.html) i have translated an interview with independent CA delegate (elected on the centre-right National Unity ticket) which more closely takes up some of ASR's concerns regarding some of the ideas on a plurinational state. Essentially it is that in the context of a real threat of disintegration of Bolivia (this is another interesting debate - are the right wing first and foremost interested in carving up Bolivia, or is this more a pretext for regaining ground to capture national control once again, with seccession a final option, ASR i think believes the first is more likely), a proposal that opens up the possibility or atleast idea that Bolivia could be carved up into 36 small indigenous republics gives fuel to the argument of the right wing that it is MAS' fundamentalism that is causing the fracture of Bolivia, allow them to look like defenders of the nation. by doing so the right wing can wing across middle class sections as well as win support amongst the military where territorial integrity weighs heavily on the minds of soldiers.

In the interview Lazarte who both aims his discourse at the mestizo and white middle classes and at the same time reflects a real sentiment amongst these Bolivia's says:

Q- What does it mean to recognise indigenous cultures as nations?

A - If they are nations, not only is their autonomy recognised, but also their right to self-determination. In terms of international law, this right involves territory. Those who say nation say territory, and territory is state sovereignty over that territory. Therefore, the right to independence and the right to secede are recognised. Morales opened a Pandora's box. To indigenise the state structures with ethnic nationalism will create problems in a country that is weakly integrated. It raises the possibility that small indigenous groups could declare themselves nations and reclaim their independence and make the non-indigenous a minority group.

(whole interview at http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2007/06/constitution-which-president-evo.html)

Meanwhile, responding to the question "Why do they fear indigenous autonomy?" Carlos Cuasase Surubi, an indigenous MAS senator argues that:

"The historic agenda of the originario, indigenous peoples of Bolivia is self-determination WITHIN THE ALREADY CONSTITUTED Bolivian state." my capitalisation

He outlines his what he thinks the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples means:

"Elect our authorities according to our traditions and customs. To promote our own judicial systems, our own mechanisms of conflict resolution.

We have the right to be obligatorily consulted prior to, and freely, in all the economic, social, administrative and legal projects that affect the lives of our communities and our cultures in our territories.

We have the right to express our free consent before plans and projects that affect us. That is to say, we have the right so that policies regarding land and territory, education, healthcare, productive projects, roadways, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons and minerals, exploitation of our forest resources, be previously socialised, discussed in all their aspects and regarding their environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts. From this widely informed and public process will emerge the collective decision of our communities expressed in consenting to these policies and projects or in the right to express our objections.

Not only do we have the right to compensation and indemnification, for the damages previous inflicted, but we also have the right to participate in the benefits of projects of extraction of all natural resources that are carried out in our territories. In case you did not already know, this right is already part of Bolivian law in the Indigenous Chapter of the Hydrocarbon Law, currently in force.

That is, we have the right to be taken into consideration, obligatorily, and not silenced, ignored or made invisible, as has occurred under all the republican governments. "

(full article here http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2007/06/mas-senator-why-do-they-fear-indigenous.html)

You can get an idea of what MAS' proposal regard autonomy, aprticularly indigenous autonomy is here http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2007/06/we-are-going-to-defend-indigenous.html

But what is clear is that rather than a homogenous party structure, MAS more closely resembles a loose confederation of indigenous and campesino organisations, who retain their autonomy and in some cases diverge from each other.

One example is the debate over who should control natural resources, and which help further explain the difference between the (majority) nationalist wing and more (minority) indigenist wing in MAS. Or the difference between the indigenous people as best defenders and articulators of a necessary new Bolivia or those that call for a return to the Qollasuyu and for whom Bolivia as an entity means nothing more than continued oppression.

The proposal of the indigenous groups that are part of the Unity Pact - made up of five or more of the biggest indigenous, campesino and cocalero organisations - have been pushing that the new constitution state that property of land and renewable natural resources corresponds to the indigenous people and in the case of non-renewable resources, when they need to be exploited on their lands, they should have the final say on any projects.

