The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Bolivia: unravelling the Indian power structure
It's a work in progress!
There are various elements that need to be brought together.
Firstly, the traditional notions and structures of government that have come down from pre-colonial times. I cannot pretend to any understanding of this to date: the key peculiarity to strike the Western mind is the prevalence of what (recycling a grand old English word) is known to the anthropologists (and other -ologists) as moiety organisation. According to the Klein snippet I've referred to before , each nation of the Aymara  was divided into two kingdoms (p17a); and the Aymara's kinship groups, or ayllus, were similarly each divided in two. And, side by side with the structures of ayllus was a parallel system of rule by local chiefs, or caciques.
When the Incas arrived, they preserved the Aymara structures, at least in some of the kingdoms (p20a). And the Spanish, too, used the existing structures as the basis of local government .
(There's an interesting short paper  which gives a flavour of the contribution of traditional forms of government to the current systems of local government.)
Second, there are those systems: during his first term of office (1993-97), President Sánchez de Lozada introduced far-reaching decentralisation legislation (far-reaching, at least, for a previously centralised state like Bolivia.) My (fragile) understanding is that it was a response to a mobilisation of Indians in opposition to the Washington Consensus economic policies followed by Bolivian governments since 1985 .
Third, there are the national organisations representing the Indians - a bit less than two-thirds of the population, a proportion spookily similar to that the of Shi'ites amongst Iraqis. Personalities plus ideology equals alphabet soup - again, there is a short paper that describes the rise of the Indian movement from the 1970s up to 1999 .
(One guy I've not mentioned before, who deserves name recognition, is Román Loayza, who is a senador suplente - or back-up - in the Bolivian Congress for Evo Morales' MAS party and, it seems, bitter enemy of Felipe Quispe of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB) .)
Fourthly, the interaction between the Indian groups (that I call, failing anything better, the street opposition) and the regular parties and the national bureaucracy. Because both Morales' and Quispe's groups are in Congress, as well as in the street.
And lastly, the very question of Indian-ness : so strong is the Indian heritage (in combination with other factors like geography) as apparently to call into question what content the idea of the Bolivian nation has. (Hence, the ease of separatist tendencies in Santa Cruz and Tarija departments in suggesting the refundación of the country's government  - a hollowing out of something that is already pretty hollow!)
But there is also the matter of relations between the Indian groups: the Quispe-Morales antipathy, in cartoon form, is Aymara versus Quechua . Nothing else about the place is that simple, so I doubt whether this is. Nor, I expect, is it the Western indigenophile's Eden of cross-cultural tranquillity.
And there's race: the Spanish colonial model favoured mestizaje - the women who would have been the equivalent of that bane of British India, the memsahib, were left in Spain. And, to this day, Latin America works on the (at least) three-colour standard, with mestizos a separate group.
The assumption seems to be made that there is no difficulty in assigning individuals to a particular group. Are all of those who call themselves Aymaras really full-blood Indians? And are all those who call themselves white really so white?
It's the sort of apartheid racial classification nonsense slam-dunk for satire that should have done for the University of Michigan's race game before the Supremes earlier this year. But how does it work in practice in Bolivia ?
(Of course, the question does arise in the US in connection with the casino racket. On October 16, I produced a range of online sources on this farce - Prohibition in reverse - including a piece dealing with the very apartheid notion of blood quantum. Too much white blood, and it's no casino wampum! If only the missionaries had had that shot in their locker when preaching against miscegenation in the Wild West...)
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