Yesterday, we had the best news of 2020. After months of constant mobilization, the Indigenous people of Bolivia have taken back their power in a first round majority vote for the MAS (Movement for Socialism), the party previously led by Evo Morales and now by Luis Arce, former finance minister.
From Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political (2009):
“In the summer of 2006, I spent five weeks in Bolivia to observe one of the most extraordinary revolutions in the history of humanity. Even though by then I had by then been attending World Social Forums in Brazil and Venezuela for several years, it was on the other side of the world, in Jordan, that I had decided to make Bolivia a major focus of my political rethinking. …
La Paz was a revelation.
One day I was waiting for someone outside the office of a government minister. One of the most amazing signs of change is the number of campesinos (peasants), who have walked from their collective farms to La Paz to meet with their ministers. I started a conversation with one young man, who asked why I was interested in Bolivia. “I am interested in democracy,” I responded, “and I think this is a very important experiment in democracy.”
“Yes, we know a lot about democracy here in Bolivia,” he responded. “The problem is that our governments haven’t understood it. We are hoping this one will be different.” So far, it looks like this one is very different.
Rooted in centuries-old traditions of communitarian socialism, reciprocity, and a oneness with the earth, and combined with decades of radical and militant trade-union and Indigenous struggles, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) came to power in December 2005. Evo, as everyone here calls him, is not only the first Indigenous leader in the Americas in more than five hundred years, he is also a campesino and leader of the cocaleros (coca growers), one of the most militant groups in the country. Morales explained to me that the Bolivian Indigeneous organizations made a commitment at the Continental Indigenous Summit, held in November 1992 to mark the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to move from resistance to the taking of power. The MAS led by Morales is not a political party in the classical sense. It is what people here call a political instrument of the social organizations. All the Indigenous campesino organizations got together and formed a political organization that could contest elections. While these organizations started the MAS, they were joined by various elements of the middle class, including intellectuals and elements of the urban Left.
Nonetheless, Morales’s power is in the tremendous support he has from a mobilized Indigenous movement. In the few weeks I was there, I attended two major demonstrations at which Evo spoke to thousands of peasants. The first one was a response to the Senate, which the MAS does not control, which was holding up their agrarian reform. The other was the opening of the Constituent Assembly in Sucre, the ancient capital of Bolivia. At the nationally televised ceremony installing the Constituent Assembly on Bolivian Independence Day, August 6, Evo told the Assembleistas that they held ultimate power in the country, “more power than Evo Morales, more power than Parliament,” and that they had a great responsibility to continue the progress created by the social movements. Of course not everyone in the Assembly supports the MAS, and the right wing, which has become much stronger and better organized in the last year, has successfully used the Assembly to hold up various important changes sought by the MAS.
The Assembly is not only symbolic of a refounding of the country, with the Indigenous majority finally in government, but it promises to take some fundamental measures to change the economy as well as the structure of the state. Since my visit, the often-racist opposition has done everything possible to block these changes. From thugs to procedural wrangling to referenda on autonomy for the regions, the Right in Bolivia, supported by the United States, has thrown every roadblock short of a coup into the path of the peaceful revolution begun with Evo’s election. At the time of this writing, they have not yet succeeded.”
Of course, since publishing this book, there has now been a coup and the Bolivian people have mobilized in the way they have always mobilized, standing up to a vicious racist right wing, standing up to the United States. They have stood up to the Organization of American States (OAS), which is a tool of the U.S. imperialism, and even to Canada which shamefully supported the right-wing coup. And yesterday, the MAS won a majority in the election the Bolivian people fought to have.
“During my first visit to Bolivia we stopped on the road from La Paz to Cochabamba at the point of highest elevation, and three little children came to greet us. The older brother was about eight, his sisters six and three. They were beautiful, and, like all tourists, I wanted a photo. “No photo,” the brother said firmly. Susan, who was travelling with me as interpreter and friend, thought he wanted money, so she offered some. “No photo,” he insisted.
“What would you like, then?” she asked him.
“A notebook,” he replied.
Here we were, Gringo tourists asking this peasant child what he would like from us, and what he wanted was a notebook so he could go to school. Everyone in Bolivia to whom we told that story, from cabinet ministers to union leaders, responded with tears. Even the poorest peasant child living on a mountaintop now believes that he or she can do whatever she wants. “Evo gives us hope,” one young teacher in Cochabamba told me. “We have never had hope before.”
Could it be that the ancient Andean philosophies and values could provide us with some of that hope by providing a framework that could save the earth and save humanity? Evo thinks so.
The Indigenous communities have historically lived in community, in collectivity, in harmony not only with each other as human beings but with mother earth and nature, and we have to recover that. If we think about life as equality and justice, if we think of humanity, the model of the West, industrialization and neo-liberalism is destroying the planet earth, which for me is the great Pachamama [Mother Earth]. The model that concentrates capital in the hands of the few, this neo-liberal model, this capitalist model, is destroying the planet earth. And it’s heading towards destroying humanity. And from Bolivia we can make a modest contribution to defend life, to save humanity. That’s our responsibility.”
As you may know, Evo didn’t always carry out their dreams but for the first time in Latin America, the Indigenous peoples ran a country and did so in the interest of the majority. Standing up to the international ruling class, the MAS managed to make important reforms, pull thousands out of poverty and speak up internationally for Mother Earth.
The election of Evo Morales in 2006 was a dramatic advance in the struggles of Indigenous peoples for sovereignty. Hopefully the MAS government elected today will continue to be an inspiration to Indigenous peoples around the world and the rest of us who yearn for profound transformation.
They have already inspired us by taking on racist reactionary coup plotters with a mass movement of Indigneous people. Their majority victory in the first round of a run off election for president as well as a majority in the house and the senate should back off the imperialist OAS and countries like Canada.
I would like to see an apology from Justin Trudeau and his henchman Chrystia Freeland to the people of Bolivia for supporting a racist government that appointed itself and delayed elections for months.
Transforming Power is available in e-book format online or in libraries and bookstores. Judy Rebick is the founding publisher of rabble.ca. Her latest book is a memoir Heroes in My Head.
Image: Luis Arce/Twitter