Meanwhile MAS, and the majority of the Unity Pact state that propoerty of renewable and non-renewable resources should correspond to all Bolivians, and that their adminstration should correspond to the state, and that their is recognition of indigenous lands for them to make use of renewable resources..

That is should it be the indigenous people or the Bolivian people who control Bolivia's resources. More than a manuever against the right wing the supposed majority and minority reports coming out the comissions in the CA reflect some of these differences.

more on this later but one other issue to note which i think reflects the why even though the indigenous question is central to MAS, it falls more into the national-popular rather indigenist box (although obvious it incorporates both) is possibly the recent decision to introduce a former Army General into the position of President of National Customs of Bolivia (ANB). the person involved is Cesar Lopes Saavedra and who was Army general during the Gar War of 2003, where the military, under direction of the government of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, were responsible for 67 deaths and many more injuries.

Whilst some on the left - and right - have come out and condemned this talking of the final betray [again] of the social movements and a secret deal with Sanchez de Lozada's party MNR to exchange votes in the CA for his immunity, there seems like there maybe another possible explanation.

An article from La Razon raises some interesting issues. La Razon, the main daily in La Paz and probably national and linked to business interests with Spain and Repsol ie no friend of Morales and the movements, notes that Saavedra attended MAS pre-election rallies in September 2005, when no longer a general. It also notes that he has only been called as a witness and other article point out that he was not in a commanding role during this military attack.

A few days later La Razon reported on statements by the Bolivian army warning the commision regarding military affairs oin the constituent assembly of their position on article 208 which it seems the comission want to change. The armed sources aid they would not tolerate 3 things:
1)stop being the protectors of the constitution
2) the break up of the nation and
3) getting rid of complusory military service

current article 208 sayd the millitry defends national independence, security and stability of the republic and the honor and sovereignty of the nation. The new article wants to reduce the role of the military to pure external security.

This source, criticising the police, who under this possible new article would be entrusted with defending the constitution, saying they are corrupt, broken up nad inept.

The source then says:

"in the third world, national security signifies the sovereign right to do use natural resources, primary materials and the aquisition of financial and technological capacity to reach an integral development of the nation, via the exercising of an national politics which is independent of the centres of world power"

they add

"the struggle against any form of pressure including neocolonialism, represents the defense of economic interests, national dignity and opposition to ideologies foreign to our reality"

The same issues La Razon notes that last december the ministry of defence, the armed forces and the supreme council of national defense put their proposal forward to strengthen the article 208 to explicit say that the role of the army also included defense of natural resources. This is supported by the MAS leadership.

In a speech given by one of the most well-known writers on Bolivian history and with an immense knowledge on the history and reality of the Bolivian army, James Dunkerley, refering to the very important writings of Rene Zavaleta Mercado, an extremely important figure in Bolivia national history, he says (video of speech and crap transcription available at http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2007/06/james-dunkerley-evo-morales-and-third.html:

