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By Efraín Jaramillo Jaramillo
The idea here is to discuss a facet of the crisis, until now not mentioned by the media: the drama experienced by the indigenous peoples of the separatist departments, who may be the real losers in this contest. These are more than 30 indigenous peoples of the Chaco and Amazonia, who, deprived of their lands and resources, were subjected for centuries to inhuman servitude.
Several Latin American countries are going through critical moments of social mobilization, led by indigenous peoples. But it is in Bolivia where the movement of Quechuas, Aymara from the altiplano and Guaraníes, Ayoreos, Chiquitanos, Chimanes, Guarayos and 30 other indigenous peoples from the Bolivian lowlands (Chaco and Amazonia), in a broad alliance with other popular sectors of the countryside and the city and claiming the indigenous character of its movement, declares its will to establish a new institutionality based on justice and social equity, pluralism, tolerance and respect for human rights. This alliance called Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS, rose to power in the December 2005 elections. The results of these elections were historic, not only because of the high vote received by the MAS, which doubled its main opponent in votes. the liberal Jorge Quiroga, but because Evo Morales Ayma was elected to the presidency, a charismatic indigenous leader who currently symbolizes the struggle against the neoliberal model and against the colonial and racist oligarchy that had run the country and exacerbated the state crisis, plunging Bolivia into ungovernability.
In a country where neoliberal reforms, applying the “Washington Consensus”, had dismantled state companies, collapsed the manufacturing economy and thrown 83% of the economically active population into informality, changing the country first means recovering the State , which has traditionally served elitist interests and has lost much of its sovereignty with neoliberal reforms. An important step of the government of Evo Morales was to formulate a new constitutional order taking into account the interests of all Bolivians and recognizing the sociocultural reality of the Bolivian Nation, which is multicultural. This implied changing the rules of the game and breaking many privileges. The opposition to the Bolivian government of the departments richest in natural resources (oil and gas), whose exploitation generates around 30% of the country's fiscal income, was immediate. They preferred to throw the country into the abyss, rather than give up their petty privileges.
Recognizing ignorance about the subject and asking for illustration in case of making a mistake, we write this text. It does not reiterate the facts sufficiently disclosed by the press. The idea here is to discuss a facet of the crisis, hitherto not mentioned by the media: the drama experienced by the indigenous peoples of the separatist departments, who may be the real losers in this contest. They are more than 30 indigenous peoples of the Chaco and Amazonia, who, deprived of their lands and resources, were subjected for centuries to inhuman servitude. The “Community Lands of Origin” that have been recognized or are being demanded by these peoples are crossed by oil blocks or gas pipelines owned by ENRON-Shell, Repsol, Amoco and Petrobras and cut off by cattle ranches or plantations.
What is at stake and is being resolved today in Bolivia is the control of the benefits of the exploitation of natural resources (oil and gas) and of course control over the land resource. The autonomy demanded by the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Chuquisaca and Pando is nothing other than that of managing resources from oil and gas at their own expense and in association with transnational companies, and of preventing them from being changed. the land tenure structure that makes it possible to reconfigure the political power structure that allows indigenous peoples to be social subjects and political actors with the capacity to decide not only about their lives, but also about the future of their regions. Let's see:
1. Oil companies operate in Bolivia with many advantages. On the one hand, the State's participation in the income generated by the exploitation of oil is low, even after its recovery by the Bolivian State and the creation of a direct tax on hydrocarbons. And on the other hand, Repsol and Amoco have the lowest production costs in the world. While the production of a barrel of oil costs on average US $ 5.60 worldwide, it costs Repsol US $ 1 and Amoco 0.96 US cents (IWGIA, Mundo Indígena 2006).
