For a democracy that serves the people

Evo Morales

The fact that today we Bolivians are celebrating 25 years of democracy is thanks to the struggle, conviction, and tenacity of the Bolivian people and not to concessions by the political class. Historically, all of our democratic advances—from the universal vote in 1952, to the referendum of 2004 and the constituent assembly of 2006—have been accomplishments of the most marginalized sectors of society, those who have been constantly brutalized and scorned by those in power. Therefore—because it has cost us blood, lives and suffering—we have to defend our democracy and our freedoms in order to build a country without discrimination and with social justice and equality.

Today, after 25 years of democracy, we must ask ourselves why we have not been able to build a Bolivia with employment, health care, education, and universal rights. The answer is in the streets and in the pages of history: throughout these years democracy has been subjugated to the interests of a few and not to the interests of the majority. These few political elite, since 1985, have shared power, taking turns in government, enriching themselves off the state, trafficking in politics and grossly expanding their privileges while the people suffered poverty in the streets, unemployment, and disregard for their most basic rights.

With dignity and heroism, these same people— the indigenous, mestizos[i], campesinos[ii], miners, cholos[iii], and laborers, from the countryside and the city, from the neighborhoods and the communities, from the east and the west—have resisted the most brutal marginalization and have rebelled against the policies of selling out, of disgracing the homeland, of easy dollars, and of slush funds. They have led us, via votes and urns, to this democratic and cultural revolution that we are today beginning to experience fully.

Therefore, today we can say— with the impetus and the courage of the people—our democracy is changing, transforming, broadening, deepening; it is beginning to accomplish what it never has before. This historic, peaceful, profound, and unequaled process is an emphatic response to the 20 years (1985 -2005) during which we suffered the dismantling and destruction of the state, the curbing of our sovereignty, dependency on foreign countries, privatization and plundering of our natural resources, power exchange by pact, and absolute submission to the commands and interests of transnational companies and entities.

It is the conscientious awareness of the people that is changing democracy. It is the experience and the effort of the social movements that is causing democracy to address the issues that really concern poor and needy people: basic services, water and electricity, food, employment, education of children, health care, housing, safety, justice, wages etc.

Democracy cannot be a decorative façade that hides from view the masses condemned to perpetual poverty. Democracy is much more than a routine election every four years. The heart of democracy—its vitality—is participation, coexistence, respect for differences, and the comprehension that our indigenous roots, our cultures, languages, and customs and our diversity enriches us as a country yielding enormous potential and a future of development that today, for the first time, belongs to us.

To build this future that belongs to us, we Bolivians have the Constituent Assembly: the great demand and the great challenge of our democracy. In this new millennium, the people expect our democracy to be capable of doing away with the colonial mindset, with the inherited racist culture that encourages discrimination, division, and conflict between brothers. All the attempts to thwart the Assembly, to divide the country and bring us to violence, have been carried out by those who have never believed in democracy for all; those who continue to think that wealth, land, gas, education, health, and well being are the exclusive birthright of a few privileged individuals.

In a democracy there cannot be privileged and non privileged individuals. Democracy must seek solidarity, equity, and the redistribution of wealth. The time has passed for democracy characterized by “pacts” and shameful apportionment conspired around briefcases. Today democracy must be synonymous with the liberation of natural resources, the recognition of rights, the generation of equity. Today —with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples —the world recognizes the rights of those who have historically been dispossessed and condemned. Our democracy cannot continue turning its back on those (indigenous, women, youth etc.) who wish to participate in building a country without second class citizens.

After 25 years, democracy is finally the birthright of everyone. And it is a challenge to us all to continue the struggle for liberty, independence, equality, and justice in this homeland that provides for us. Affectionately we do this in memory and in honor of all those who gave their lives to bring us to where we are now.

Translated from La Razon for Bolivia Rising by Dawn Gable

[i] Mestizo refers to a person of mixed ethnicity, particularly of Indigenous and Western European parentage.

[ii] Campesino refers to small scale or subsistence farmers, farm laborers or peasants.

[iii] Cholo refers to a person of mixed race from the Andean region.

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