Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Exploring the Indigenous background to Bolivia’s ‘Process of change’

The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia, by Benjamin Dangl, AK Press 2019

Two historic currents of thinking have informed the program that Bolivia’s government, led by the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), has been attempting to pursue — with some notable successes and a few equally notable failures — since 2006.

One is a revolutionary tradition of anticapitalist struggle led by Marxists based in the miners’ union and the labour movement, which entered a sharp decline following the country’s turn to neoliberal privatization and austerity in the mid-1980s.

The other is a revived and re-imagined vision of indigenous societies offering an alternative, inherently non-capitalist perspective of communal existence in harmony with nature, which survived the 300 years of Spanish colonization and 200 years of creole “republican” domination, and in recent decades played a prominent role in the mass movements and uprisings that resulted in the MAS electoral victory of 2005.[1]

This new book by Benjamin Dangl, moderator of the now-defunct Latin America-focused website Upside Down World, analyzes the latter movement and its rediscovery and interpretation among Indigenous intellectuals in the wake of Bolivia’s National Revolution of the mid-1950s. The book, writes Dangl,

“argues that the grassroots production and mobilization of indigenous people’s history by activists in Bolivia was a crucial element for empowering, orienting, and legitimizing indigenous movements from 1970s postrevolutionary Bolivia to the uprisings of the 2000s. For these activists, the past was an important tool used to motivate citizens to take action for social change, to develop new political projects and proposals, and to provide alternative models of governance, agricultural production, and social relationships. Their revival of historical events, personalities, and symbols in protests, manifestos, banners, oral histories, pamphlets, and street barricades helped set in motion a wave of indigenous movements and politics that is still rocking the country.

“The book focuses primarily on Aymara-based indigenous movements and groups in the Andean highlands of Bolivia, largely in and around the capital city of La Paz. Aymara activists, leaders, and intellectuals in this region are highlighted here because of their striking production and use of history in indigenous movements and political thought.”

The focus of the book, which is based on Dangl’s recent doctoral dissertation at McGill University and his extensive field work in Bolivia, is on the Kataristas, a movement that self-identified after the Indigenous leader Túpac Katari who led an armed insurrection against Spanish rule in 1781. Dangl traces the formation and development of Katarismo as a current of political thought developed in the late 1960s and 1970s by young Aymara intellectuals and union leaders who organized in opposition to the attempts by the nationalist and military regimes after 1952 to put an end to an emerging Indianista consciousness and movement through a land reform that essentially treated its subjects as peasants, not Indians, and subjected their largely self-sufficient communities increasingly to dependency on production for markets beyond their control.

Dangl documents how the ancient ayllu communal traditions of collective production and rotation of leadership were still being practiced in mid-century and beyond, coexisting uneasily and in increasing conflict with the state-run rural union structures imposed by governments bent on replacing their indigenous governing structures. He shows how, in opposition to the nationalist narrative of Bolivia’s post-independence history, the Katarista current sought to decolonize indigenous history, reinventing indigeneity not as stigma but as a subject of emancipation, a political project. “Kataristas,” says Dangl,

“maintained that colonialism had never ended and that the National Revolution and the military regimes that followed it constituted not liberation from empire and colonialism but rather a new form of neocolonial domination. They worked to build a campesino union that was independent from the state and directly empowered the rural, indigenous sector rather than the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and military governments of the 1960s and 1970s. A lasting result of such Katarista efforts was the 1979 founding of the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), a national independent union.”

Along the way, they found themselves allying with the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) and forming an “intersectional identity” as “both indigenous and working class.”

Dangl devotes an entire chapter to the Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA) and its role in recovering and distributing indigenous history “to indigenous and working-class Bolivians through unions, speeches, protests, manifestos, and monuments to Katari.” The THOA played a critical role in the 1997 formation of the CONAMAQ,[2] a national ayllu network.

“The indigenous historical production and discourses examined here,” says Dangl, “took on further importance at the start of the twenty-first century. Protesters resisting corporate globalization and state repression once again raised the symbol of Katari at the barricades, renewing the legacy of his eighteenth-century siege. Under Bolivia’s first indigenous president [Evo Morales], indigenous histories, symbols, and consciousness gained more prominence through the rewriting of the country’s constitution, rescuing the model of the ayllu and indigenous justice, championing a state-led process of decolonization, and elevating the works of prominent indigenous historians and thinkers. The seeds of these twenty-first-century political uses of the past can be traced to the twentieth-century postrevolutionary movements and organizations discussed here. As contemporary Bolivian politics and movements demonstrate, the struggle to wield people’s histories as tools for indigenous liberation is far from over.”

The THOA and Kataristas were also in part reacting against a primitive but ossified Marxism that had been prominent in the Bolivian workers’ movement for many years. For example, an influential manifesto adopted by the miners’ union in 1946, the “Pulacayo Thesis“ of the FSTMB,[3] argued that it was the proletariat, “the revolutionary class par excellence,” that would organize the peasantry, which it lumped together with petty-bourgeois sectors of the population. Although it proclaimed that the workers should “work together with the indigenous communities,” the Thesis offered no analysis of those communities or the peasantry, the overwhelming majority of the population, or of what this task might entail.[4]

However, it seems to me, from a reading of Dangl’s text, that the movement he describes in detail may have done much to counter and overcome the historic disconnect between the two intellectual currents, Marxism and indigenous thought, so often identified in Bolivian studies.[5] This is nowhere more evident than in the Political Thesis of the CSUTCB adopted by the 4,000 delegates to its Second National Congress following a lengthy process of debate and amendment. “Katarista thought,” says Dangl, is “distilled in this document.”