".....Bolivia has two armies. You might want to say as one army that is schizophrenic but it has two armies. And I'm going to quote in the first army is the army that must feel and much emphasis those aspects of the nation that existed before nation itself overly behind its particulars such as the properties of the earth and the corporatist vision of the world. It is really mental very telluric that is - all this theories about nationhood and nationalism that relates to this you know. This is the army; I put it to you that took the San Alberto oil – gas field in first of May of last year of nationalizing. Right, properties of that subsoil you know hydrocarbons and they did so to the of course Wall Street was aghast, the city was aghast, it was all seeing to be infantile even by all of these nice liberal think tanks of Washington don't rock the boat, yeah. This army though I think had to make some kind of move like that. It may have been symbolic and it may have been theatrical, and it had to be unwound eventually because of – at least in technical terms business it was too complicated to raise the money to do the job that the theatre proposed. But the theatre itself was necessary. Now that's all well and good, we have seen that army from time to time, you know. The Commander of the troops Colonel (Rodie) Rodriguez, it's a lovely name - has been embargoed (Concord) to Washington has his visa withdrawn everything like that and is currently training his special troops in Venezuela and that army is now much closer to the Venezuelan army than – perhaps some of its members would even like – feel as a good for him, but they are definitely behind Evo Morales and don't represent in my view at the moment that the threat of a coup that I mentioned or over counter revolution cannot be discounted. I might just add that Juan Ramon Quintana who is the minister of presidency who has been behind this radical set of moves the last 15 or months is – was an army officer, was a colonel and has written a if you – if you Google and then you'll find a really fine oral history of – of the conscripts in his regiments in (indiscernible). So he is a kind of intellectual officer of that type. You don't find very often when you do find they are most – they are most impressive. So the later though has a second army. This is the army what he calls as a (indiscernible). This is the army that we are much more familiar with the dictatorships of the last 30 years in the southern part. And this is the army I put it to you this afternoon shot down 79 people on - in October 2003, when they were having a bloqueo in El Alto. So the same troops can do two very different things according to circumstances and that is the challenge you know faces us even though we are now moving forward with the elected government."

Perhaps this new appoint rather than being one more betray, is a further step in strengthening the first of the "two" armies in Bolivia, which is expressing itself in regards to the constitution and its role in national life? i think so

In solidarity


John Riddell | June 19, 2007

Hi Fred--

It seems to me that you are on the right track with regard to indigenous self-determination here.

For us, the whole point is unity of working people and the oppressed. Granting the right to self-determination to oppressed peoples is a step to stregthen that unity, and so it works against splintering, rather than encouraging it.

See the experience of Nicaragua. When the revolutionary government failed to respond to the aspirations of indigenous peoples, it opened the door to U.S. imperialism to break them from the revolution and to fragment the country. Measures to recognize indigenous rights, when they finally came, worked in the opposite direction.

There is a great deal on this question in the record of the Russian revolution. Note that the Bolsheviks were not at all hesitant to recognize Ukranian independence. And when the time finally came to create the Soviet Union, Lenin said that Ukranian independence was preferable to any union that violated Ukraine's national rights.

It's heartening that Bolivia is making headway in this direction. Surely it will have a great impact on indigenous peoples elsewhere in the Americas.


Richard Fidler | June 19, 2007

I think Michael has missed the point. What Fred Fuentes posted was not the proposed Bolivian Constitution, but only the proposal from a commission assigned to draft provisions governing the type of state structure. The majority proposal from that commission (Vision of the Country commission) had to determine such issues as whether Bolivia should be a federation (federal system), the status of the indigenous areas and "nations" they represent, what is meant by indigenous "autonomy", etc. No doubt there will be much else to the overall Constitution when the Constituent Assembly completes its work, and the final proposal is put to a popular vote.

It is by no means excluded that the Assembly will in fact come up with its version of "collective protagonism" or whatever it chooses to call the concept. But clearly, the indigenous question plays a far greater role in Bolivia's reality than it does in Venezuela's. The self-conscious movement of the indigenous peoples, which elected the MAS to government, is surely a manifestation of protagonistic action by powerful "collectives" -- referred to as "nations", and properly so, in Bolivia.

And where, by the way, is the Assembly's "acceptance of capitalist relations" to which Michael alludes? And in what context?

Don't expect the Bolivian Constitution to be a replica of Venezuela's. The process in each country is indigenous, and will reflect the social conditions, composition of the population, in each country. Michael has spoken strongly and correctly on the importance of recognizing the particular problems of building socialism in Venezuela. Surely we have to pay equal attention to the specificities of Bolivia's process, which has its own dynamic as well as many similarities.


Richard Fidler | June 19, 2007

The experience in Nicaragua, where the FSLN paid a terrible price for its failure to recognize the special needs of the Atlantic Coast indigenous peoples, is à propos, as John R. notes in his "response to Fred Fuentes".

