Bolivia's Road to Revolution: Transcript of a speech by Hugo Salvatierra
The text that follows has been transcribed from Hugo’s talk at a November 8, 2010, forum in Toronto and is published here with his permission. Translation and editing is by Susan Harvie, Judy Rebick and John Riddell.
Good evening compañeras y compañeros. First, I would like to thank the person who has given me the privilege of sharing ideas with you. I am not a lecturer. For this reason, I ask your forgiveness for any errors. We are simply activists. Where political ideas are concerned, our obligation is to speak, to share, to understand each other, to try to help others understand us and to help people know what we are doing.
Miguel just brought me some photos that made me very happy. The year is marked as 2003. In 2003, we had no idea that we were going to be the government. Neither did Evo think of being president. Even less that I was going to be a Minister. Things happen through an accumulation of circumstances. This afternoon, I was with some compañeros from York University and we did a kind of theoretical retrospective about what is this process of change in Bolivia and a good part of the South American continent.
The defeat of the working class, the installation of a military dictatorship for seven years, began a big struggle for democracy that finally concluded in 1982. The neo-liberal model began in early 1983. But the subjective response also arose. It was not the working class. It was not the university students or the individual revolutionaries, the heroes, etc., the Christians – prepared to die for the community, to die for the people, to die but always to die. It was the peasant movements who began to unite. There were elections, but three million people did not vote. And why did three million people not vote? Because they did not legally exist. You could not be a citizen if you did not have a birth certificate, and you could not be a citizen if you did not have an identity card. Three million people and basically, of those three million, at least 60% or 70% were Indigenous women. The traditional political parties were corrupt. They sold themselves in the parliament. They did business with the companies. They took turns in power, one after the other. The poverty and unemployment were enormous. But in the countryside, there was the resistance.
In 1983, the first Indigenous organizations began to appear. And they began to propose about three or four things – land, territory and dignity, the right to political participation. Later they advanced and said a new political constitution and they continued, a nationalization of the hydrocarbons. I remember in the mobilizations of 2000, in the confrontations on the highways in the rural areas. I will never forget this image which will stay with me forever. There was a very small Indigenous woman from the Altiplano throwing stones at a tank. Everybody was saying, “They’re going to kill her. They’re going to kill her.” When the journalist said, “They are going to kill you. Get out. Get out.” And the journalist asked her, “Why are you here? Why Señora?” And she said, “Nationalization of the hydrocarbons.” She cooked with wood. Probably even today she does not have gas or oil in her house. But they were collectively building a national consciousness to recover everything that we had lost.
There are, in Bolivia, 36 original [First] peoples and nations. The left and the right have recently found out that there are 36 original peoples and nations. And from there began the large mobilizations, now thanks to this political instrument that began to unite all of the social sectors. They began to fight for the nationalization of the hydrocarbons, legal title to the land and the Indigenous territories, rupture of the political-party monopoly and a new political constitution with a constituent assembly, but plurinational. They always told us that a constituent assembly was unconstitutional; political participation outside of the political parties was unconstitutional; nationalization of the hydrocarbons was unconstitutional. Everything was unconstitutional. Then came the social movements with their large mobilizations.
The big weakness that we had, I want to repeat to you, was the cities. The cities did not see a leadership in the people with traditional clothes, in the downtrodden people, in the poor people, in the Indigenous peoples, because the education of urban residents excluded the Indigenous peoples. Culturally, this society did not accept, could not accept that these Indigenous people could lead a political process of change. Even the left political parties did not understand the process, but those who were fighting understood it. In Bolivia, first, there is a regional division. Those from the east are “cambas” – now the region with the most important natural resources – land, gas, petroleum, forests, water – and the west is where there are the Indigenous concentrations of the Aymara, Quechua. In the east, when we look at the west, we say “kollas.”
And to the rich classes in the west, the Indigenous peoples in the Altiplano and the valleys were beasts of burden. In the cities, they were employed in domestic service and, in the countryside, to work and survive as they could. Even mixed race people, if they wanted to progress, could not look back at their Indigenous past. It was a disgrace to be an Indian. In the Bolivian military, you are never going to find an Indigenous last name, never. The dominant classes were educated with a colonial education. They looked toward Europe, toward the United States, rather than internally.
It was these 36 nations that began to internalize this consciousness of nation, and they were the ones who began to lead this process for these four fundamental demands – land, territory, constituent assembly, citizen participation. And here is where ideas were developed about gender equality and a democratic system more open to the whole population.
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