News analysis on indigenous Latin America


From mid-December through January, the Bolivian press has been watching the
rise of the most famous Bolivian ever, the nation's first indigenous
president, Evo Morales. The coverage has been mostly positive, including
details of international accords not published in the mainstream media as
well as one brief mention of the indigenous philosophical underpinnings of
Morales' approach to governance.

It should also be noted that some editorial writers did not give Morales a
free pass. They took into consideration his lack of administrative
experience and the complex crises that have beset this tiny, resource-rich
country, where most of the profit goes to fewer than 5 percent of the

Their scant coverage of his Aymara and Native connections has also been
positive, but the reporting has appeared only in the context of Morales'
tours and Native installation (which occurred the day before his political
inauguration.) In all of these publications, prior coverage of Native
issues has been sketchy at best.

Newspapers in the larger cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz have
covered the indigenous leader's actions and accords with a variety of
leaders, providing more detail to some of the plans than has been appearing
elsewhere on the continent and certainly in this side of the hemisphere.
(Coverage of these same issues has been comparatively better also in a few
media outlets of Andean neighbors Ecuador and Peru.)

The one and only explicitly Native-inspired line found in December, quoted
in the La Paz publication, Jornada, came from Morales' description of his
approach to international relations (an Aymara social dictum): "a peaceful
and democratic transformation, with national and international dialogue
based 'on the law of our ancestors; no robbing, no lying nor being weak.'"

Starting with Morales' famous visit to Cuba, La Paz's papers La Prensa, La
Epoca, Jornada, El Diario and La Razon featured information about the
Cuba/Bolivia deal announced by Fidel Castro, but it was in Opinion from
Cochabamba that the most details were published. Presented in front of
media representatives and more than 100 Bolivian students who have received
scholarships to study medicine in Cuba, Castro outlined two initiatives:
one to stamp out illiteracy in Bolivia in 30 months, and another to provide
ophthalmologic surgery and general eye care to Bolivians of limited
resources (which would mean that upwards of 90 percent of Bolivians would
be eligible.)

Cuba will pay, according to the Opinion report, the salaries of the
surgeons as well as provide the necessary equipment as long as Bolivia
builds the facilities; only one eye-care center currently exists in La Paz.
The stated objective would be to operate on at least 50,000 patients. Along
with this arrangement was the promise by Castro to offer 5,000 medical
school scholarships to Bolivian students. (Detailed coverage of this
arrangement was also found in El Comercio of Quito, Ecuador.)

As Morales continued with his pre-inauguration tour, he received assurances
of other generous accords from presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil. In the extensively covered meetings with
Chavez, it was announced in several Bolivian papers that Venezuela would
donate "$300 million for social projects" as well as provide for all of the
country's petroleum needs in exchange for food imports from Bolivia.
Chavez, who also has some indigenous ancestry, invoked the names of Cacique
(chief) Guaicaipuro of Venezuela and Inca leader Tupac Katari in the
several press events arranged for Morales' visit.

While the outreach to his controversial friends Castro and Chavez have been
of real significance to Morales, it is the relationship of his
administration to that of Lula's which arguably has the most importance,
and not just because of Brazil's huge oil and natural gas holdings in the
country. The two countries both have a large number of indigenous citizens
and a complex history between them. In Jornada, it was reported before the
Brazil trip that the Morales administration would seek to recover 70 -- 80
percent of oil and gas profits made in their country, instead of the
current 50 percent received by the government from petroleum and natural
gas enterprises. Morales' vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, asserted
that foreign companies would gain an "average profit" and do more than
recoup their investments under this arrangement. In La Razon's coverage of
the Morales-Lula meeting in Brazil two weeks later, Lula announced that
"Brazilian authorities were inclined to accept the rules of the game to be
imposed on the petroleum sector by the next Bolivian government."

In the week following Morales' international tour, Bolivian and other Latin
American papers provided many details in their coverage of the "Investiture
of the Primary Authority," a sacred indigenous ceremony said to have last
occurred 500 years ago. The reporting noted the types of costumes and names
of tribes and peoples, including two mentions of Navajos who presented
Morales with an eagle feather, but provided no analysis of Native-inspired
philosophy or even a description of what could be construed as a Native
approach to governance.

However, coverage from La Razon, Opinion and other Bolivian papers made
clear the overwhelming indigenous support for Morales, including Native
peoples and prominent Native leaders from every country in the Western
Hemisphere. It was estimated that at least 30,000 people attended the
indigenous investiture (other approximations put it close to 80,000). One
of the most clear and forceful expressions of support came from Maximo
Paredes, a leader of the Collanasuyu -- the parliament of the Aymara Colla
people -- when he stated, "We now consider that the Bolivian state is in
the hands of the indigenous peoples."

While Native views were not explored in these publications, it must be
noted that some sensitive and in-depth analyses of Native-related subjects
were to be found in a very few outlets. One that stood out was by Edwin
Tapia Frontanilla of Opinion. The following quotations come from his
analysis piece of Jan. 2, entitled, "Are We Facing a Revolution or an
Emotional Political Fact?":

"The Quechuas and Aymaras suffered, during centuries of Spanish domination
and after independence they remained marginalized, humiliated, without the
right to elect anyone nor to be elected, until the middle of the 20th
century. The evolution of humankind is very rapid: it was perhaps only 10
years ago when to propose that a Quechua would become president would be
considered a joke or a provocation.

"Until 1952, millions of human beings suffered under the weight of powerful
feudal institutions. The Bolivia of today cannot avoid the deliberate or de
facto influence of a large percentage of its components. The Agrarian
Reform liberated Quechuas and Aymaras from subjugation, but the MNR
(Revolutionary Nationalists Movement), controlled by middle-class people,
could not achieve the task of inclusion; what it did was to use,
politically, the emancipated peoples who, now freed from peonage, continued
to be intimidated by the symbols of the dominant class.

"The most important social fact of these years is the liberation of the
enslaved human being, after being marginalized, humiliated and depreciated.
True liberation consists of self-recognition, in the adoption of the
totality of values and possibilities that come along with the human being.
That liberty dignifies people even in the most adverse and harshest
situations. They can be liberated even from the despots.

"There are many components to the triumph of Evo Morales, and the one of
greatest importance is the ascent of 60 percent or more of the population
that still were ashamed of their past, of their color, of their aesthetic
expressions. This could be seen reflected in the dramatic accomplishments
in February and October; the water and the natural gas were the material
manifestations of that transcendent philosophical implosion, of the rupture
of the constrictive saddle and to see, finally, how it is to feel proud of
their past, of their culture, of their color, of their habits and customs."

Rick Kearns, a writer on Latin American Native issues, teaches at
Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania.