The class and caste roots of hatred for Bolivia’s ‘Indios’

By Álvaro García Linera 

Linera is the elected Bolivian vice president currently exiled in Mexico. Workers World publishes this article to make his analysis available to U.S. activists. Originally published by the Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Center (CELAG) on Nov. 20. Translation by Michael Otto.

Like a thick night fog, hatred ravenously creeps through the traditional urban middle-class neighborhoods of Bolivia. Eyes are filled with anger. They don’t shout, they spit; they don’t complain, they order. Their songs are not about hope or brotherhood; they are about contempt and discrimination against the Indigenous peoples. They mount their motorcycles, get into their vans, assemble in their elite fraternities and private universities to hunt for the “uppity” Indians (Indios) who dared to push them out of power.

People march with the wiphala, the Indigenous flag, in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

In Santa Cruz they organize club-wielding gangs who go out to terrorize the Indios in four-wheel-drive vehicles. The Indigenous people, whom they call “collas,” live in substandard neighborhoods and in the markets. The thugs chant slogans that “Collas must be killed,” and if a woman in Native dress crosses their path, they beat her, threaten her and order her to leave “their” territory. 

In Cochabamba they organize convoys to impose their racist white supremacy in the southern zone, where the poor live, and they charge — as if they were a cavalry detachment — at thousands of defenseless peasant women who march for peace. 

They carry baseball bats, chains and gas grenades; some brandish firearms. Their favorite victims are women; they grab a woman mayor of a peasant town, humiliate her, drag her [barefoot] through the street, beat her, urinate on her when she falls to the ground, cut her hair, threaten to lynch her, and when they realize they are being filmed, they decide to paint her red, symbolizing what they will do with her blood.

In La Paz the middle class distrust their domestic workers so much they refrain from talking when the women bring food to the table. Deep down they fear them, but they also despise them. Later on they go out into the streets to shout, insulting Evo [Morales,] and, with him, all these Indios who dared to build intercultural democracy with equality.

When they grow to mob size, they drag the Wiphala, the [ancient Inca] Indigenous flag on the ground; they spit on it, they trample it, they tear it apart, they burn it. A visceral rage is unleashed on this symbol of the Indigenous peoples whom they would like to extinguish from the face of the Earth, along with all those who identify with this flag.

Racial hatred is the political language of this traditional middle class. Academic titles, world travels and faith are nothing, because, in the end, all is erased compared with their pedigree. Deep in their hearts, their imagined lineage is stronger and seems to be embedded in the unconscious language of skin that hates, of visceral gestures and their rotten moral code.

Everything exploded on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, when Evo Morales won the elections with a lead of more than 10 percentage points above the candidate in second place. Morales gained neither his previously immense advantage [of earlier elections], nor even 51 percent of the votes. 

That was the signal the regressive forces were waiting for: from the timid liberal opposition candidate to the ultraconservative political forces, the [Organization of American States] and the indescribable traditional middle class. Evo had won again, but he no longer had 60 percent of the electorate; he was weaker and they had to crush him. 

The loser [Carlos Mesa] refused to recognize his defeat. The OAS spoke of “clean elections,” but of a diminished victory and asked for a second round. They advised going against the Bolivian Constitution, which states that if a candidate gets more than 40 percent of the votes and 10 percent or more votes over the candidate in second place, this candidate wins in the first round. 

A hunt for Indigenous people

And that’s when the middle class started hunting for the Indios. On the night of Monday, Oct. 21, five of the nine electoral offices were burned, including ballot votes. The city of Santa Cruz decreed a civic strike that united the inhabitants of the central zones of the city, reaching out to the residential zones of La Paz and Cochabamba. And thus the terror was unleashed.

Paramilitary gangs began to besiege institutions, burn union headquarters and set fire to the homes of candidates and political leaders of the governing party. Even the president’s own private home was sacked. Elsewhere families, including children, were abducted and threatened with flogging and burning if their minister or union-leader parent refused to resign. The gangs unleashed an endless “night of long knives,” and fascism showed its teeth. 

