Events in Bolivia contain echoes from Bolivias past dictatorships writes Nick Estes, the co-founder of The Red Nation, an indigenous resistance organization
Indian massacres have returned to Bolivia. There is a history a blood feud, to be precise behind this tragedy. The self-declared presidency of Jeanine ez has revived the old oligarchys race hatred and the barbaric practice of Indian killing, the collective punishment of the nations Indigenous majority for daring to defy a centuries-old racial order of apartheid and oppression. Since the ousting of Bolivias first Indigenous president Evo Morales, security forces have carried out at least two massacres of Indigenous people protesting the military coup.
Only two weeks since seizing state power, the evidence is clear: this is a rightwing, military dictatorship. The telltale sign for a country like Bolivia is the outright Indian killing.
On November 15, the army opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Cochabamba, killing eight and wounding dozens more. On November 16, a day after the Cochabamba massacre, ez issued a decree exempting the police and military from criminal responsibility in operations for the restoration of order and public stability. A carte blanche to kill at will, security forces have obliged the directive with increasing cruelty.
Last Tuesday, teargas and bullets rained down on a blockade at the Senkata gas plant in El Alto. Eight were killed, and dozens injured. And this was just the first week of ezs presidency.
Two days later in La Paz, from behind armored vehicles, security forces showered a funeral procession with teargas and rubber bullets. The coffins of victims from the Senkata massacre fell to the ground as people scattered in panic, adding further humiliation to already grief-stricken families and communities.
The official death toll since the protests began is estimated to be more than 30, with dozens missing, more than 700 injured, and nearly a thousand arrests. Bolivias Indigenous majority are the primary targets of this racist, state-sanctioned violence.
The last time there was Indian killing of this magnitude by the state, Bolivias current opposition leader, Carlos Mesa, was vice president. In 2003, more than 60 Indigenous Aymara people were killed during the Gas War. President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozadas plan to sell oil and gas exports through a consortium of multinational corporations to the United States continuing a centuries-long tradition of pillaging the nations resources for outside interests led to a popular uprising demanding the nationalization Bolivias hydrocarbons, forcing the presidents resignation.
I cant accept killing as a response to popular pressure, Mesa said in 2003 after the massacres. But he appears to have had a change of heart.
After losing to Evo Morales during the October 20 presidential elections this year, Mesa was the first to recognize ezs coup presidency, while remaining silent about her authoritarian actions, her alignment with Christian far-right such as the millionaire Luis Fernando Camacho, and the massacres of Indigenous people taking part in popular protesters. Others find lessons in the rightwing-orchestrated chaos and liberal acquiescence.
Behind every moderate liberal, you find a fascist, Bolivias ousted vice president lvaro Garcia Linera remarked about Mesa and his ilk in a recent interview.
There are also echoes from Bolivias past dictatorships, showing ez derives her authority not from popular power but at the end of a rifle barrel. In contrast to the Indigenous president she deposed, she wasnt elected, and there was no civilian coronation for her presidency. The Plurinational Legislative Assembly, which normally appoints the president, like they did with Evo Morales thrice before, was nearly absent. Instead, a military general placed the presidential sash on ez.
The last time a general placed a sash on a president after a military coup was in 1980. That year, General Luis Garca Meza achieved a military dictatorship by assassinating the socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz and massacring dozens of Indigenous miners.
The desire to overthrow Evo Morales and the Indigenous social movements that brought him to power has existed for years. The first coup attempt happened in 2008, when the Media Luna, which is composed of the four opposition-dominated regions in the East where most of the European-descended population is concentrated, tried to secede from the country. The racist separatist movement emerged amidst the drafting of a new constitution, which recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational state with the equal status of Indigenous peoples and control over natural resources. The region erupted into open rebellion, attempting to divide the country into two states: a wealthy one dominated by descendants of Europeans home to a large oil and gas industry and agribusiness and one with a poor Indigenous majority. The rightwing protests against resource nationalism and ending apartheid took 20 Indigenous lives.
The United States role in fomenting the racial divisions is without question.
The most recent wave of anti-Indian violence is made to look like self-defense. The interior minister Arturo Murillo, appointed by ez, wants to prosecute and imprison Evo Morales for terrorism and sedition for allegedly ordering the blockading of Bolivian cities. But testimony from survivors of the Senkata massacre tells a different story. During an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing held on Sunday in La Paz, the sister of one of the men killed by security forces said it is Jeanine Aez, Carlos Mesa, Luis Fernando Camacho, and Arturo Murillo who belong in prison. Her brother was gunned down while walking to work, she testified.
Justice for the dead and wounded is still an open question.
Although the legislative body approved new elections, the decision comes with serious compromises and little promise of diminishing ezs grip on power. In short, the outlook of free and fair elections is slim under the current oversight of an authoritarian government that massacres Indigenous people with impunity, imprisons social movement leaders, and charges anyone opposed to it with sedition or terrorism.
Indeed, a brutal dictatorship reigns.
For 14 years, Bolivian Indigenous movements broke the spell of invulnerability surrounding colonial oligarchy and the European-descended elite and they still pose a significant challenge. An Indigenous president was proof that humble people of the earth could rule. This is their unforgivable sin.
Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is an Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico and is the co-founder of The Red Nation, an Indigenous resistance organization