At the end of 2020, the new book by the historic leftist Indigenous leader and former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, went on sale in several South American countries. It was written during his exile in Buenos Aires, where the ousted president reflected on the context and process of the coup in Bolivia, the looting of the country by the dictatorial government, the international positions in favor or against the dictatorial government, his political exile, the resistance of the Bolivian peoples, a balance of his presidential administration and memories of his childhood and youth and how he became the leader he is today. The book even predicts the Arce-Choquehuanca ticket’s triumph by more than 55 percent in the Bolivian elections on October 18, 2020. It is an essential book for our leftist and anti-imperialist militancy in the 21st century.
A Narrator Who Represents the People
This second book by Evo (the first is “My Life, from Orinoca to the Burned Palace”) is written in a very particular way as if he himself spoke to us directly. With that typical Bolivian way of speaking, whose mother tongue is not Spanish, but Aymara or Quechua. In this way, the narration of the text implicitly tells us that we are not reading a book by a white or Latin American “Criollo,” but rather by someone who is Indigenous, who have always been in the struggles of this continent but who are commonly invisible to the white population, even in spaces of left militancy.
Another way in which the text lets us know that we are facing an Indigenous narrator are the constant references to Andean Indigenous customs, Indigenous terms, recipes of traditional Indigenous medicine (when referring to the way people are facing the COVID-19 pandemic) and descriptions of traditional forms of cultivation among Indigenous peasants in the Tropic of Cochabamba. We can also see this in the emphasis that he places on the three laws of the Inkario Ama Llulla (don’t be a liar), Ama Sua (don’t be a thief) and Ama Quella (don’t be idle) taught by his father and that guided him in his government. He contrasts the Indigenous morality in government with the morality of the Criollos in the opposition’s government.
It can also be seen in his religious views and spirituality, since he identifies with the God of Christianity and at the same time with Pachamama (Mother Earth), like most of the Indigenous people in Bolivia and Latin America who maintain their ancestral spiritualities, but at the same time recognize that Christianity that came with the colonizers. He is, then, a storyteller who is a genuine representative of native peoples.
The Indigenous worldview that runs throughout the book is clearly seen in his references to dreams. In the Andean worldview and in that of other native cultures, dreams are significant since the spirits speak to us through them, and we can better face our lives. The book begins with reference to a recurring dream that Evo had in which he predicted the coup that he would suffer. Similarly, the book ends concerning a dream he had when he had escaped to Mexico, where he dreamed of Salvador Allende and his last speech when he was attacked in the Palacio de La Moneda.
Reading the book, we can see what marked Evo in his childhood and youth, what has historically motivated his struggle from a coca grower peasant leader until his government administration and political decisions in the context of the coup. The former president speaks of the extreme poverty that he had to live in as a child, stating that “I would not like there to be another child like Evo” (page 55). He also speaks of his efforts to eradicate extreme poverty in a country that became the second most impoverished in the continent; second only to Haiti. Another reason for his political commitment is the fight against U.S. imperialism, mentioning how in the 1980s, the DEA practically ruled the country. One event that marked him was when, as a coca farmer, he was repressed by Bolivian forces commanded by DEA agents in the so-called “War on Drugs” that the US government was developing in Bolivia. “I could not believe that foreigners from the United States, uniformed and armed, were shooting at us,” he mentions (page 62).
Another reference to his childhood and the first steps of his political training is his relationship with his cousin and his uncle, who belonged to a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist communist party. He describes how his cousin also lived in the Chile of Allende and experienced the Pinochet coup, saving herself thanks to an International Red Cross intervention. Allende’s tragedy is a ghost that runs through the text and something in Evo’s mind during the overthrow and exile.
The work brings the validity of imperialism to analyze the political and social conjunctures in Latin America. A concept that a part of the left has put aside due to Western sociologist Anthony Giddens‘s influence. The author demonstrates how imperialism continues to operate in Latin America and, therefore, any emancipatory project must be anti-imperialist.
In his descriptions of the political control that the DEA had in Bolivia in the 1980s and 1990s, it is clear that the only way to characterize the relationship between the South American country and its North neighbor is a colonial one. Bolivian laws were even drafted in English by U.S. diplomatic agents to be later translated to Spanish and implemented. Their violent anti-drug policy did not serve so much to combat drug trafficking, but rather control the Indigenous peasant population and deprive them of the lands they inhabited. Bolivian politicians were trained in North American institutions (such as “Goñi” Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada the paradigmatic case). Even the U.S. international organizations that went to the Indigenous communities to give “advice” mention that it was all a pantomime to gain the local population’s trust. Besides, the “training” that they provided never served to lift Indigenous communities out of poverty; all the while using the Tropic of Cochabamba region as a DEA military base.
Evo says they could also see the presence of imperialism in the way the U.S. ambassador and the agents of the affairs office constantly intervened in Bolivian domestic politics. Evo broke diplomatic relations with the United States in the midst of the crisis due to the insubordination of the lowland departments and the almost unleashing of racial wars between criollos and Indigenous people in 2008. Further evidence of U.S. meddling was that the first act of the Añez dictatorship was the reestablishment of the U.S. embassy and the return of the DEA to the country.
As the author points out, U.S. Imperialism has not only intervened in Bolivia. Evo talks of certain European leaders who denied him the right to fly over their airspaces at the time of his presidency. In 2013, under the pretext that Edward Snowden was traveling in the Bolivian presidential plane, the Bolivian president was isolated and in danger of being shot down in European airspace. This event reflects that European countries, due to their military-political alliance with the United States through NATO, are subjected to being the dogs of war of the United States.
The analysis of imperialism also shows how neoliberalism spread in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s in Latin America and the current expansion of the fascist far right on the continent. It is clear that the United States has encouraged the extreme racist right to overthrow the popular and plurinational government.
Unlike the core capitalist countries where fascism has an imperialist vocation, fascism in our region is submissive to international powers imposing themselves on peripheral countries. Fascism in this context tends to be more about internal control of the population than the expansion of their country. Therefore, in economic terms, Bolivian developmentalism with socialist and community overtones has been more efficient in national capitalism than neoliberalism. The latter cements Bolivia’s economic dependence, therefore making development impossible. In economic terms, the coup d’état responds to the interests that want an economically dependent and profoundly unequal Bolivia. The coup plotters are against national development and equal opportunities.
Evo analyzes those who led the coup and the dictatorial government and how deep racism characterizes them. He explores how it can be that after the constitutional reform of 2009, when Indigenous peoples are recognized, and the Plurinational State is established, such virulent and profound racism exists. Here a genealogy of the Bolivian extreme right is made, especially of the Cruceño Camacho. These groups have their ideological matrix in Banzerismo (vindicators of the Hugo Banzer Dictatorship 1971-1978 and Operation Condor) and in Falangism (a current that allied with Francisco Franco in his reaction against the Popular Front government and the Spanish Republic). This political genealogy shows the vindication of the Military Dictatorships of the 70s and the most reactionary fundamentalist Catholicism of Franco, inherent in Bolivia’s and South America’s extreme right.
Obviously, these recalcitrant fundamentalist Catholics and furious anti-communists see a government led by an Indigenous person, which revitalizes and promotes Indigenous spiritual practices, limits Christian indoctrination in native communities, nationalizes industry and carries out redistributive public policies for the most disadvantaged sectors, as an abhorrent government.
But in a deeper analysis, racism in Bolivia is not only due to a far-right nostalgia for military and ultra-Catholic dictatorships, but also due to the validity of colonial structures. Like the rest of Latin America, Bolivia is a country whose central social relations were formed in the Hispanic colonial period. Hence, the white elite feels that it must rule over the Indigenous masses. Hence, the criollos and their fundamentalist Catholicism despise Indigenous peoples and their rituals or their syncretized Christianity. Hence, the country’s economic elite is used to being the stewards of big international capital and never betting on national development.
As Evo says, “it’s a class issue.” In Bolivia, as in many regions of the continent, class and ethnicity intersect. The popular sectors are of Indigenous roots, while the elites are of European origin. Therefore, the anti-racist struggle is part of the class struggle, and class struggle translates into racial disputes in many cases. This link between the struggle for Indigenous peoples’ dignity and the class struggle against imperialism is reaffirmed with different historical references that Evo makes. Especially in the references to the revolutions led by Tupaj Katari (1780-1781) and Zarate Willka (1899).
