LA PAZ, May 27 (IPS) - Bolivia may have its first-ever indigenous president, but racism is alive and well in this country, as demonstrated by the public humiliation of a group of around 50 indigenous mayors, town councillors and community leaders in the south-central city of Sucre.
The incident, which shook the country but received little attention from the international press, occurred on Saturday, when President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, was to appear in a public ceremony in Sucre to deliver 50 ambulances for rural communities and announce funding for municipal projects.
But in the early hours of Saturday morning, organised groups opposed to Morales began to surround the stadium where he was to appear a few hours later. Confronting the police and soldiers with sticks, stones and dynamite, they managed to occupy the stadium.
The president cancelled his visit, and the security forces were withdrawn, to avoid violent clashes and bloodshed.
But violent elements of the Interinstitutional Committee, a conservative pro-autonomy, anti-Morales civic group that is backed by the local university and other bodies, continued to harass and beat supporters of the governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) and anyone who appeared to belong to one of the country’s indigenous communities.
A mob of armed civilians from
The terrified indigenous people, who had sought refuge in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of
In the city’s main square in front of the building, they were forced to kneel, shirtless, and apologise for coming to
They were surrounded by activists from the conservative pro-autonomy movement, who set fire to the blue, black and white MAS party flag, the multicolour flag of the Aymara people, and colourful hand-woven indigenous ponchos seized from the visiting Morales supporters, as a signal of their "victory" over the president’s grassroots support bases.
Sucre Mayor Aideé Nava and the Interinstitutional Committee immediately apologised after the incident.
On Tuesday, Morales called on local and provincial officials in
Indigenous people in
Analysts say that underlying the autonomy movement, which is spearheaded by the rightwing business and political elites who governed
The aim of the leftwing Morales administration is to distribute the revenues from the eastern provinces’ natural gas reserves and other sources of wealth more evenly, in order to improve the living conditions of the country’s indigenous people, most of whom live in appalling poverty.
According to governing party representatives and an independent analyst who spoke to IPS, Saturday’s incident has encouraged the government’s supporters to redouble their efforts to bring about structural changes aimed at eradicating inequality and discrimination.
"We are witnessing a backlash by the oligarchy," René Navarro, a MAS representative in the constituent assembly that is rewriting the Bolivian constitution, told IPS.
Navarro, who is from the southwestern
Over the weekend, the main news in the print media was the cancellation of the president’s visit to
The right, nevertheless, is attempting in the media to portray Saturday’s violence in
But Navarro said that "Evo is indigenous and represents the country’s rural poor, and Saturday’s incidents are a blow to all citizens alike."
He said that what the government should do is publicise what it has achieved over the last two and a half years.
MAS lawmaker José Pimentel, a former leader of the country’s miners’ union, told IPS that it was urgently necessary to get the draft constitution approved in a referendum, with the support of the rural indigenous peasants in alliance with the urban poor.
Independent analyst Franco Gamboa, a sociologist by training, agreed that the only option open to the government is to continue forging ahead with the new constitution, the vote on which is being delayed by the autonomy referendums as well as plans for a recall referendum for Morales, his vice president, and the country’s nine provincial governors.
The aim of the new constitution, whose draft was approved by the MAS majority in the constituent assembly in a December vote that was boycotted by the rightwing opposition, is to create a unified but decentralised state that recognises
But Gamboa also said the government should accept the results of the autonomy referendums in
Juanita Ancieta, a leader of the Women’s Federation of the Trópico de Cochabamba, a coca-growing area, told IPS that "we are not going to allow them to divide
Pimentel stressed that "the fact that Morales was elected as the country’s first indigenous president is not sufficient to do away with a racist, neo-colonial state, which is why it is important to reform the constitution."
Gamboa said the reaction of conservative groups in Sucre and the autonomy movements in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija reflect opposition to the greater political independence and expanded land rights that the new constitution would grant indigenous people, which would represent a challenge to the privileges enjoyed by the middle-class, landowning and business elites in power in the eastern provinces.
The new constitution would recognise greater autonomy for the provinces, municipalities and indigenous communities, while the anti-Morales provinces only want decentralisation at the municipal and provincial levels.
The events in
The legislator said a social pact for reforming the constitution might be one feasible goal in the long road ahead to building a country where all ethnic and racial groups receive the same respect.
Republished from IPS