But I don't think the FSLN Autonomy proposal, through which they attempted (with only partial success, but it came belatedly) to correct the earlier errors of the Sandinista government, went beyond recognizing Nicaragua as a "pluricultural" or "multi-ethnic" state, rather than "plurinational" as Bolivia's constitutional proposal does.

The Declaración de Managua sobre Derechos Indígenas y Comunidades Etnicas, adopted by the National Autonomy Commission, in July of 1986, recognized "the multiethnic and multilingual character of the National States of the American Continent" (source: Memorias de un sueño: Autonomia de la Costa Atlántica, Managua).

Fred's question concerned the implications of defining the indigenous question in Bolivia as a "national question" in its own right. Did it unleash the perspective of the break-up of Bolivia? How do these indigenous nations see their relationship to the Bolivian "nation"? What about the indigenous groups in Bolivia whose vision is one of "return to Qullasuya and the reconstitution of the original indigenous territories"? There were elements of these issues in the way some Miskito leaders posed them in Nicaragua. But there is little discussion in the literature there (that I have seen, anyway) that approached the Atlantic Coast as a distinct "national question" in itself. And indeed, I don't think the indigenous peoples on the Coast defined themselves as "nations". They had not risen to that point of development.

A major difference between Bolivia and Nicaragua, of course, is that in Bolivia the indigenous peoples are the majority, and played the major role in the election of the MAS government. They are protagonists par excellence, not (as in Nicaragua) forgotten peoples almost totally overlooked by the revolutionists, who at best (initially) could see only a regional ethnic problem. In Bolivia, the relative demographic weight of the indigenous nations gives enormous importance to the relationship between their national struggle and the anti-imperialist struggle of Bolivia itself for national liberation.

With the awakening of indigenous peoples throughout Latin America (and in other parts of the world), and their increasing mobilization in their own name for their own needs as peoples, there will be an increasing tendency for those struggles to be expressed in "national" terms, and the indigenous peoples to define themselves as distinct nations. This gives added complexity to the anti-imperialist struggle, but also, potentially, greater force to the degree that it brings new, large contingents of fighters into the common struggle.


Pablo Stefanoni [via Bolivia Rising] | June 24, 2007

Ever since the inauguration of Evo Morales, the right wing have begun to raise the spectre of a “racial revenge”, supposedly promoted by the new government. Even Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa – who never loses an opportunity to attack “populisms”, both real and imaginary – wrote about the “demagogy” and “racism” of the Bolivian president. This “indigenous messianism”, together with the “totalitarianism” of Hugo Chavez, was putting democracy and the state of law at risk in Latin America. Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the son of the author of La ciudad y los perros [The city and dogs], went as far as dividing the Latin American left into “vegetarians” (Lula, Bachelet) and “carnivores” (Chavez and Evo). Some local journalists and analysts have run a similar line, denouncing the “reverse racism” emanating from the new indigenous and campesino elites.

This debate went beyond limits of absurdity during a televised discussion on PAT. Without flinching, Juan Claudio Lechín and Roberto Barbery, whilst speaking about the undemocratic character of the new government, tried to demonstrate, using an academic tone, that Evo Morales and the national socialism of Adolf Hitler both articulated in a similar way ethnic superiority (in this case Quechua-Aymara), corporativism, and charismatic leadership. The antidote to ending up with similar consequences was to recognise that, in the end, “in Bolivia, we are all mestizo[mixed blood]” and should therefore abandon this indigenist adventure.

But is any of this true: is the Evo’s government and indigenist government? Do they really exclude white-mestizos via an inverted segregation? Do the indigenous people act like the criollo [local-born white] elites did throughout the republican history?

