FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Power of Spectacle in Bolivia

A caravan of buses, security vehicles, indigenous leaders and backpackers with Che T-shirts wove their way down a muddy road through farmers’ fields last Wednesday to the pre-colonial city of Tiwanaku, where Bolivian President Evo Morales was ceremonially inaugurated into his third term in office.  Folk music played throughout the morning as indigenous priests conducted complex rituals to prepare the president for his next term. The spectacle in the ancient city’s ruins was marked by its many layers of symbolic meaning.

“Today is a special day, a historic day reaffirming our identity,” Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, said in his speech in a stone doorway to Tiwanaku. “For more than 500 years we have suffered darkness, hate, racism, discrimination and individualism, ever since the strange [Spanish] men arrived who told us we had to modernize, we had to civilize ourselves… But to modernize us, to civilize us, first they had to make the indigenous peoples of the world disappear.”

Last October, Morales was re-elected with more than 60% of the vote. His popularity is largely due to his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party’s success in reducing poverty, empowering marginalized sectors of society, and using funds from state-run industries for hospitals, schools and much-needed public works projects across Bolivia.

“I would like to tell you, sisters and brothers,” Morales continued, “especially those invited here internationally, before what did they say? ‘The Indians, the indigenous people are only for voting and not for governing.’ And now the indigenous people, the unions, we have all demonstrated that we also know how to govern better than them.”

For most of those in attendance, the event was a time to reflect on the economic and social progress enjoyed under the Morales’ government, and to recognize how far the country has come in overcoming 500 years of subjugation of its indigenous majority.

“This event is very important for us, for the Aymara, Quechua and Guarani people,” said Ismael Ticona Quispe of the Tupak Katari campesino federation of La Paz. “[Evo Morales] is our brother who is in power now after more than 500 years of slavery. Therefore this ceremony has a lot of importance for us… We consider this a huge celebration, especially for the Aymaras.”

For critics on the left, the Tiwanaku event embodied the contradictions of a president who champions indigenous rights at the same time that he silences and undermines grassroots indigenous dissidents, and who speaks of respect for Mother Earth while deepening an extractive economy based in gas and mining industries.

But the politics of decolonization in Bolivia are never simple, and the spectacle represented more than these contradictions. This complexity was on fully display in Tiwanaku, where indigenous movement leaders walled off beyond the main event complained that the Argentines with blond dreadlocks yelling “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Evo, Evo” were blocking their view while “Hallelujah” played on the loudspeakers at the same time that Andean priests blessed a Middle Eastern dignitary shaking hands with the president right after Evo said “there’s no first world… or third world… only one world” while a local worker cleaned out the dozens of porta-potties.

There were thousands of Bolivian social, indigenous and labor movement participants in attendance, yet the presence and enthusiasm of international activists, from Europe to Central America, was very palpable at Tiwanaku. Beyond the many shortcomings and victories of the Morales government nationally, the administration also serves a political purpose outside of Bolivia’s borders, orienting and inspiring people toward an alternative horizon.

As Ana Llao, a Mapuche leader from Chile, explained, she was attending the ceremony “to strengthen the ties between the indigenous peoples of Abya Yala and especially give our support to our brother Evo who is the first indigenous president. I believe that in Latin America and throughout the world, as [Morales] said so well in his speech, that today the indigenous, the original peoples, these social classes are capable of governing. Today Bolivia is demonstrating this.”

The way the MAS used Tiwanaku for political ends, as it has in past inaugurations, was shameful and opportunistic for some critics. But there is a long history in Bolivia of couching politics of liberation within the deeper story of colonialism and indigenous resistance. From campesino and indigenous movements in the 1970s to the MAS party today, activists and leftist politicians have evoked a glorious indigenous past to legitimize their demands and guide their contested processes of decolonization. In the Gas War in 2003, when residents of El Alto laid siege to La Paz, their militancy recalled another siege over 200 years earlier, when Tupak Katari and Bartolina Sisa led a similar assault on the colonial city. Today, the country’s main indigenous and campesina women’s movement bears Bartolina Sisa’s name and just celebrated its 35th anniversary earlier this month.

The MAS doesn’t have a monopoly on the uses of Bolivia’s rebel past, but it’s incredibly savvy in its deployment of historical consciousness as an ideological and political tool. From the uses of the coca leaf and the multi-colored wiphala flag as symbols of indigeneity, to naming Bolivia’s first satellite after Tupak Katari, the past has always been present with the MAS. When Evo Morales walked through the doors of Tiwanaku last week amidst incense and the prayers of Andean priests, it was a profound moment marking the third term in office for the country’s first indigenous president. It was also just another day in the MAS era.

 

0-1-0-Tiwanaku.SocMovts

0-1-0-Tiwanaku.Morales.2

0-1-0-BartSisa.2

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

More articles by:

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
Ramzy Baroud
Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis
Ron Jacobs
Dancing with Dr. Benway
Joseph Natoli
Gaming the Climate
Marshall Auerback
The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust
Louisa Willcox
Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin
Kenn Orphan
Stranger Things, Stranger Times
Mike Garrity
Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem
Helen Yaffe
Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures
Brian Cloughley
What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America
David Underhill
The Inequality of Equal Pay
David Macaray
Adventures in Script-Writing
David Rosen
Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression
Nick Pemberton
This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz
Dan Bacher
Chevron’s Oil Spill Endangers Kern County
J.P. Linstroth
A Racist President and Racial Trauma
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Julian Assange
Rose Ramirez – Dedrick Asante-Mohammad
A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools
David Bravo
Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital
Ralph Nader
Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?
Dave Lindorff
The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!
Arnold August
Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela
Tom Clifford
China and the Swine Flu Outbreak
Missy Comley Beattie
Highest Anxiety
Jill Richardson
Weapons of the Weak
Peter Certo
Washington vs. The Squad
Peter Bolton
Trump’s Own Background Reveals the True Motivation Behind Racist Tweets: Pure White Supremacy
Colin Todhunter
From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed
Nozomi Hayase
In Crisis of Democracy, We All Must Become Julian Assange
Wim Laven
The Immoral Silence to the Destructive Xenophobia of “Just Leave”
Cecily Myart-Cruz
McDonald’s: Stop Exploiting Our Schools
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis
CounterPunch News Service
A Homeless Rebellion – Mission Statement/Press Release
Louis Proyect
Parallel Lives: Cheney and Ailes
David Yearsley
Big in the Bungalow of Believers
Ellen Taylor
The Northern Spotted Owls’ Tree-Sit
July 18, 2019
Timothy M. Gill
Bernie Sanders, Anti-Imperialism and Venezuela
W. T. Whitney
Cuba and a New Generation of Leaders Respond to U.S. Anti-People War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail