TCS Daily

Evo and the Myths

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - October 24, 2007 12:00 AM

TIWANAKU, Bolivia -- The decision by Evo Morales to bar the American ambassador in La Paz from entering the presidential palace because of comments he recently made has brought the Bolivian president some renewed international attention.

However, the relationship between the United States and Bolivia is not the issue that most Bolivians are focused on. Despite the efforts of Morales, an ally of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, to repeatedly spar with Washington, the U.S. is ignoring him. Since most of the cocaine derived from Bolivia's coca plantations goes to Brazil and Europe rather than to North America, even the Drug Enforcement Agency is keeping a low profile here -- for a change.

The real issue for Bolivians today is whether Morales will impose, by way of a new constitution, a system that while purporting to vindicate the indigenous population, will concentrate power in La Paz and undermine the rule of law, private property and international exchanges.

After talking to Bolivians from all walks of life in areas ranging from the rural outskirts of Santa Cruz, in the east, to Cochabamba, in the highlands, and from the jungles of Chapare to Tiwanaku, the site of an ancient citadel peopled by indigenous Bolivians, I am persuaded that Morales' government is ruling based on myths. Those myths need to be exposed before other Andean countries where ethnic and social divisions are also abrasive follow suit.

The greatest myth is that Bolivia's population is alien to Western culture imposed by 300 years of colonial rule and two centuries of republican life. According to the last census, most Bolivians are mestizo, or mixed-race. While proud of their past, they are comfortable with the Western ways visible in the language they speak, the way they make their livings and their embrace of every technological novelty. As I was told in Cochabamba by many people of Quechua descent who confronted Morales' supporters after the latter set fire to the office of the governor a few months ago, the current president, an Aymara, does not even speak the native languages. Aymaras and Quechuas fought each other before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. Many mestizos with strong Quechua roots do not see Morales necessarily as someone with whom they have more in common than with white Bolivians.

The second myth pursued by Morales is that Bolivians want communal property. Tito Choque, who was born in extreme poverty in Oruro, the region where Morales is from, invited me to his small farm in Santa Cruz, where he grows sugar cane, soybeans and rice. He told me, "Communal property is what made Oruro a disaster after the decline of mining; farming collapsed under conditions in which nobody owned anything; now they (Morales' supporters) are trying to destroy Santa Cruz." Choque has been encouraging his workers to use their modest savings to buy their own plots of land.
In El Alto, a town overlooking the capital city more than 12,000 feet above sea level, many Bolivians who helped Morales topple successive governments as part of an "indigenous revolt" engage in capitalism by selling jewelry to the United States.

Another myth is that the regions calling for local autonomy want to break away from Bolivia. Cristian, a 17-year-old boy, was murdered in Cochabamba in January when a mob of coca growers who had come from Chapare under encouragement from Morales' party cornered him in Mayor Rocha street. Standing next to the tree from where the kid was hanged, Cristian's uncle tells me, "All we call for is more autonomy, no other option is viable -- we are stuck in the middle of the country!"

One last myth is that the nationalization of natural gas in the southeastern lowlands will liberate the indigenous population. For hundreds of years, the lowlands were neglected by the real centers of economic power -- the highlands of Oruro, La Paz and Potosi -- because Bolivia's economy depended on its tin mines. The economic emergence of the southeastern regions now calling for more autonomy is quite recent. Furthermore, the companies that were investing in those areas before Morales nationalized natural gas are still operating, albeit under higher taxation, because the president realized after taking them over that the state's hydrocarbon entity was unable to manage operations.

Indigenismo, the ideology that seeks to take the Andes back to a world untainted by Western civilization, renders a disservice to indigenous people when it departs from the legitimate vindication of their rich past and in effect imports the socialistic political and economic ideas originated in the West.



more hopeless romaniticism
Good article and we see this all the time where western leftists try to get action on revisionist history, kind of like that disgraced Churchill fraud recently in the US. So Che Guevara's styly didn't work in Bolivia, so they keep trying some other tactic to impose socialism, not only on real red indians, but also the half-castes!

