Hating Indians in Bolivia.
By Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia.
Translated and published with permission from the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica (CELAG).
Like a thick, night fog, hatred rages through the neighborhoods of the traditional urban middle classes in Bolivia. Their eyes overflow with anger. They don’t shout, they spit. They don’t make appeals, they impose their will. Their chants are neither hopeful nor fraternal, they ring with contempt for the Indians, they call for discrimination against the Indians. They ride their motorcycles, saddle up in their SUVs, gather in their carousing fraternities and private universities, and hunt for rebellious Indians who dared to snatch power from their hands.
In Santa Cruz, they organize hordes of 4x4s, armed with clubs to scare the Indians who live in the poorest neighborhoods and the markets, those whom they call “collas.” They shout that “you have to kill collas,” and if they come across a woman wearing an indigenous dress, they beat her, they threaten her, and they tell her to get out. In Cochabamba, they organize convoys to enforce their racial supremacy in the south of the city, where the impoverished classes live. They charge into thousands of defenseless peasant women marching for peace, as if they were the cavalry. They carry baseball bats, chains, gas grenades. Some show off firearms. Women are their favorite victims. They grab the mayor of a rural town, they humiliate her, drag her down the street, hit her, urinate on her. When she falls to the ground, they cut her hair, they threaten to lynch her, and when they realize they are being filmed, they cover her in red paint, a symbol of what they will do with her blood.
In La Paz, they are suspicious of their servants and do not speak when they bring food to the table. Deep down they fear them, but they also despise them. Later, they go out to the streets to shout, they insult Evo and, with him, all the Indians who dared to build intercultural democracy based on equality. When they gather in a crowd, they drag the Wiphala – the indigenous flag – through the dirt, spit on it, stomp on it, tear it, burn it. They vent their rage on this symbol of the Indians, the people whom they would like to wipe off the earth, along with all those who recognize themselves in this symbol of indigenous dignity.
Racial hatred is the political language of the traditional middle class in Bolivia. All their academic degrees, travels abroad, and religious faith are useless because, in the end, everything pales before their ancestry. Deep down, their imagined lineage is stronger, this obsession oozes from their racist language, their visceral gestures, and their corrupted morals.
All of this exploded on Sunday, October 20, when Evo Morales won the elections, coming in more than 10 percentage points ahead of the second-place finisher. However, the margin of victory was not so great as it was in the past, Evo’s vote even fell below 51 percent. But that was enough of a signal for the regressive forces waiting to oust him: from the timid liberal opposition candidate, to the ultraconservative political forces, to the OAS, to the ineffable traditional middle class. Evo had won again, but he no longer had 60 percent of the electorate with him. He was weaker, and they would have to move against him. The losing candidate refused to recognize his defeat. The OAS spoke of “clean elections” but of a diminished victory and asked for a second round of voting. (The OAS’ proposal contradicted the Constitution, which states that if a candidate has more than 40% of the votes and a lead of greater than 10 percent over the second-place candidate then the leading candidate wins and is elected.) And the middle class went hunting for Indians. On the night of Monday, October 21, five out of nine of the election authority’s offices were burned, including ballot boxes. The city of Santa Cruz decreed a civic strike that encompassed inhabitants in the central areas of the city, then spread the strike to residential areas in La Paz and Cochabamba. And then the terror broke out.
Paramilitary bands began to besiege institutions, burn union headquarters, set fire to the homes of candidates and political leaders of the ruling party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS). Even the president’s own private home was ransacked. In other places, families, including children, were kidnapped and threatened to be flogged and burned if their father who served, for instance, as a government minister or a union leader did not resign from his position. A long-anticipated night of long knives was unleashed and fascism showed its face.
When the popular forces mobilizing to resist the civil coup began to regain territorial control of the cities as workers, miners, peasants, indigenous people, and the urban poor flooded into the streets – and the balance of forces began to tip in their favor – the police mutiny began.
For a number of weeks, the police had shown great indolence and incompetence when it came to their duty to protect ordinary people threatened with beatings and persecution by fascistic gangs. But as of last Friday, refusing to recognize their civilian command, many of them showed an extraordinary ability to attack, detain, torture, and kill popular protesters. Of course, when they had been asked to constrain protests by the children of the middle classes, they supposedly lacked the capacity to do so. However, now that the task was repressing rebellious Indians, police arrogance and repressive fury was monumental. The same occurred with the Armed Forces. Throughout our administration, we never allowed civilian demonstrations to be repressed, not even during the first civil coup d’état attempt in 2008.