2. In the case of land, the situation is intolerable. In the departments of Santacruz and Beni, it is not uncommon to find farms with 40,000, 50,000, 60,000, and some over 100,000 hectares, according to INRA data. These are extensions that not even the Colombian paramilitaries and drug traffickers have, after evicting more than 3 million peasants and seizing their lands. If something characterizes the lowlands of Bolivia, it is the exclusion of its original inhabitants from the land. The attempt to put a limit (10,000 hectares) on the ownership of the land, provoked protests from the landowners. But if territorial exclusion is unbearable, its social exclusion is even more so.
Some Guaraní communities are held captive on farms in the Bolivian Chaco in the departments of Santacruz, Chuquisaca and Tarija. The best known and most reported cases are those of the Alto Parapetí region, where the employers keep a good number of indigenous families under servitude systems and in inhuman conditions of existence. However, it is recognized that the servitude system is a fairly general practice in Bolivia. In the Amazon region it is known as the “habilito” and it is usual in the country for people to work in domestic work for food, sleep and clothing and in many cases (minor children of poor families) for education. These relationships are generally disguised under the figure of compadrazgo. What looks bad in this beloved Bolivia that today opens its entrails to the rest of its brother countries is not the servitude itself, but rather that it is denounced. The news released by the International Working Group on Indigenous Populations, IWGIA and other entities that support indigenous peoples about Guarani in captivity, was received as an affront by the Santa Cruz civic movement. On that occasion, a former indigenous leader of the CIDOB, Marcial Fabricano, today an ally of the lowland separatist civic movement, declared on the radio that "there is no slavery, but a lot of poverty and inconsiderate treatment of some landowners with our Guarani brothers." The attempt at the beginning of 2008 by a commission of the national government and human rights entities to rescue these indigenous people failed, as the commission was attacked by armed men who destroyed the cars and beat the members of the commission. These violent actions, which have extended to indigenous leaders and organizations, official entities and support centers, have been carried out in collusion with Santa Cruz authorities.
The historical challenge for the original peoples of eastern Bolivia is to get out of this exclusion. To that end, they allied with the MAS and began to strengthen their organizations to make their capacity for collective action more effective, seeking to achieve an acceptable, sufficient and indispensable margin of autonomy to demand a change in the structure of land tenure, recover their territories. ancestral and out of their colonial subordination.
In this context, autonomy becomes one of their demands, perhaps the most important at this time in their struggles. And naturally they saw as an obstacle to the achievement of this objective and the rest of their territorial and social claims (which for the first time were supported by the Bolivian government), the separatist attempts of the governments of their regions, under the slogans also of autonomy and decentralization. Worse still, in the autonomous statute of Santacruz, approved unconstitutionally, indigenous autonomies are subordinated to departmental statutes and laws, which regulate them and establish their limits, co-opting and instrumentalizing the indigenous autonomic discourse for their interests.
Indigenous people from the highlands and indigenous people from the lowlands: encounters and disagreements
In the Andean departments of La Paz, Oruro and Cochabamba, the majority population is made up of 2 indigenous peoples, the Quechua and the Aymara (30% and 25% of the total population of the country, respectively). In the departments of Oriente, Chaco and Amazonia, the indigenous population does not reach 10% of the total population, although it is made up of more than 30 indigenous peoples. This is one of the characteristic features of the Andean countries with the Amazon region (Colombia, Peru and Ecuador). The other feature that characterizes these countries is that a considerable portion of their Andean population colonized Amazonian territories. In Colombia due to the violent displacement of peasants from the center of the country. In Bolivia and Peru due to the scarcity of land suitable for agriculture in the arid Andean region and the growth of its population. The difference is that in Colombia the colonizers were white and mestizo, while in Bolivia and Peru, the colonizers were indigenous serranos. This colonization in almost all cases was promoted by the State. In Colombia to reduce the pressure of peasants on the large estates of the Andean zones and inter-Andean valleys. In Peru and Bolivia to alleviate the poverty situation in the Andes. It was based on the idea that these jungle territories were empty or sparsely populated.
