FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail