One Bolivia, white and wealthy
By Jorge Majfud, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Translated by Bruce Campbell

May 9, 2008, 00:14

The rapid Conquest of Amerindia would have been impossible without the Mesoamerican and Andean cosmology. Otherwise two mature empires, with millions of inhabitants and brave armies would never have succumbed to the madness of a handful of Spaniards. But it was also possible due to the new adventurer and warrior spirit of the medieval culture of a Spanish Crown victorious in the Reconquest of Spain, and the new capitalist spirit of the Renaissance.

From a strictly military point of view, neither Cort�s nor Pizarro would be remembered today if it had not been for the bad faith of two empires such as the Aztec of Moctezuma and the Incan of Atahualpa. Both knew they were illegitimate and this weighed upon them in a manner that it weighs upon no modern governor.

The Spaniards first conquered these imperial heads or crushed them and cut them off in order to replace them with puppet chiefs, privileging the old native aristocracy, a story that may seem very familiar to any peripheral nation of the 21st century.

The principal strategic legacy of this history was progressive social and geographic division. While at first the cultural revolution of the United States, based on utopian theories, was admired and then later simply with its muscular power, which resulted from unions and annexations, the America of the south proceeded with the inverse method of divisions. Thus were destroyed the dreams of those today called liberators, like Sim�n Bol�var, Jos� Artigas or San Mart�n.

Thus Central America and South America exploded into the fragments of tiny nations. This fragmentation was convenient for the nascent empires of the Industrial Revolution and of the celebrated Creole caudillismo, whereby a chief representative of the feudal agrarian culture would impose himself above the law and humanist progress in order to rescue the prosperity of his class, which he confused with the prosperity of the new country.

Paradoxically, as in the imperial democracy of the Athens of Pericles, both the British and American empires were administered differently, as representative democracies. Paradoxically, while the discourse of the wealthy classes in Latin America was imposing the ideolexicon "patriotism," their practice consisted in serving foreign interests, their own as minority interests, and submitting to exploitation, expropriation and contempt a social majority that were strategically considered minorities.

In Bolivia the indigenous people were always a minority. Minority in the daily newspapers, in the universities, in the majority of Catholic schools, in the public image, in politics, in television. The problem stemmed from the fact that that minority was easily more than half of the invisible population. Somewhat like how today black men and women are called a minority in the southern United States, where they total more than 50 percent.

To disguise that the fact that the Bolivian ruling class was the ethnic minority of a democratic population, one pretended that an indigenous person, in order to be one, had to wear feathers on his head and speak the Aymara of the 16th century, before the contamination of the colonial period. Since this phenomenon is impossible in any nation and in any moment of history, they were then denied Amerindian citizenship for the sin of impurity. For that, the best resource now consists of systematic mockery in well-publicized books: they mock those who would claim their Amerindian lineage for speaking Spanish and for doing so over the Internet or on a cellular telephone. By contrast, it is never demanded of a good Frenchman or of a traditional Japanese that they urinate behind an orange tree, like in Versailles, or that their woman walk behind them with her head lowered. Which is to say, the Amerindian peoples are out of place except in the museum and in dances for tourists. They have no right to progress, that thing which is not an invention of any developed nation but of Humanity throughout its history.

Bolivia's recent separatist referenda -- let's dispense with the euphemism -- are part of a long tradition, which demonstrates that the ability to retain the past is not the exclusive property of those who refuse to progress but those who consider themselves the vanguard of civilizing progress.

If medieval (which is to say, pre-humanist) cultures and ideologies defended until recently with blood in the eyes and in their political and religious sermons about differences of class, of race, and of gender as part of nature or of divine right and now they have changed their discourse, it is not because they have progressed, thanks to their own tradition, but despite that tradition. They have had no other recourse than to recognize and even try to appropriate ideolexicons like "freedom," "equality," "diversity," "minority rights," etc., in order to legitimate and extend a contrary practice. If democracy was an "invention of the devil" until the mid-20th century, according to this feudal mentality, today not even the most fascist would be capable of declaring it in a public square. On the contrary, their method consists of repeating this word in association with contrary muscular practices until it is emptied of meaning.

It is easy to point out why one patriotism or nationalism can be fascist and the other humanist: one imposes the difference of its muscular power and the other claims the right to equality. But since we only have one word and within it are mixed all of the historical circumstances, we usually condemn or praise indiscriminately.

Now, the muscular power of the oppressor is not sufficient; the moral defect of the oppressed is also necessary. Not long ago, a Miss Bolivia, with some traces of indigenous features, complained that her country was recognized for its cholas (indigenous women) when, in reality, there were other parts of the country where the women were prettier. This is the same mentality as an impure man named Domingo Sarmiento in the 19th century and the majority of the educators of the period.

Military colonialism has given way to political colonialism and the latter has passed the baton to cultural colonialism. This is why a government composed of ethnic groups historically repudiated at home and abroad not only must contend with the practical difficulties of a world dominated by and made to order for the capitalist system, whose only flag is the interest and benefit of financial classes, but also must struggle with centuries of prejudice, racism, sexism and classism that are encrusted beneath every pore of the skin of every inhabitant of this sleepy America.

As a reaction to this reality, those who oppose it take recourse in the same method of raising up the caudillos, individual men or women who must be defended vigorously. From the point of view of humanist analysis, this is a mistake. However, if we consider that the progress of history, when it is possible, is also moved by political changes, then one would have to recognize that the theory of the intellectual must make concessions to the practice of the politician. Nevertheless, again, even though we might suspend this warning, we must not forget that there is no humanist progress through struggling eternally with the instruments of an old, oppressive and anti-humanist tradition.

But first things first: Bolivia cannot be divided in two based on one rich and white Bolivia and another Indian and poor Bolivia. What moral foundation can a country or an autonomous region have based on acute mental and historical retardation? Why were these separatist � or "decentalized union" � boundaries not arrived at when the government and society were dominated by the traditional Creole classes? Why was it then more patriotic to have a united Bolivia without autonomous indigenous regions?

Jorge Majfud
Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer. He currently teaches Latin American literature at the University of Georgia. He has traveled to more than 40 countries, whose impressions have become part of his novels and essays. His publications include Hacia qu� patrias del silencio (memorias de un desaparecido) [novel] (Montevideo, Uruguay: Editorial Graffiti, 1996; Tenerife, Spain: Baile del Sol, 2001); Cr�tica de la pasi�n pura [essays] (Montevideo: Editorial Graffiti, 1998; Fairfax, Virginia: HCR, 1999; Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Argenta, 2000); and La reina de Am�rica [novel] (Tenerife: Baile del Sol, 2002).

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