The Peruvian motto to promote this state colonization program sums up the situation well: "land without men for men without land." But in this scheme of colonization also underlay the idea that the inhabitants of these had no rights or were second-class beings. Still in the sixties in Colombia, many colonists killed indigenous cuibas from the eastern plains ("cuibiar" they called this practice), acts that they did not consider to be a crime.
This encounter between highland and lowland indigenous peoples was not without conflict. Not only because the Andean colonizing peasants disputed the territory with the Amazonian indigenous population, but also because of the cultural shock that this meant. In the case of Peru and Bolivia, the indigenous serranos, in addition to their native languages, speak Spanish well, are more closely related to the State and its institutions, and are better acquainted with the rules of the game of the market economy. The bottom line: they have another vision of the earth. For the indigenous peasants of the sierra, the institution of Ayllu or de la Marka refers to a portion of land and a particular community. For the Amazonian indigenous people, until recently itinerant hunters, fishermen, gatherers and gardeners, the notion of territory has preponderance. Not inconsiderable differences that lead the indigenous peasant of the sierra to think that the Amazonian indigenous person does not have the disposition to cultivate the land and that, having it in abundance, he will be misusing it to other brothers who require it. Something similar to what Alan García raises as the "dog in the manger" syndrome (neither eats nor lets eat).
Starting with the March in 1990 for Territory and Dignity that led the indigenous people of the lowlands from Trinidad to La Paz, the indigenous serranos came in solidarity to receive the marchers with blankets and food. They learned something from each other. Those in the lowlands to understand the meaning and importance of the mobilization to demand rights. Those of the Andean region to understand that the ayllus, markas and suyus of the Andean and sub-Andean region must reconstitute themselves based on the notion of indigenous lowland territoriality to claim ancestral territories. This led to the ayllus, markas and suyus from the Qullasuyu of the Andean region organizing themselves in CONAMAQ and presenting demands for Collective Lands of Origin (in Chuquisaca 3 demands for 961,000 hectares, in Cochabamba 4 for 456,000 hectares. In La Paz 38 for 1.2 million hectares. In Oruro, 80 for 7.9 million hectares, and in Potosí 49 for 4.2 million hectares (IWGIA, El Mundo Indígena 2006) .As the analyst Carlos Romero, former director of the Center for Legal Studies and Social Research, CEJIS in Santacruz and today Minister of Rural Development of the EVO government: “The historical challenge of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia is to reconfigure the structure of public power, based on the reconstitution of their territoriality, which it would make it possible to achieve structural transformations and consolidate themselves as socio-political subjects of power. "
Dilemmas and dramas
But if the reconstitution of territoriality is important for all the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, for the indigenous peoples of the lowlands it is fundamental. Well, the conquest of their ancestral territories and a new territorial order of the State that allows the exercise of their autonomies is the only way to free themselves from the inhuman servitude of the landowners and bosses.
The territorial aspects for the indigenous Quechuas and Aymara, being the important territorial question, can be postponed for the sake of other more urban demands. Well, being the majority in their regions, they control and administer their municipalities.
More important to them is the increase and equitable distribution of oil and gas royalties for their life projects. Today more than ever there is support for the demands of the lowland indigenous peoples. However, we apprehend with concern a certain rhetorical whiff, when official statements and speeches allude to the necessary territorial and, above all, autonomous demands of these peoples. But we are not very sure (hopefully we are wrong) that when it comes to setting foot on the ground and having to defend these demands on the ground, these demonstrations of solidarity and support remain unscathed.
And really, really, in Bolivia there are restless minds and voices that announce the danger that exists that the MAS government, in order to overcome the riots and quell the autonomist conflagration through negotiation and agreement with the autonomist movement led by the prefects, may "hang by the brush" lowland Indians. Moreover, there are sectors of the MAS that have underestimated the indigenous demands of the lowlands, fundamentally those that have to do with autonomy. The federations of peasants and colonizers do not consider that there should be indigenous territories with their own governments and administrations, as this would empower the indigenous people of the lowlands. And they paradoxically use the argument that these indigenous people are easily co-opted by separatist civic movements, for which they put as an example the former indigenous leaders of the lowlands who today are part of the shock forces of the separatist prefects.