But after the elections, in the middle of an enormous upheaval, and without us asking them anything, the police declared that they had no riot gear, that they had barely eight bullets per officer, and that a presidential decree would be required for them to be present in the streets in a deterrent capacity. However, the security forces did not hesitate to demand/enforce president Evo Morales’ resignation, fracturing the constitutional order. They tried their best to kidnap him when he headed towards El Chapare to seek refuge and then even after he arrived. And when the coup was consummated, the security forces took to the streets, shooting thousands of bullets, militarizing the cities, killing peasants. Of course, they did all this without any presidential decree. When asked to protect Indians, a decree was required. To repress and kill Indians, obeying racial and class hatred was sufficient. And in just five days, there are already more than eighteen dead and more than 120 have suffered gunshot wounds. Of course, all of them are indigenous.
The question we all must answer is why the traditional middle class incubated so much hatred and resentment towards the people, leading them to embrace a racialized fascism focused on the Indian as an enemy? How did it infect the police and armed forces with its class frustrations, creating a social basis for fascistization, a basis for state regression and moral degeneration?
We are witnessing the rejection of equality, that is, the rejection of the very foundations of a meaningful democracy.
Over the past fourteen years, the main characteristic of the government – based on social movements – has been the process of social equalization, the sharp reduction of extreme poverty (from 38 to 15 percent), an expansion of rights for all people (universal access to health, education, and social protection), the “Indianization” of the state (more than 50 percent of public administration officials have an indigenous identity, a new national narrative formed around an indigenous base), and a reduction of economic inequalities (a decline in the income differential from 130 to 45 between the richest and the poorest). That is, the government presided over the systematic democratization of wealth, access to public goods, opportunities, and state power. During those fourteen years, the GDP grew from 9 billion to 42 billion dollars, expanding the market and internal savings, thereby allowing many people to have their own home and improve their working conditions.
In fact, in just one decade the percentage of people in the so-called “middle class,” measured in income, increased from 35 to 60 percent of the population, most of this coming from popular and indigenous sectors. The democratization of social goods through the construction of material equality inevitably led to a rapid devaluation of the economic, educational, and political capital possessed by the traditional middle classes. Previously, a notable last name, or a monopoly over legitimate professional, academic, or political knowledge, or a set of parental ties that typified the traditional middle classes allowed them access to positions in the public administration, to obtain credit, to bid for jobs or scholarships. However, today the number of people fighting for the same positions or opportunities has not only doubled – reducing by half the possibilities for the old middle classes accessing these goods – but, in addition, the “arribistas,” or upstarts, in the new, indigenous middle class of a popular origin have a set of social capitals (Indigenous language, trade union links) that are, in fact, of greater value – not to mention state recognition of their status in the competition for available public goods.
We are facing, therefore, a collapse of what was characteristic of colonial societies: ethnicity as capital, that is, the imagined foundation of the historical superiority of the middle class over subaltern classes. And here in Bolivia, social class is only comprehensible and visible in the form of racial hierarchies. The fact that the children of the old middle classes have been the shock troops of the reactionary insurgency is the violent cry of a new generation that sees how their inheritance of a surname and their skin is diminishing in the face of the democratization of social goods. Thus, although they wave banners for democracy which they understand narrowly as one election, they have actually rebelled against democracy understood as equalization and distribution of wealth. This explains the overflowing of hatred, the outpouring of violence. Racial supremacy is not rational, it is lived as a prime physical impulse, like a tattoo preserving colonial history. Hence, fascism and racial hatred are not only consequences of a frustrated revolution, they are also, paradoxically, reactions against the achievement of material democratization in postcolonial societies.
Therefore, it is not surprising that while the Indians gather twenty of their own shot dead in the streets, the coup’s material and moral perpetrators claim that they have done so in order to safeguard democracy. In reality, they know that what they are doing is protecting the privilege of their caste and their good names.
Racial hatred can only destroy, it does not provide a future horizon. It is nothing more than primitive revenge carried out by an historically and morally decadent class, a revenge demonstrating that, behind each mediocre liberal, hides a committed coup supporter.
Translated and published with permission from the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica (CELAG).