When the people mobilized to resist, this civil coup began to retake territorial control of the cities. Despite the presence of workers, miners, peasants, Indigenous and urban settlers — the balance of power was leaning toward the side of the popular forces — that’s when the police riots erupted.

For weeks the police had shown great sluggishness and inability to protect poor people who were beaten and persecuted by fascist gangs. But as of Friday, Nov. 8, in the absence of civilian command, many of them showed an extraordinary ability to assault, detain, torture and kill peaceful [pro-Morales’] demonstrators. 

Of course, in containing the rightists, they would have had to repress the children of the middle class, and according to their claims, they didn’t have the forces for that. Now that it was a question of repressing unruly Indios, the deployment, arrogance and repressive viciousness were monumental. 

Treachery in Armed Forces

The same occurred in the Armed Forces. Throughout our time in government, we never allowed the military to go out and repress civilian protests, not even during the first civic coup d’état attempt in 2008. And now, in the midst of a convulsion and even though we didn’t ask them, they claimed that they had no riot control equipment, that they only had 8 bullets per soldier and for them to be deployed in the street to deter rioting they needed to see a presidential decree. 

However, they did not hesitate to ask/demand that President Evo resign, which breaks the constitutional order. They did their best to try to kidnap him when he was on his way to and after he reached Chapare (his Indigenous base). When the coup was consummated, they went out into the streets to shoot thousands of bullets, to militarize the cities, to murder peasants! 

And all this was done without any presidential decree. In order to protect the Indios, they claimed they required a decree. In order to repress and kill Indios, it was enough to obey what racial and class hatred ordered. And in just five days there were more than 18 dead, 120 wounded by bullets. Of course, all the dead are Indigenous people.

The question we must all answer is how could this traditional middle class incubate so much hatred and resentment toward the people, leading them to embrace a racialized fascism centered on the Indio as an enemy? How did it radiate its class frustrations to the police and the military and become the social basis of this fascization, this regression and moral degeneration, of the state apparatus?

Rejection of equality

It has been the rejection of equality — that is, the rejection of the very material foundations of democracy.

But this democracy led to the percentage of people in the so-called “middle class,” as measured by income, to soar from 35 percent to 60 percent within a decade, most of them coming from popular Indigenous sectors. It was a process of democratization of social wealth through the construction of material equality, but which, inevitably, has led to a rapid devaluation of the economic, educational and political capital possessed by traditional middle classes. 

In the good old days possession of a notable surname or the monopoly of legal knowledge or the set of family ties typical of traditional middle classes allowed them to gain access to positions in public administration, to obtain credits, offers for jobs or scholarships. 

Today, the number of people fighting for the same job or opportunity has not only doubled — reducing by half the possibilities of access to those goods.  But also, the “up-and-coming,” the new middle class of Indigenous popular origin, owns a set of social assets (Indigenous language and union ties) of greater value and recognition by the state in competition for the available public goods.

It’s therefore a question of a collapse of what was a characteristic of colonial society: ethnicity as capital — that is, the imagined foundation of historical superiority of the middle class over the subordinate classes because here, in Bolivia, social class is only understandable and becomes visible in the form of racial hierarchies. 

That the children of this [traditional] middle class have become the shock troops of the reactionary insurgency is the violent cry of a new generation that sees their inherited privileges of surnames and skin vanish before the power of the democratization of wealth. 

Thus, although they fly the flag of electoral democracy, in reality they have revolted against the democracy of the equality of wealth. Because racial supremacy is irrational, it comes to life as a primitive physical drive, a tattoo rooted in colonial history. That means that fascism is not only the expression of failed revolution, but paradoxically also in postcolonial societies, [it derives from] the concrete success achieved by democratization.

This is why it is not surprising that while the Indios collect the bodies of the now more than 20 people killed by bullets, the material and moral criminals who committed these murders tell us that they have done so in order to safeguard “democracy.” But in reality [these fascists] know that what they have done is to protect the privilege of caste and surname.

Racial hatred can only destroy; it’s not a horizon, it is nothing more than the primitive revenge of a historically and morally decadent class that has shown that behind every mediocre free-market enthusiast crouches a consummate coup-plotter.


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