Evo Morales in Tiwanaku: “The world can no longer tolerate development in the name of modernity”

Introduction and translation by Stan Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee

Apartheid was not unique to South Africa – or Israel. The Original Peoples of the Americas have suffered from a similar long history of apartheid. In Bolivia, institutionalized racism and discrimination against the Original Peoples flourished. President Evo Morales said his mother told him that, like other indigenous people from the countryside, she was not even allowed to enter a city. The end to this apartheid came with Evo Morales being elected president in 2005, elected with 54% of the vote, followed by 64% in 2009 and 61% in 2014.

Evo Morales is said to be the only Original Peoples president elected in Latin America since the times of Mexico’s Zapotec president Benito Juarez (1858-1871), who was president while, in the recently stolen California, the American white man was still hunting the Original Peoples down and killing them, given $50 a scalp by the California government.

Hermano companero Presidente Evo Morales, as he is referred to in Bolivia, was a campesino union leader heading a national movement, instituting The Process of Change” upon election. (Evo is still president of the union of cocalero farmers). As many Bolivian Original Peoples activists explain “for 500 years we were ruled by los colonizadores [the colonizers] and now we, los Pueblos Originales [the Original Peoples] are in charge and we are not going back.

The re-election of Evo Morales was deliberately scheduled to take place on October 12, in repudiation of Columbus Day. A few days before, in El Alto, near and just above the capital of La Paz, in an entirely indigenous city, over one million people, 1 out of 10 Bolivians, turned out to celebrate at their brother President Evo’s closing campaign rally.

A striking example of the restored pride of Bolivia’s Original Peoples was Evo’s first ceremony of his two-day presidential inauguration, at the pre-Incan city of Tiwanaku. Here on January 21 indigenous spiritual leaders performed the ancient rites and ceremonies for preparation and purification the indigenous leader. Only after this, on the 22nd, did the second ceremony swear in Evo as a head of state, in the “Peoples House” as presidential palace has been renamed. Outside the ruins of Tiwanaku, on a vast field, filled with thousands and thousands Original Peoples, dressed in their traditional clothes, watched rapt attention their traditional ceremonial rites performed in front of their eyes, listening closely to Evo’ speech.

This was not some TV documentary re-enactment of ancient sacred ceremonies. It was the President, the head of state of a modern nation, officially participating in the performance of the traditional rites of leadership of the peoples. Following came an all-afternoon parade by the different indigenous peoples dressed their customary garb, walking and dancing past the presidential viewing stand. Repeatedly, Evo and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera came from the viewing stand to dance with the delegations parading by.

The impact of Evo Morales’ electoral victories on the original peoples of Bolivia and Latin America is tremendous. As Evo said, with 1532, descended the long black night of their suffering, but now the light of the sun has returned to the sky.

What is this “process of change”? Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, has had an annual growth rate of 5%, from 2005-2014. The GNP has grown from $9.5 billion to $34 billion. Evo’s government created 500,00 jobs in just his first term, and now unemployment has dropped from 8.1% to 3.2%. The minimum wage has gone up 227%. Extreme poverty has been reduced from 37% of the population to 19%. Before, in 2005, the richest 10% had 128 times more income than the poorest 10%. Now it is 42 times.

One in five more Bolivians than before now have electricity in their homes. 50% more now have indoor plumbing. Illiteracy has been eliminated, traditional languages have been restored, having equal status with Spanish. 97% of seniors now receive at least some small pension. Before, only 10% of women had access to land, now 46% do.

Between 2006 and 2010 over one third of Bolivian land was handed over to peasant communities to be run communally, and one-fifth of Bolivian land, previously illegally occupied by large landowners, has been mostly converted to protected forest lands.

How have these social gains has this been possible? One precondition was ending the looting of Bolivia’s wealth. Evo put it simply, “Now here the gringos don’t give the orders, here the indigenous give the orders.”

Before 2005, 87% of Bolivia’s oil and gas wealth went to foreign corporations. Now the reverse: the state retains 80-90%. In 2005, national oil revenue amounted to $300 million. In 2014 this revenue was $5.5 billion. In just the year 2011 the state received as much revenue from the hydrocarbon sector as it did from 1996-2005.

This shows, as Evo says in his January 22 speech, how much national wealth has been lost. Bolivia’s economic success is a direct result of the MAS government’s program for economic transformation, based on weakening Western corporate control over the economy and diversifying it away from its dependency on raw material exports.

The proceeds from these 10 years of economic prosperity have largely been redistributed to the country’s poor and indigenous majority. Morales’s state-led economic policy, emphasizing the re-nationalization of strategic sectors privatized by past neoliberal governments (hydrocarbons, telecommunications, electricity, and some mines), has vastly increased revenues for public works, infrastructure improvements, social spending, and economic benefits.

Cash transfer programs for the elderly, school children, and pregnant mothers have reduced income inequality and infant mortality, boosted school attendance and high school graduation rates. In short, Morales’ economic and redistributive policies have significantly improved the living standards of average Bolivians. But as Evo notes below, “if we made these results so far, it is through the support of all the social movements, the Bolivian people organized in social movements.”

