Last Saturday, far-right groups attacked, punched and battered a group of peasants who had come to a stadium in the city of Sucre, where president Evo Morales was to deliver 50 ambulances and several thousand homes to local residents.
About 20 Quechua peasants were humiliated and forced to march semi-naked toward the central square of Sucre, where they were forced to kneel and chant slogans against President Morales.
These violent events left 27 wounded, according to local authorities.
Translation mine. A longer version of the day’s events, plus backgrounder, courtesy of IPS, can be read at Bolivia Rising.
Aporrea calls Sucre “the kingdom of the Ku Klux Klan in Bolivia”; a somewhat confusing take, since the ringleaders of this violence are not white but mestizo. It is difficult to tell them apart from their victims just by looking; I could only tell who was who by who was standing and who was kneeling; who was yelling triumphantly, and who was silent and miserable; who wore a shirt, and who did not. That’s not a whole lot of outward difference. And yet these mestizos identify more with their white ancestors than their indigenous ones, no matter how much their own appearance says otherwise. In Bolivia, it seems, your socioeconomic status is directly dependent on how much European blood you have. Which explains why the local white oligarchy hates the president so; he’s a full-blooded indigenous. In their eyes, he’s not a popular, elected leader; he’s just a dirty Injun.
Here’s Nick Buxton’s take, from Bolivia Rising:
Whilst in Lima, I talked to Wilmer Flores, a MAS deputy from the Sucre region who recounted how he had been chased from the public square and cornered by a group of students who stamped on him, beat him, shouting "Kill the Indian. Let’s kill them all one by one." It was as one of them started with broken glass to try and scratch his eyes out that a policeman happened to pass and the group escaped. His attempts to find his potential murderers have met a brick wall of complicity and evasion from all Sucre’s legal authorities.
Watching TV, I noticed that the brutalised campesinos were kneeling in Sucre’s central square, in front of the "Casa de Libertad" (Freedom House) from where Bolivia’s independence was declared. It was the same square where Deputy Wilmer Flores was seen, chased and almost lost his life. Similarly in Santa Cruz, various attacks have taken place in its main central square.
The choice of location for the Right’s violence is no coincidence. It was here in the heart of Sucre that Bolivia as an exclusive state which marginalized its indigenous majority took shape. It is from key municipal and state buildings in Santa Cruz and Sucre that a coterie of privileged families has led a vitriolic backlash against even the possibility of social justice in Bolivia. In Sucre these families, including Jaime Barron, the Rector of the University and the city mayor Aydee Nava have instigated violence, egged on by a rabid media, in an attempt to stop the constitutional assembly last November.
But the use of the public square for repression and exclusion has an even deeper significance. For up to 1952, indigenous people were not even allowed to set foot in squares like that of La Paz. Now more than 50 years later, with the arrival of an indigenous President, the Right is trying to turn back the clock and through violence make it equally impossible for indigenous peoples to cross public city squares.
The roots and nature of racism in Bolivia are complex and deep, but in essence I believe what I am witnessing is a colonial backlash. A hatred sown in divisions from colonial time, that has persisted insidiously in the structures of all power, and one that has got a grip even in those who have indigenous parents or grandparents. All it took was a change in balance of power and a fear of indigenous leadership to unleash a deeply ugly side to colonised Bolivian society. And there have been enough powerful families fearful of losing their privileges to exploit the already latent sore.
It’s sick and ugly, is it not? That a group of mestizo kids–part indigenous–could repudiate and humiliate those whose ethnicity they partly share. That they could feel themselves superior to these other indigenous simply on the basis of a jigger of non-indigenous blood. But what does that say about the indigenous part of them? Do they hate themselves only about 50% or so, compared to the 100% hate they hold for their full-blooded brothers and sisters?
Even more shocking, though, is how the Sucre authorities are turning a blind eye. Buxton’s essay hints at why: This is a city with a long and ugly history of institutionalized racism. Of course the authorities would tacitly aid and abet these young thugs in their fascistic autos-da-fé.
And of course those local authorities would also harbor a deep animosity toward the federal government of Evo Morales, whose parliament and cabinet are racially mixed and arguably much more representative, as such, than Sucre’s own. Evo has made it clear that his government is about social justice, equality and inclusion. That sort of thing sits very ill with the racists, especially since their racism is directly tied to their socioeconomic status, which in turn is intimately linked to the political power they used to possess. The idea that democracy could rob the richest and whitest Bolivians of their inordinate power is deeply threatening to them; they also stand to lose control of the economy as reforms take hold. The largest landowners, if their estates remain idle or if they abuse the peasants and tenant farmers (who are overwhelmingly indigenous), stand to have their properties confiscated and handed over to indigenous campesinos. That of course would be the crowning insult to these people: Not only do they no longer rule the land outright, they will soon no longer even own the land they used to rule as private fiefdoms! Instead, that land would go back to those “dirty Injuns” from whom it was stolen in the first place. Yes, the same people they used to enslave outright, sexually abuse, and generally treat like dirt.
The idea that no people are dirt, and that no one has the right to treat them as such, scares the living shit out of these big racist landowners. Their whole power structure is crumbling. No wonder, then, that they staged this bogus “autonomy” movement. No wonder they hire these goon squads to beat and strip and humiliate indigenous people in the public squares, and to drive around cars bearing Nazi swastikas in an attempt to terrorize the indigenous majority into submission. Pretty soon, that too will have to end. It can’t end soon enough.