The intersection between social class and ethnicity is also brought up when he talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Bolivia’s popular sectors. The dictatorial government’s lack of social policies to bring relief against the economic crisis in the popular sectors is attributed to the dictatorial government’s necropolitical logic and the government members’ class background. Being upper-class and white, they do not understand the domestic economy of humble Indigenous families. They do not understand that many families live off informal trade, and if this is cut, they will starve. The problem of class background can not only be seen in the ruling sectors of the Bolivian coup, and most of the governments of the region, but even in an important part of the left, coming from a class sector that does not understand the needs specific to the popular and Indigenous sectors.
Throughout the book, you can see the clear political ideology of Evo; this can be a political guide for many sectors of the left that do not have a clear political compass. His ideology could be summarized as “revolutionary nationalism,” or as they say in Argentina, “National and Popular,” only that to this “popular” we must add the Indigenous component. It would be a strongly anti-imperialist popular-community nationalism. In fact, the only ideological self-ascription that Evo uses is that of “anti-imperialist.” It should also be added that Evo expresses admiration for Fidel Castro, Allende, Hugo Chávez, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Tupaj Katari and Zarate Willka.
Although he strongly criticizes capitalism, his economic proposal is not one hundred per cent anti-capitalist, since he maintains private property. However, it is an absolutely anti-neoliberal proposal. Moreover, we could say that of all the progressivisms in Latin America, the one that really has challenged and broke with neoliberal logic is the Bolivian. They have implemented national capitalist development without depending on international credit organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank or the Millennium Account. Its an industrialization without depending on multinational companies, where the state plays an important role in addition to national capital, where basic services such as education, health, water, social security, gas are state and not private. An economic model where the country is free from economic dependencies with international credit organizations and free from multinational corporations’ intervention. Where in addition to national capital, state-owned companies, and a strong Welfare State, private property is also recognized together with an incentive for Indigenous communities through support for their own economic production.
His political vision also has a critical humanism and respect for human rights, international solidarity with the peoples of the Global South and a rejection of any kind of intervention by the countries of the North. He also provides support for all who request it, a trait that he maintains thanks to what he has learned from the Cubans: sharing what little you have. Further, Evo talks about the rejection of excessive state violence, condemning the violence of the police and military forces. He highlights that during the political crisis that overthrew him, no one was killed despite the violent right-wing marches during the coup. However, in the first 10 days after the coup d’état, there were 40 murdered, 400 wounded and more than 1,000 detained. They have called him a “dictator” even though he refused to use repression because he has experienced it various times in his own life.
Evo recognizes that he could have done the same as Allende or Che during the coup, either barricading himself in the Presidential Palace or going to the jungle and organizing a parallel government there. However, either option symbolized a bloodbath for the Bolivian people. To not generate a civil war, he preferred to accept the overthrow and go into exile, and then from Argentina to reorganize the resistance and recover democracy.
His political proposal is based on what he holds as “economic liberation linked to political, ideological liberation” (page 148). As he argues, there must be a reform of the state, a paradigm shift based on millenary cultural roots and economic development based on the country’s economic sovereignty and self-sufficiency. As he maintains, “a political, ideological liberation, without economic liberation does not make much sense.” In this way, he questions the democratic transition processes in most Latin American countries where political democracy was achieved, but we continue to be economically dependent, which has dragged us back into servitude. It is also a criticism of certain integrationist tendencies and indigenist identity politics. Instead, there must be legal and cultural recognition of Indigenous peoples and recognition of community properties and economic redistribution.
In this way, Evo overcomes the prevalent dichotomy on the left of our time where on the one hand some only fight for “identity politics” and on the other hand there are those who fight for “the conquest of bread,” when in reality they have to be two sides of the same coin. We must fight for the conquest of bread and for identity politics at the same time. In his vision, “political liberation” would be the construction of the Plurinational State and intercultural policies, while “economic liberation” would be a “sovereign Bolivia,” independent and inclusive economic development.
Finally, we must say that with this text, we delve into the thoughts and struggles of the only Latin American country that, after suffering a very violent coup, recovered its democracy in the streets in just one year. Neither Honduras, nor Guatemala, nor Paraguay, nor Brazil achieved what Bolivia achieved. It is time for us to recognize the great revolutionary and ideological potential of the peoples of Bolivia. For that, there is this book.