Excerpts from Evo Morales’ Inauguration speech at Tiwanaku, January 21, 2015

We make this ceremony in this sacred place for all the indigenous peoples of the world, and non-indigenous peoples of the world. We make this ceremony to thank our male and female leaders who have given their lives for us, to thank Tupac Amaru, Micaela Bastidas, to thank Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, to the Katari brothers from the north of Potosi, Nicolas Damaso and Tomas, Apiaguaiqui Tumpa of western Bolivia, to Zarate Willca, to Caupolican and Lautaro, to the leaders of the Indian peoples of North America, Geronimo, the last Apache warrior, to White Bear and Sitting Bull, to the peoples of Africa and South Africa who have suffered and suffer our same history.

Dear brothers and sisters, Tiwanaku was a great city, this millennia old city, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in year zero of our era, this city was already a sacred ceremonial center for the entire Andean territory, related scientifically and commercially with the peoples of the low lands and with those of the north and south of our continent. Our territory touched the Pacific coast, when we had a coastline, our sea, which they seek to deny us today.

Here was the technology to raise llamas in the entire Andean area, here they practiced specialized cures for health, here they practiced the arts of working the land, textiles, ceramics, metalwork. Here they studied irrigation technology, a system of roads to unite the north, south, east, west territories, social organization and governments at the different territorial levels. Here they practiced philosophy, science, technology, literature, religion and above all they practiced values of life and ethics. Sisters and brothers, here we make plans in the 21st Century as one of the de-colonized nations of the world, where Living Well is our philosophy.

Liberalism, European socialism is of no use to us in reaching this objective, history has passed them by along with the liberal colonizer republic of Bolivia. Our ancestors here in Tiwanaku did not know poverty, poverty is a product of colonialization and the social and economic development models imposed by the capitalist countries.

Therefore, we here plan our future with sumaj kamaña, with Allin Kawsay, with Vivir Bien, with Sumaj Qamaña, with knowing how to feed ourselves, knowing how to work, knowing how to dance, knowing how to govern.

To know how to communicate, how to listen, how to dream of our future, to know how to produce, how to share, how to return to the culture of respect between people, respect for the elders, respect for the children, for Mother Earth, to return to our ayllus [traditional Aymara-Quechua communal governance], all this is in agreement with our amuto, our ideology.     

I want to take advantage of this opportunity and tell you, brothers and sisters, that the best inheritance from my parents has been respect, my father and mother told me, “Evito, if you want to be respected in life, know how to respect those older and younger than you.”

We are a people with body and soul, rebellious and insurgent, we are a people who since remote times until today have been inspired with the sua spirit not to be thieves, the llulla spirit not to lie, and the kella spirit not to be lazy.

Our culture is the most valuable capital we have to reconstruct our ayllu so that the children of Pachamama can breathe happily, in clean air, and drink uncontaminated water.

Remember in 1532, when the Spaniards Pizarro and Almargo in Cuzco began to kill our wise Amauta leaders, our grandfather Atahualpa in Cajamarca and pursue gold at whatever the cost.

Our Amautas ordered that our treasures be hidden and protected, our cultural treasures, our archaeological monuments, our sacred cities. The human values, economic principles and social principles of living together, because the day had finished and the black night of suffering began.

And they said that the sun will return some day, and that day when we will retake our cultural treasures and we will again be ourselves.

Therefore we see that the archaeologists in 1920 discovered Tiwanaku, Cuzco and other places our sacred places, they continued discovering the pyramids here at Tiwanaku, but they were incapable of reading what was written here, they interpreted what they saw according to their understanding, according to their Western logic. This is part of our culture, we bring it up to the present so that we can realize and apply our policy of Vivir Bien.

Brothers and sisters when we speak of recuperating and strengthening our cultural heritage, our identity as a Plurinational state, many people think we are planning to return to the past. No, we are not planning to return to a romanticized past, but a scientific recuperation of the best of our past to combine it with modernity, but a modernity that permits us to make industries without danger to Mother Earth, with a modernity that permits us to develop with Pachamama.

So it is question of reestablishing equilibrium between human beings and Mother Earth, between men and women.

The world can no longer tolerate development in the name of modernity, the industrialized countries are overindustrialized and that has a cost to Mother Earth, Pachamama.

We are seeing the destruction of the planet, it is necessary to stop this crazy road of destruction of the planet in the name of development, if we the indigenous peoples lived like the European countries where the father has his car, the mother has her car, the son has his car, and the daughter has her car, everyone lives in their car. If we lived like that, studies show we need another planet just to park the cars.

It is not an issue of races, it is not a color problem, because it is not the color of my face that kills you, what kills you is the color of the water you drink, what kills you is the smell of the air you breathe, we are thousands of colors, but only one planet.

Therefore, sisters and brothers, let Pachamama illuminate our way, let our Apus, our Uyuviris, guide us on this road constructing a different way of life, with individual rights, with a life full of happiness, harmony, the peace of brotherhood, where no one sees politics as a business, but that politics is a service to our peoples, where politics means more sacrifice for the good of humanity.

Sisters and brothers, I take advantage of this opportunity to thank the Original People, this age-old people, to thank the social movements for organizing this age-old event so sacred for life, for humanity. And I say we have the duty to defend life, to defend life is to save the planet earth and finish with capitalism and imperialism.

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