In the 2006 documentary Cocalero, which shows how Evo Morales first became president of Bolivia, there’s a scene near the end where he and his campaign manager are boarding a small plane, flying over rugged terrain back to the capital city of La Paz after touring the country on election day. Evo teases the pilots about being afraid of rough weather, rather than imperialism, and reminisces about another such flight, where there was no one on board but him, his campaign manager and the captain. Evo actually sat in the co-pilot’s seat, and was allowed to fly the plane for a bit, with supervision. He mimes how he held the yoke, going up and down, turning this way and that, and his campaign manager mimes how he nearly had a heart attack at the prospect of losing both his future president and his life all in one fell swoop. Then they both laugh.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, there’s a scene where an air-show stunt pilot of yesteryear advertises his mad barnstorming skills. The sign reads, simply, “See the Nigger Fly the Airplane”. That’s it; nothing about his breath-taking, death-defying aerobatic feats. Nobody cares about those. His flying prowess is unimportant; he is, novelty of novelties, a black man flying an airplane.
Well, what is Evo if not, novelty of novelties, an indigenous man at the controls of a country?
Never mind that Bolivia is no longer Latin America’s poorest state, thanks to Evo. Never mind that it has clawed its way out of a deeper hole than the mine shafts of Potosí. Never mind that it has 100% literacy now. Never mind that they’re doing better at stopping the production and trafficking of cocaine since they kicked out the US DEA. Never mind that the Bolivian economy has been going nowhere but up since the decision was made to turf out USAID, too. None of this matters. Evo is an Aymara at the helm of a country, and that makes him, to paraphrase Vonnegut’s recurring tragicomic motif, a “nigger flying an airplane”. (Or, in Evo’s case, an Injun.)
And if there’s one thing white supremacists everywhere can’t stand, it’s a person who isn’t white, doing something only whites of super-duper-double-looper elite status are supposed to be able to do. The only thing worse, in their eyes, is if this insignificant little non-white person actually beats them at it.
And Evo has been doing that ever since he was elected. Like Chavecito before him, he came from poverty and from brown skin and indigenous heritage, and landed right in the pilot’s seat of the plane. Nobody saw that coming! Nobody but the people who helped put him there, that is. And, in the eyes of Washington, Europe and white elitedom, those people are also nobody.
So what happens when a nobody becomes a somebody, despite the color of his skin, and without making the slightest effort to lighten it, conceal it, or apologize for it? All the knives come out; he must end up like Patrice Lumumba. The US has had it in for Evo since even before he was elected; the campaign against him, as Cocalero shows, was dirty. Lots of fear and talk of lost jobs, specifically in the export-related industries that do a lot of business with the US. And lots of dirty talk on other levels, too: At Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz, a white man starts yelling at Evo, calling him a “shitty Injun”, and claiming Evo’s very presence there is an “insult”. And a white woman, her voice quaking with fear and indignation, says he should go back to the Chaparé, and build his own airport there, because (in her words) “he doesn’t like us either”. But Evo, who has clearly heard all this a thousand times before, doesn’t react. Cooler heads prevail.
And yet, the heads of the indignant racists are supposed to be the superior minds, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. Evo has scarcely gone a day of his political life without some racist or other making irrational assumptions about him based on the color of his skin, the shape of his features, and the fact that he makes no effort to downplay his dirt-poor origins. The fact that he wears no conventional suit or tie is a terrible insult to white sensibilities, which would rather ignore the aguayo, the poncho, and the coca-leaf garlands Evo prefers. The idea that his native culture is something to be proud of flies in the face of 500 years of Spanish-American imperialism. The fact that it survives at all, despite all efforts to exterminate it, is a terrible threat to homegrown cambas and whites from the Northern Hemisphere alike. It is proof that their effort to colonize everything has failed.
So it’s not really such a surprise that Evo’s plane got barred from flying over several European countries. Edward Snowden, who was not on that plane (he is still in Russia) is just a red herring. It’s the idea of an indigenous head of state, flying over their heads, that’s the real “terrorist” threat. (The fact that the “sovereign” Europeans’ strings were being pulled by Washington is not mentioned in polite company.)
Nothing about Evo, or his plane, was ever a threat to any part of Europe or their way of life. But the tyranny of a good example, set by an Aymara showing that South American natives can govern themselves, without any more debt-heavy neoliberal “help” from foreign imperialist powers? Not to be tolerated. And if he can’t be brought down any other say, he will have to be trivialized and humiliated to death.
As Kurt Vonnegut might say, “See the Injun fly the airplane?”