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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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 [1], each nation of the Aymara [2] 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 [3].

(There's an interesting short paper [4] 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 [5].

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 [6].

(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) [7].)

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 [8]: 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 [9] - 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 [10]. 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...)

  1. The first 20 pages of Herbert Klein's Concise History of Bolivia are online (PDF).

  2. The Indians in occupation of tracts of what is now Bolivia before the arrival of the Incas.

  3. An example the method known (when practised in the British Empire) as indirect rule, pioneered (or, at least, associated with) Lord Lugard, Governor-General of Nigeria from 1914.

  4. The Archaeology of Democracy and Development in Highland Bolivia (PDF)

  5. There seems to be a (comparatively) large amount of stuff on decentralisation in Bolivia (it's a thesis-worthy topic!). Decentralization and Democratization in Bolivia by Miguel Centellas is a good place to start.

  6. A very poor place to stop - as Oscar Hammerstein never wrote. The author of the paper (PDF), The Campaign for an Instrumento Político, Christine McKee, formerly of the University of Hull, unfortunately seems to have dropped off the face of the (online) earth. So an update, I suspect, is out of the question. Pity.

  7. You get a flavour of the personal rivalries in the affair of the CSUTCB leadership earlier this year. Apparently, Loayza attempted a coup to oust Quispe as head of the union. Bitter things were said: the story unfolds here, here and here. The Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) decided to leave the four CSUTCB places on its Executive Committee (or whatever) vacant until the Quispe-Loayza dispute was settled.

    And it's not over: a piece on November 20 has Alejo Véliz, described as secretario general of the CSUTCB, and Quispe's segundo hombre (I'm thinking sidekick), complaining that the government has accepted a petition on behalf of the union from Loayza with an offer of talks. He accuses President Carlos Mesa of trying to divide the campesinos.

    I'm sure Mesa was as shocked as I was to read that. In the Captain Reynaud sense, naturally...

    (Of course, this dispute only goes further to spoil (I might prefer refine!) the cartoon Indian moiety organisation that I put forward as a hypothesis at the start of the Bolivian odyssey here: Quispe and Morales as equal and opposite leaders of the movement. Quispe's not equal at all, it seems.)

  8. The Spanish should be indigeneidad, I think. But Google only produces a handful of examples.

  9. My piece on October 31 looked at separatist sentiment in the country.

  10. I'm pretty sure it's that way round!


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