On Dec. 18, Bolivians elected their nation's first Indian president, Evo
Morales, a 47-year-old Aymara from the Altiplano. Morales, who took office
on Jan. 22, has promised to nationalize the country's resources, support a
new constitution that will give Bolivia's Quechua and Aymara majority more
power, and cut the salaries of the country's politicians, including his
own, in half.
David Choquehuanca is Evo Morales' adviser on indigenous affairs and a
longtime activist in indigenous issues. He was interviewed for Indian
Country Today in La Paz on Jan. 5.
ICT: How do you view the significance of Evo Morales as the first
indigenous president for the indigenous people of the continent?
CHOQUEHUANCA: We have suffered a systematic exclusion, we have been
discriminated against. Our ways of life have been devalued. This has been
accompanied by a systematic plundering of our natural resources, and
We have had important leaders in our history, people like Tupac Katari and
Tupac Amari. Tupac Katari, before he was killed, said: "I will return and I
will be millions." The struggle of Tupac Katari was not just the struggle
for territory. The struggle of Tupac Katari was the recuperation of our
identity and our culture. The struggle of Tupac Katari was so that we could
live in harmony, not only among ourselves, but with nature.
We speak of a pacha kuti, which means return to balance. We are now in the
era of pacha kuti. And the laram kuti have appeared. These are the "rebels
with wisdom." These rebels with wisdom have begun to rebel against the laws
All of the laws that have been created since the Spanish arrived have been
created to rob us of our natural resources. So now we have rebelled. Up
until now we have been managed by laws made by men. These laws made by men
have brought us into complete disharmony. We have to learn how to act in
accordance with the laws of nature.
ICT: How will the way Morales govern be influenced by the Aymara and
CHOQUEHUANCA: One of the sayings we have in our program at MAS [Movement
Toward Socialism] is to live well. All the development programs, the
government programs, the institutional programs are wanting to live better.
We're not looking to live better. What's more, we don't want anyone to live
better. All we want is simply to live well. We want to return to being
qapac. We want to return to being qamiri. Qapac, in Quechua, and qamiri, in
Aymara, mean a person who lives well.
Stealing is not living well. Lying is not living well. Not working is not
living well. Exploitation is not living well.
We are going to act according to these three principles: Ama sulla, ama
lulla and ama kella. Don't steal, don't lie, and don't be lazy. These are
principles not only of the Aymara and the Quechua but they are principles
of the culture of life.
For 500 years we had ceased existing; we no longer were. We want to exist,
to be, again. For 500 years we have lived in darkness, we have put up with
exclusion, we have put up with humiliation, our natural resources have been
plundered and we have just stood there watching. So after these 500 years,
we said enough: We are human beings, we have rights, we have our territory,
we have a culture, we have begun once again to value ourselves.
And we have a lot that we can share with the world. We have values, we have
principles that we can share.
The change is beginning. For us, the fact that indigenous people are taking
on a more important role, the fact that there is now an indigenous
president, is a message for everyone. Because we are carriers, the carriers
of a proposal for life.
The indigenous brothers and sisters in the north, in the United States and
Canada, are also the carriers of the culture of life. We are all similar,
we are related, but we are also different. In our flag, the wiphala, there
are different colored squares, but each square is the same size. For us,
there are no majorities or minorities; we are all the same size.
Respecting similarities and differences is another of the values that
allows us to live in a state of balance. We not only have to speak to our
brothers and sisters in the north, we also have to speak to all of our
brothers and sisters. And we shouldn't just concern ourselves with human
beings, because concerning ourselves only with human beings is forgetting
about mother earth, mother nature.
We want to live well. And we're not talking about just economic values.
For some the most important thing is money, not life. We disagree with
this, and we will fight.
ICT: Will the new government encourage investments from the Native nations
of the United States and Canada?
CHOQUEHUANCA: Evo Morales has said that we will accept all relationships
that are just, that are based on honest commerce.
ICT: Can you talk about what plans Evo Morales has to send or receive
delegations to the Native nations of the United States and Canada?
CHOQUEHUANCA: We not only have an interest in sending delegations but we
also want to share.
ICT: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the brothers
and sisters in the north?
CHOQUEHUANCA: We have a word that we use:
This means that we always have to communicate, we always have to stay in
dialogue. This is what the world needs. We want to connect; we want to help
each other. This doesn't mean that we need help. It means that we will all
of us, help one another.