The Bolivians cast their votes well

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, 11 August 2008

“Cet animal est très méchant. Quand on l'attaque, il se défend.”

Now that the results of the referendum are in and - ignorant of the fact that when Voltaire composed this mot his tongue was firmly in his cheek - the racist opposition in Bolivia to the elected government of their country will be trotting out these words about the wicked animal which defends itself when attacked.

The reality is that up and down Latin America – from Chiapas and Guatemala to Ecuador and the High Andes - the original inhabitants of the region, after five hundred years of being enslaved and generally mucked about by the Europeans, are beginning to get their own back.

As president-elect Lugo who takes over the presidency of Paraguay on Friday reminded me when I saw him in Asunción a few weeks ago, the indigenous movement got a powerful boost in 1992 on the quincentenary of Columbus’ transatlantic voyage. Today it is a truism that only when the indigenous peoples begin to get their fair share of the cake will the region’s curse of having wealth concentrated in too few hands start to be lifted, a real mass market develop and decent modern societies emerge.

Sadly for them, the white supremacists in the Bolivian departments of Santa Cruz and Sucre who were recently cursing their compatriots who had a bit more indigenous blood in their veins, lost Sunday’s vote.

President Evo Morales is estimated to gave got 60 per cent of the ballots cast, more than he got in the general elections which brought him to power. He even got a majority among the detainees in the country’s women’s prisons. The four million voters cast their ballots well, for Morales, himself an Aymara, and his new constitution. For good measure they even threw out the governor of Cochabamba, a sworn enemy of the President, who has since been bleating that the voting was unconstitutional.

The racist opposition saw its pre-electoral manoeuvres come to nothing. No one cared about the self-appointed civic leaders of the departments of Pando, Chuquisaca, Beni, Santa Cruz y Tarija who went on hunger strike the other day, they had plenty of body fat to lose; no one took any notice of the university students and vigilantes who prevented the presidents of Argentina and Venezuela coming to Tarija to visit Morales on 5 August; no one was frightened of the gunmen who tried to kill a government minister the same day in the city of Trinidad and ruin the President’s address to Congress the following day; people ignored the throwers of dynamite who killed two people as they blew up a bridge at Caihuasi in Oruro.

Bolivian voters want control of their raw materials to be taken out of the hands of rich shareholders in Manhattan, the Hamptons, Belgravia and Frankfurt and put into a common pot where dividends can be shared around their own kind.

With at least as much passion as English morris dancers, or the organisers of Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States summon up for their quaint old rites, the Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaranís and the rest want their age-old customs respected. They are fed up being beggars in their own country, especially one like Bolivia which is beginning to swim in the money generated by oil and natural gas, precious ores and mountains of soya beans which foreign buyers are begging for.

The near-white opponents have fought their fight and lost it in elections well supervised by a heap of foreign observers. Surely it is time for them to get onto their laptops, contact their nearest branch of the Ku Klux Klan and emigrate to some other country where the political circumstances are more to their liking.

Republished from New Statesman

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