BOLIVIA’S Indigenous majority are gearing-up for a battle for their very lives after the president they elected four times in a row was forced to run for his life.
President Evo Morales is the first native indigenous leader of his kind to have been elected in a Latin American state by a majority indigenous population.
But his efforts to translate their political power into population plurality and economic equality brought him face-to-face with those bent on ensuring the tiny minority European descendants maintain control of the nation’s wealth and prevent any further steps to empower the poor indigenous majority.
Indigenous people represent over 60% of Bolivia’s population of just over one million, with Mestizos at 28% and Whites at 10% (of which 3% are German).
But the nation’s people and wealth have been split of late into geopolitical brackets with the indigenous poor majority confined mainly in the western highlands and the white minority mainly occupying the resource-rich eastern lowlands.
Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party spent over a decade building a ‘Plurinational State of Bolivia’, in which recognition of the plurality of the population reversed the traditional domination of the majority by the minority.
MAS has the vast majority in both the Legislature and the Senate, so it reversed the imbalances of the past and gave indigenous people their rightful recognition as equal human beings in their own country.
It won election after election at all levels and since it was politically impossible to vote Morales and MAS out, those most threatened by their construction of a new Bolivian reality used the only other means they always have in such circumstances: a military coup.
Morales’ decision to run away to live to fight another day was wise in the circumstances. But his request to be allowed to return home to complete his term is being seen by many of his socialist allies as naïve.
He and his allied socialist leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean had loudly criticized Washington’s interventionist role in Venezuela being facilitated from within the regional entity by Canada and the Lima Group of OAS member-states.
However, he elected to invite the OAS to decide on his fate in an election in which he was officially declared by the national electoral body as having won 47% of the vote, including the 10% majority needed to avoid a second round.
The OAS had a query with the final 3% of the votes cast in the distant rural highlands where Morales is strongest and ruled that the official results made his victory statistically unlikely or impossible, then publishing its findings online, by which time MAS political opponents, who were already engaging in terror and violence, had got the fig leaf needed to sanitize their terror.
Morales wisely indicated he would not contest the next poll he’d called in the midst of the terror that saw his home ransacked and vandalized, his sister’s home burnt, MAS legislators’ homes also set alight and their relatives kidnapped to force their resignation.
There were also the cases of public humiliation of a MAS mayor who had her hair shaved and her face sprayed red while being dragged through the streets and told to beg for forgiveness and the head of a government TV station who was tied to a pole and assaulted.
Morales is more likely to be arrested and charged with countless offenses if he returns home from exile in Mexico expecting to return to his presidential role. He’s more likely to end-up being a guerilla leader in this land-locked country of just over one million square kilometers.
Once seen only as chewers of coca leaves and llama shepherds, Bolivia’s indigenous people have tasted freedom and respect, leadership and equality — and the richness of plurality.
They have remained poor but proud, living their own lives through the ages while the world changed around them.
But for the first time since the Europeans arrived over five centuries ago, through Morales and MAS, they accessed the true political power of their plurality through democratic means, only to have it all robbed by violent and undemocratic means.
Bolivia’s First People have started fighting back, stopping food and other essential supplies from getting into the urban centers, essential supplies now having to be flown-in, while thousands have started a long march to the capital city to take the fight to those who stole their power.
Many have already been killed by soldiers and police given advanced immunity by the current self-imposed interim president.
The situation in Bolivia requires the attention of the entire Caribbean.
Caribbean people have not yet started hearing from their governments on the situation in Bolivia, even though Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the OAS Sir Ronald Sanders has described what happened there as ‘a coup’ — pure and simple.
Once again, a situation with relevance for the rule of law and respect for democracy in Latin America is unfolding within the wider Latin American and Caribbean region, but is simply being allowed to unfold, with the majority of Caribbean governments preferring to seal their lips and look the other way for as long as possible.
Fearing responses and reprisals, most prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and ‘mind our own business’ instead of learning and sharing relevant and appropriate lessons regionally and nationally.
Meanwhile, with 2019 coming to an end and 2020 on the horizon, women in CARICOM and Bolivia are facing very different realities.
For example, Saint Lucian women preparing to attend ‘the richest Caribbean horse race’ are looking forward to displaying their native tropical adaptations of the Ascot hats associated with the special royalite dress code set by the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club for the upcoming December 13 event.
But in Bolivia, with what would have been their 14th year in charge of their own present and future having been brought to such a quick and tragic end, indigenous women are, once again being attacked, discriminated and segregated against by racist minorities in urban centers, simply for wearing skirts.
Like Morales said in Mexico, their biggest crime is ‘being indigenous’ — and in their own land.
All of Latin America’s indigenous people will identify with the Bolivian struggle to regain their stolen power and it will most likely be reflected in different ways by the continent’s First People long before the last day of the year.