This movement is powered by would-be totalitarians. A poor and stupid populace is much easier to control than a people who have hope for a better life. Morales would rather turn his country into Uganda or Cuba, because it is easier and guarantees him power.

Communal Property
I think the pilgrims tried this and it was a utter failure.

People never cease to make the same mistakes over and over.

I hate to say this but...WHO CARES?
Another Banana Republic goes down in socialist flames? Big deal. Its hard enough keeping track the same thing happening in the US, so who cares about Bolivia but the Bolivians?

Sorry. The author makes some good points that are universal. But I still don't see why anyone outside of Bolivia would care.

Who cares?
We should all care.

The communist cancer in Cuba has infected Venezuela and, through that, has been passed to Bolivia and probably Ecuador. Chavez is trying to infect Brasil and Argentina, and tried to infect Peru, but failed in the latter case and is failing with the first two.

Should this take root generally throughout South America, it will have the following effects:

1. Impoverish the people even more than they are today.
2. Retard the economic development of South America.
3. Install economic and political regimes that are hostile to the U.S.

We defeated Communism in Europe and Central Asia, and the Chinese are slowly defeating it in China. Sadly, it is popping up again in Latin America.

BTW, before Roy starts asking for my sources, all the foregoing is my opinion of what's happening and what is going to happen. buT I think it is pretty well grounded in fact.

Yeah....WHO CARES!
We went through all this before...Nicaragua and El Salvador back in the 80's. Grenada. And they had a powerful patron...the good ole USSR backing them up. And what was the result then? The world didn't end, America came out aok. So just dump the Red Menace scare tactics, will ya? Or, if you still want to concentrate on that, there are plenty of red menaces right here in the good ole USA we need to worry about first.

Specifically to your points:

1. Impoverish the people even more than they are today.

reply: Welcome to Sovereignty 101! Where being sovereign means having the right to f@%k up as well as having the right to do the correct thing. Ditto with personal sovereignty. Since they want to be sovereign nations and they want to impoverish themselves, more power to them. They are all grown ups down there.

2. Retard the economic development of South America.

reply: See reply to #1 in the above.

3. Install economic and political regimes that are hostile to the U.S.

reply: so what? One can make the very good case that they were already hostile to the US. Even our 'buddy' Mexico behaves that way.

The Pendulum Swings
From Right to Left and then back again, the trick is getting it to slow down and stop somewhere near the center.

Do these charges have any basis?
I agree totally.

Of course, the successive governments of Bolivia have hardly ever swung back and forth between the extremes. Nearly every one (except for one very short-lived government, up until the Cocaine Coup) was so far to the right as to be truly fascist. So even a moderate would be regarded as taking the country quite a ways toward the left, just to get to the center.

For my taste, the article relies a bit too much on innuendo. For instance

"The real issue for Bolivians today is whether Morales will impose, by way of a new constitution, a system that while purporting to vindicate the indigenous population, will concentrate power in La Paz and undermine the rule of law, private property and international exchanges."

I'm not sure we can glean any of that from his record. He kicked out a predatory water company that wasn't delivering public services according to their guarantees. But I think there, the breach of contract was theirs. And he kicked the Brazilians out of Bolivia's gas fields-- but immediately invited them back in to renegotiate their deal. So I can't call him a radical.

Then there's this:

"The second myth pursued by Morales is that Bolivians want communal property."

I'd really like to see if there's a scintilla of evidence backing this up. Is he really pushing for people to own anything communally? Or is this just shorthand for taking water back into public hands?

Help me out here if you've been following any of this.

Those bolivians can't do anything themselves above the level of ox-cart. No wait a minute, before europeans came there, ther didn't even have ox-carts! No matter what government they have, they will always hav to depend on outsider to manage stuff.

TCS Daily Archives