The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, November 17, 2003

Bolivia: Indian also speak with forked tongue?

Of note in this week's Pulso, a couple of pieces on Evo Morales, leader of the cocaleros, head of the MAS party and one of the top three or four key leaders in the opposition.

First, there's a piece by the editor of the rag, Jorge Canelas Sáenz, taking a properly sceptical look at what exactly Morales and MAS stand for.

He's not impressed. If the other parties in Bolivia are victims of decrepitude, MAS is an adolescent in serious need of growing up. The piece is delightfully free of the usual bollocks of the engagé gringo parachutist (from the Guardian, say), eager to genuflect before the oracle of the Authentic, the noble savage, after all those conniving, phoney Western pols.

Canelas (or is it Sáenz?) does Morales the courtesy of judging him on his merits, without the mulligans.

He supplies a handy checklist of his, and his party's, deficiencies. The first point gives a flavour of the rest, referring to:
el talante mismo, sin profundidad doctrinal y dominado por lugares comunes situados en una fácil izquierda recalcitrante

It includes allegations of evasiveness on the link between his member's coca production and the cocaine trade; of working with the drug syndicates in Chapare (his most important power base) on allocation of land; of operating what it calls a
dictadura sindical
in Chapare, and even on the altiplano, in competition with his arch-rival Felipe Quispe. And more.

Following his list, he concludes that, with these failings properly accounted for, there's really not much left of substance in the MAS programme.

And he finishes by suggesting that, if Morales were to become president, he might well turn out like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe - rather than the Mandela whose name flatterers of Morales apparently invoke by way of comparison.

Of course, all this might be so much wishful thinking. One needs to be especially careful in evaluating stories with the conclusions of which one sympathises. But, taken as hypotheses to be tested, his Morales rap-sheet is a useful contribution.

Then, as if to provide material to test Canelas' propositions, there's a long interview with Morales himself. I've only skimmed it; but the signs are not good.

No pol easily gives a straight answer to any question, but his evasions are, perhaps, more crude and shameless than many.

For instance, chased up hill and down dale on the question of the gas referendum, he says that the question should be not whether gas be exported but whether it should be renationalised.
¿ Y si el pueblo boliviano en el referéndum dice que no quiere nacionalizar el gas?

Ah, entonces la situación es muy diferente, quiere decir que el pueblo se ha movilizado en vano…

There is similar wriggling when it comes to the consequences for Carlos Mesa if he does not comply with MAS's demands.

There is also a very strange piece of reportage by Morales on a visit he paid to Fidel Castro (who notably failed to turn up to the alternative summit that Morales organised on the fringe of the Ibero-American Summit in Santa Cruz - he didn't go to either summit, in fact). Morales apparently asked Castro for aid in the event of a blockade of Bolivia. Castro, he said, told him off for asking, querying exactly how such a blockade might arise - Morales supplied no enlightenment, to Castro or the puzzled reader of the piece.

[The refreshing lack of reverence towards Morales as an Indian in the Canelas piece reminds me of the trenchant comments of Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in Bogotá a few days ago. He placed the indigenous movements in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America as, with socialism and Nazism, incompatible with the development of civilisation.

By way of example
Citó el caso de su país: "Está brotando con dos o tres hermanitos que en nombre de esa identidad colectiva, la identidad indígena, autóctona, genuina, la de la verdadera peruanidad, han lanzado una campaña que cuando uno la examina racionalmente parece que fuera tonta, casi cómica, pero que toca un centro neurálgico llamado espíritu de la tribu, que nunca desaparece incluso en sociedades que han avanzado más en el camino de la civilización".

Agregó que en el movimiento indígena hay un elemento profundamente perturbador "que apela a los bajos instintos, a los peores instintos del individuo, como la desconfianza hacia el otro, al que es distinto. Entonces se encierran en sí mismos".

I've only looked at one or two pieces with reactions - this, this and this - but I'm bound to say that the condemnation seems relative muted. (Compared, say, with the fraught, sometimes hysterical, tone of the general run of pieces on the Trent Lott and James Moran utterances.)

In Australia and North America, 'native' [1] questions have the white man jumping Jim Crow. The extraordinary arcana of native title, the casino racket - have highlighted the extent to which he can be made a monkey of by 'native'
interests, skilfully advised. (The crash of Cruz Bustamante's run for Governor of California, under the weight of casino wampum, much of it illegally contributed, is a signal - and, I suspect, rare - instance of the shtick coming unstuck.)

Perhaps Vargas Llosa's cojones may prove an inspiration to those faced with such nonsenses in the future...]

  1. Use of words like native and indigenous beg questions which - as in the infamous Kennewick Man case - those claiming such status go to extraordinary lengths to ensure can never be answered!

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