The problems of “race” (a concept today discredited in social sciences), culture and mestizaje have accompanied Bolivia throughout all its history - like a permanent anguish – as well as the divergent visions through time, as corollaries of the hegemonic theories at the international level. If the positivists of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th – such as Alcides Arguedas, author of Pueblo enfermo [Sick people] – considered racial hybrids to be a kind of curse over Bolivian society, mestizaje – disassociated from an effective decolonialisation – came to be, for the Bolivian nationalism of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the precondition sine qua non for the construction of a truly Bolivian nation. By the ‘90s, the Bolivian political and economic elites had appropriated the multiculturalist discourse promoted by multilateral loans organisations, the United Nations and non-government organisations (NGOs), having integrated it with the neoliberal postulates in vogue at the time (multiculturalism + free market).

Nevertheless, all these attempts to construct a “true” nation failed, whether through biological extinction of Indians, or through ethno-cultural homogenisation promoted by the state or by means of partial recognition of diversity, without eliminating the material or imagined structures of internal colonialism. Today we are witnessing a novel recuperation of the term “Indian” as a cohesive element for a broad popular and national identity, that articulates various memories: a long memory (anti-colonial), an intermediary memory (revolutionary nationalist) and a short memory (anti-neoliberal).

The Movement Towards Socialism and the leadership of Evo Morales emerged through the construction of this indigenised nationalism.

Faced with this, the elites have once again raised the flag of mestizaje as Bolivia’s reason for being. But if in the ‘50s, mestizaje was conceived of within an anti-oligarchic and transformative discourse, today it has a defensive and conservative character – in front of the displacement, sometimes more illusory than real, of the middle classes from public posts, a principal space for its reproduction – and foreign to the egalitarian sense that came along with the idea of constructing a shared project for the country. The urban middle and educated sectors who today proclaim that “we are all mestizos” seem to forget that in Bolivia there exists both “white mestizos” and “indian mestizos” or , expressed in a more modern terminology, “criollo-mestizos” and “cholos”.

In this context, Evo Morales expresses the sentiments of these “indian mestizos”, who continue to be discriminated against and excluded from “legitimate” spaces of social life, and segregated into the periphery of the cities or the slopes of the hills, considered to be “dangerous neighbourhoods”. Nevertheless, one should not lose sight of the fact that this indigenous mestizaje, far from promoting a “return to ancestral times”, is inserted into the processes of modernisation, urbanisation, social differentiation, capital accumulation (fundamentally mercantile) and cultural hybridisation: today the majority of Bolivians (60%) live in the cities, despite the fact that they have not completely broken with rural life (many maintain their land), nor Aymara or Quechua culture. The fact that Indigenous hip hop is expanding in El Alto, a city where 82% of the population self-identifies as indigenous, speaks volumes of this complex articulation between the local and the global.

Despite the fact that in Bolivia “we are all mestizos”, the whiteness of skin colour, dress, economic and cultural practices and the origins of one’s surnames continue to constitute very real boundaries in the construction of social imagery and mechanisms of domination, today eroded – but not eliminated – by this indigenous political eruption and the arrival to power of MAS. All this poses a number of questions. Amongst them: How much does the proposal of indigenous autonomies take into consideration these diffuse boundaries between indigenous and mestizo? Is the proposal for autonomy – generally a demand raised by minorities, but in this case, by an indigenous majority – correct? Is there a need to make indigenous peoples autonomous or to indianise the state?

The Chapare, where Evo Morales migrated to with his family and began his trade union and political career, is one expressions of this cultural indigenous mestizaje. We can add to this the political mestizaje between campesino unions – consolidated in the ‘50s in the image of, and similar to, workers’ unions – and communitarian traditions. The current president was formed politically in the coca grower unions and his indigenist revendication appears more like Nelson Mandela’s denouncement of apartheid – a demand of inclusion, recognition and possibilities to access power by a national majority segregated for ethnic reasons – that the revendication of a return to the ayllu.

On the other hand, the ethno-cultural reaffirmation that Evo Morales has promoted, traverses through the union culture’s own pragmatism and an energetic anti-imperialist position, whose material base was the struggle between campesinos and the police forces and military who attempted to eradicate the coca leaf with US support. To capture this double ideological dimension – articulation of the national-popular with the ethno-cultural, and with ruptures and continuities with the past – is the reason why we talk about MAS as a new “indigenous nationalism”, removed from the “communitarianist” romanticism of the NGOs and the illusory “mestizaje” of the illustrated middle classes.

