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16 June 2008updated 08 Sep 2021 12:22pm

Bolivia’s racial onslaught

Bolivian socialist politician César Navarro - ambushed by a mob in his country's constitutional capi

By New Statesman

In Bolivia racial violence is being encouraged and promoted by regional governments, civic committees and right-wing political organisations.

Evo Morales, who cut his teeth as an indigenous political leader through his campaigns for the coca-leaf growers union in the tropics of Cochabamba, has developed a revolutionary discourse born out of Bolivia’s social movements which is anti-imperialist, anti-colonial and anti-neoliberal.

This consists mainly of the principles of defence of national sovereignty, of natural resources, and of land, equality between men and women and respect for human rights.

This political praxis has formed the basis for public policy. However, these policies are being resisted internally and externally by those who are opposed politically, ideologically and culturally to the revolutionary process that the Bolivian people are living, breathing and building.

The opposition, which operates through civic organisations, regional governments, business groups and the media – meanwhile – has constructed a rhetoric or, if you like, a counter-discourse which turns President Evo Morales’ good qualities into bad ones, accuses him of being an indigenous-fundamentalist, undemocratic, an enemy of private investment; a foe of the middle classes and a defender of centralised government in opposition to regional autonomy.

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This discourse, which is being used to paint both the President and the process of political change as a force for ill, has created an atmosphere which is intended to breed conditions for social and racial violence towards Bolivia’s indigenous and working classes.

Dramatic manifestations of such social and racial violence, which are tolerated and encouraged by political nuclei of the opposition were seen in the city of Cochabamba in January 2007, in Sucre in September 2007 and May 2008; in Santa Cruz in August and December 2007 and May 2008 and in the regions of Beni and Pando in June 2008. Organised groups planned and carried out violence against indigenous people and peasants, and they publicly expressed their collective discourse through racist phrases such as: “fucking indian”.

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Many of us, both men and women, are victims of this violence which is a result of the political mediocrity of the opposition and the racial arrogance of tiny sectors of society; they are part of the process of destabilising our President and the structural transformation that we are living through.

This article is not an attempt to theorise the violence that we are experiencing, but a testimony of what many of us suffer, its purpose is not for us to complain or to present ourselves as martyrs, but to let the world know how the right-wing, displaced from political power by popular mobilisation, defeated at the ballot box by a whole people, now uses overt racism as part of its discourse and action.

Racism is not admissible in the world in the 21st century, but it must be known that it is being promoted in Bolivia by sectors of the population which are economically powerful. These groups, today settled in the region of Santa Cruz, many of them offspring of immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have appropriated the indigenous identity of Santa Cruz, known as “camba” and this is being used to show racial supremacy over the “colla” and “chapaco” (indigenous people of the West and South of Bolivia).

This means that the historical challenge for Evo and the Bolivian process is not limited to the need to structurally modify the State, the economy and society but also to eliminate internal neo-colonialism once and for all.

The liberation of the people means the reaffirmation of their identity, not a negation of the other but a respect for differences.

César Navarro is an MP of the Bolivian Movement towards Socialism party. He was attacked, along with Senator Carmen Rosa Velásquez, at the airport of the Bolivian city of Sucre. The attack occurred while Navarro was travelling to his constituency in Potosí; he was manhandled by a waiting gang while Senator Velásquez was set upon, the group pushing her about, pulled her hair and hit her. Stones were then thrown at them as they escaped by taxi. Navarro has now decided to avoid passing through Sucre when travelling between his constituency and Bolivia’s capital, La Paz.