The dilemma of the lowland indigenous people is presented by the type of relationship they have with the
MORE. It is an alliance. And as in any alliance, especially when it is gestated to generate a democratic process, the relations between the parties and the movements that are part of it should be horizontal. Lowland indigenous people, a minority in the MAS, are elusive to accept that their organizations are mere “transmission belts” of decisions made by their majority allies. This position, based on democratic principles, is not to the liking of the MAS mountain leadership. Hence, their approaches in political negotiations are undervalued. We are astonished and indignant lowland indigenous organizations at the fact that at the first negotiating table to overcome the conflict, no mention was made of the return of the indigenous headquarters taken, nor the reparation of the damage caused to the victims of the violence unleashed by the prefects and their shock forces against indigenous organizations and support NGOs. As the popular slang says: "If breakfast is like this, what will lunch be like then?", There is a well-founded fear that in these tables of agreement between the MAS and separatists, it will be relegated to second place, or even discarded from the package In negotiations, the territorial issue of the lowlands, since the MAS, by leaving the landowners alone, would be able to reduce the strength of the autonomist movement, improving the correlation of forces to force negotiations. The autonomist movement for its part, by engaging indigenous leaders from the lowlands for its cause, also comes out profitable, since it would manage to scratch the strength of the MAS in their regions (recognized former indigenous leaders, now workers of the Santacruz Prefecture, led the assaults and destruction of the headquarters of the CPESC and the Indigenous Confederation of Bolivia, CIDOB in Santacruz, in alliance with the shock groups that looted and destroyed the offices of the Center for Legal Studies and Social Research, CEJIS and the Coordinator of Ethnic Peoples of Santacruz) .
This dilemma becomes a drama, when the managers of the separatist movement do not accept to speak with the indigenous people of the lowlands, considering them the spearhead of the MAS in the lowlands.
The "shock forces" of the prefects and autonomist leaders are attacking the colonizers kollas (indigenous of the sierra) and the native indigenous of the lowlands alike. The situation is therefore not easy for either of them. This further melts the union, overcomes disagreements and rivalries, and reconciles interests among the excluded that make possible the urgent and necessary alliances for the conquest of their rights and creates a favorable environment for the MAS to be forced to defend with determination the territorial and autonomous claims of the lowland Indians.
For those of us who are close to indigenous causes, things are very clear. We must continue defending this project for a new country that is brewing in Bolivia.
But our support cannot be a blank check so that this democratization and recovery of the State for the majority does not take place behind the backs of the indigenous people of the Chaco and the Bolivian Amazon. And we must, as suggested by Luis Javier Caicedo, jurist and advisor to indigenous peoples in Colombia, and our dear friend María del Pilar Valencia, jurist and advisor to the indigenous peoples of the Bolivian lowlands, to whom we owe much of the data and ideas of this text, “also advance a crusade in favor of the collective territorial rights of these indigenous peoples of the lowlands, the most exploited, vilified, humiliated and offended by cattle ranchers, rubber workers, loggers, oil companies, Mennonite settlers and all kinds of adventurers who come there to loot the resources of their territories and enslave their lives ”.
Today, when the fanfare for the celebrations of the II centenary of independence is already sounding, it is inadmissible that slavery still exists in our countries and that any mind can raise the infamous slogan that "Hitler killed Jews because he did not know the kollas." We should therefore take advantage of this date to raise our own slogans of freedom, justice, equity, brotherhood and respect for all forms of biological and cultural life, our most precious wealth, the true Dorado that the colonialists could not see. This would be more in accordance with the ethics and humanistic principles that the founders of our Republics wielded, when they decided to fight European colonialism.
Bolivia, the dearest but most forgotten sister of the Bolivarian project (Bolivar's), deserves all our solidarity and support, now that its future is at stake.
Efraín Jaramillo Jaramillo, Labor Collective