Translated from La Epoca

Alvaro Garcia Linera [via Bolivia Rising] | June 24, 2007

Garcia Linera on the constituent assembly, indigenous autonomy and plurinational state

La Prensa, June 17


Q - University students, civic entities and social organisations have announced their intentions to mobilise in Sucre to reclaim attention to their demands in the Constituent Assembly. The tensions seems likely to dominate the assembly this week

A – It was foreseeable that tensions would rise in the defining months of the assembly. I was telling the assembly delegates: “You blow here and in Santa Cruz we get a cold, you cough here and in La Paz we get pneumonia”. The Constituent Assembly has entered into a kind of butterfly effect, where one well or badly placed word in the constitution can modify the relations of power, resources, rights and actions. This is the power that the assembly has. Therefore, it is not strange at all, and it was foreseeable that in the definitive moments the social entities would have to mobilise.

This would not have occurred if there had been a more deliberative process in society, that is to say, that these problems had be debated in forums. Today we are rushing through it. We should have done this five months ago, that way this concentration of society and of history into such a small time and space would not have been necessary. Given that did not happen, now everything is concentrated in Sucre, and in two months we have to resolve everything.....

Q – What is MAS’ model for autonomy? How we you be able to achieve an articulation between regions and departments?

A – Until now there have been three consolidated levels of government: national, departmental and municipal. And all the reports coming out of the Autonomy commission recognise them. Apart from this, it is obligatory that this Constituent Assembly incorporate the issue of the rights of regional and local self-government of the indigenous movements, because they have been the motor of these changes over the last few years.

Q – How are you looking to incorporate the issue of indigenous autonomies in the territorial level?

A – This is the problem. The first option is to use the current territorial structures in force: various municipalities conform a province and a number of these, the departments, and a number of these a region. Here there is no problem and one saves themselves the tensions over borders. And the idea is like this: two or three municipalities which have an indigenous majority conform an indigenous territory, but we have to see with what attributions; or various provinces where there is an indigenous majority conform another macro indigenous territoriality; apart from this, if all the provinces of a department have an indigenous majority and they are seen as so, then they would conform an indigenous department; and if pieces of a department with pieces of another articulate themselves into an even bigger territoriality, there can be an indigenous region. There we are not constructing something parallel, rather we are superimposing the issue of identity over a territorial ordinance already in existence. It would be the easiest way and perhaps could generate less friction.

Nevertheless, the companeros of the social movements are proposing that the territorial delimitations not use those in existence, but instead involve the reconstitution of the old territorial borders of the indigenous peoples. This is interesting, but complicated to implement. And the constituent delegates have this discussion in their hands. There are legitimate historically arguments for them, but I have the impression that these will be the most difficult.

Q – Another point that is provoking observations of MAS is the approval of a plurinational state which could, say its critics, lead to the conformation of indigenous “republiquetas” or the division of the country.

A – This is based on theoretical ignorance. Close to 40% of the states in the world are plurinational or pluricultural and maintain their unity. There are intellectuals who make up the opposition and who have come up with the demagogic idea that “the state is the same as a nation”, nevertheless this is an idea from the 19th century, it is the old and typical debate amongst the romantics, that is, we are 150 years behind in regards to this theoretical and political debate. It is a barbarity that there continues to exist this malicious ignorance. What we are looking to do is resolve what has not been resolved until now, admit the social diversity of the state, with its identities, cultures and nationalities, incorporating them into the structure of the state to guarantee its cohesion and solidness. This is the idea behind a plurinational state. So, the real debate, just like what is occurring with autonomy, is how to achieve this. Here, only now are we entering into a serious dialogue.

Translated extracts from interview published in La Prensa

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