Almost 500 Years Later, Colonialism Marks Its End in Bolivia

Posted: 27 January 2009 by Little Alex in International Affairs
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Since the Spaniards conquered the Bolivian region in the early 16th century, the indigenous have been subject to tyranny of the minority. Three years after electing its first indigenous president, Bolivia approves a constitution in accordance with the indegenous majority.

In 1524, Spain set sails to colonize South America. By 1532, it had conquered the Inca Empire and through the independence of the region now known as Bolivia, Bolivia was ruled by people of Spaniard blood with light skin and European features. The indigenous people of native blood were always oppressed by the Spaniards, kept out of power, and though, they make up the majority of the people in Bolivia, have always been the poorest.

In December 2005, an indigenous Aymaran cocalero named Evo Morales was elected president. Shortly after becoming president of South America’s richest country in energy resources (next to Venezuela), Sr. Morales succeeded in nationalizing natural gas fields, raising the minimum wage by 50%, promoting the growth of coca, addressed the UN with ten commandments revolving around socialist pacifism, expanding relations with the Union of South American Nations (UNASAR), Russia, and China among many others.

On Monday, the people of Bolivia voted on a new constitution toward an egalitarian society bridging the gap between the “have-not” Incas of the majority and the “colonials”.

al Jazeera – “Bolivians Divided Despite New Constitution” – 27 Jan 09 (2:37):

Bolivian voters have backed a new constitution which grants more power to the country’s indigenous majority. But deep political divisions still remain.

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, has claimed victory in the wake of the vote but his opponents have vowed to challenge the new constitution’s implementation.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman reports.

Thorough the global press, it was difficult to find details about the new constitution. The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, AP, AFP, and al Jazeera reports were pretty vague — generally just dubbing the constitution as ‘a boost for the indigenous and the population was still divided’ despite a 60-40 victory for the indigenous that especially impressive considering Sr. Morales was elected president with 54% of the vote in 2005 and the church vehemently opposed the new constitutional measures (2:15).

I’ve been following Bolivia fairly closely since Sr. Morales’ election — very intrigued with the man and his causes — so I had to dig deeper because “power to the people” is just a stupid thing to say without some what’s, how’s, and why’s.

I was like a giddy little schoolchild to see the great write-up in BBC News spelling out the key reforms this new Bolivian constitution:

  • Re-election: Allows Sr.Morales to stand for re-election in Dec 2009, but must step down in 2014;
  • Indigenous rights: A whole chapter devoted to indigenous rights;
  • Autonomy: Power decentralised, four levels of autonomy – departmental, regional, municipal and indigenous;
  • Resources: Sets out state control over key economic sectors, state sovereignty over vast natural gas fields;
  • Judiciary: Indigenous systems of justice same status as official existing system. Judges will be elected, and no longer appointed by Congress.
  • Land: New limit on ownership 5,000 hectares (12,355). But measure not retroactive.

Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera, who is considered one of the intellectual architects of the draft constitution, hailed the outcome of Sunday’s vote.

“This will be an egalitarian Bolivia, a Bolivia that leaves behind a dark, colonial, racist past,” he said.

“I am not saying there will be no more conflict, there will be tensions for a while, I say a decade… but we will have built a state on three principles: the economy under state control, equality, and the territorial decentralisation of power,” he said….

For Oscar Ortiz, the president of the opposition-controlled Senate, the constitution has become a war of ideas.

“The result.. [of the vote] will show deep divisions between regions and between Bolivians in each region. A confrontation between ideas and visions about how this country will build its common future will continue,” he said ahead of the referendum.

“Brothers and sisters, the colonial state ends here,” Sr. Morales addressed a crowd in La Paz. “Now Bolivia is being re-founded…Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians.”

But, this is nowhere near the end of the war as a whole. The indigenous Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani Indians need to pass around 100 laws to enact the reforms and need the cooperation of the opposition departments in the east with ~80% of the resources.  Sr. Morales will have to resist coercion and violence in the face of inevitable calls for secession that very well may follow his expected re-election as laws to enact this new constitution are passed.

  1. […] More: “Almost 500 Years Later, Colonialism Marks Its End in Bolivia” by Little Alex – 27 Jan 0… […]

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