“Two elements of the thesis stand out for their allegiance to the Katarista current in the CSUTCB: the first is the use of a preconquest civilization as a source of orientation and legitimacy, and the second is drawing on an indigenous, as opposed to strictly working class-oriented, historical analysis of the centuries of indigenous oppression and resistance in order to highlight injustice and embolden the CSUTCB’s struggle.”

The thesis is included as an appendix to the seminal book by THOA cofounder and sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant struggles among the Aymara and Qhechwa in Bolivia, 1900-1980. This English translation, now out of print, was published in 1987 by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. I have scanned the text and publish it here to make it available in digital format. I have standardized the spelling of Túpac Katari’s name, variously spelled as Túpac and Túpak in the UN translation, and retained the spelling of Qhechwa (usually rendered now as Quechua). In addition, I have corrected some obvious typos and one mistranslation, indicated in a footnote.

Richard Fidler

* * *




To all peasant comrades of the nine departments.

To all the brothers of the original nations and cultures of our country.

To all the comrade workers.

The members of the Executive Committee of the CSUTCB have enormous satisfaction and legitimate pride in publishing the trade union and political ideas of the peasants, approved at the II NATIONAL CONGRESS in La Paz, June 1983. Approxi­mately 4,000 delegates, men and women from all departmental and special federations and from provincial unions and grass root representatives discussed this document in Committees and plenary meetings in the course of one week. This document is therefore the product of the concern, work and discussion of peasant workers. It is not the result of the sort of ministerial interference which occurred during the years of movimientista manipulation under the Military-Peasant Pact. Nor is it the copy of any doctrine.

This effort is intended to generate our own thinking. For almost five centuries during the colonial and the republican period our enemies wanted us to think what they wanted us to think, to talk only about what they were interested in, to live imitating them and to accept oppression, exploitation, racism, contempt for our culture and displacement.

This manifesto is our response to that history of subjection. It rejects all forms of subjugation and is an attempt to build a new society which is free, just, without hunger, where we can live like human beings. The central ideas of our policy are rooted in the age-old struggle of our people. Let us recall for example the great Aymara, Qhechwa, Guarani and other uprisings more than two hundred years ago headed by Julián Apasa (Túpac Katari) and his wife, Bartolina Sisa, Gregoria Apasa, Julian’s sister, José Gabriel Condorcanqui (Túpac Amaru) and his wife Miacaela Bastidas, by the caciques Tomás Katari, by Apiawayki Tumpa, by Pedro Ignacio Muyba, by Pablo Willka Zárate, by Desiderio and Pedro Delgadillo and by so many other leaders of the continuous struggle of our people.

Such attitudes, organization and thinking provide one of the most fertile sources from which to revive our own history, while renouncing the distorted official history our children are taught at school. We also learned these lies and often we were ignorant of our own history.

We are aware that a people which forgets its own history can never be free. History is thus the beginning of what we are today.

The other source of inspiration for our own history is the building of the new union movement, whose history is more recent. Starting more or less at the time we first rejected the single peasant tax imposed under the Military-Peasant Pact, it developed over twenty years of resistance to military dictatorship, up to the recent struggles to regain our trade union and political liberties.

The first document to summarize the central ideas in our thinking was the Political manifesto of the VII National Congress of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia, Túpac Katari. It was called “Túpac Katari” to distinguish it from the government sponsored confederation. This Congress took place in La Paz in March 1978.

Later, at the I Congress of Peasant Unity, in June 1979 in La Paz, called by the Central Obrera Boliviana, this document was approved and ratified fully. Finally this document constituted the main subject for discussion at the II National Congress in June 1983. Revised, extended and developed, we now have a document setting out our union and political manifesto, the result of many years of struggle, sacrifice and dedication.

We, the current leaders, refuse to accept and will never accept class reductionist ideas which transform us to the status of mere “peasants.” Nor do we accept ethnic reductionism which transforms our struggle into a confrontation between “Indians” and “whites.” We are the heirs of great civilizations. We are also heirs to a permanent struggle against all forms of exploitation and pressure. We want to be free in a society where exploitation and organized oppression do not exist, in a state which, recognizing all national groups, develops our different cultures and authentic forms of self government.


Ch’upiyap marka (La Paz, October 1983)



We the Aymara, Qhechwa, Camba, Chapaco, Chiquitano, Canichana, Itenama, Cayubaba, Ayoreode, Tupiwarani and other peasants are the legitimate owners of this land. Though we are the seed from which Bolivia was born, we are, even today, treated as exiles in our own land.

The peasants of Bolivia are the legitimate heirs of the great prehispanic societies, which built the Andean civilization and the civilizations of the tropical plains. Our history is not merely a matter of the past: it is also the present and the future, involving a permanent struggle to affirm our own his­torical identity, the development of our culture, to become the subjects not the objects of history, with our own personality.

In spite of having different languages, systems of organization, views of the world and historical traditions, the different peoples who inhabit this land are linked together in a permanent struggle. In the first place, we have all suffered the effects of colonial domination, imposed by the Spaniards and by the republican ruling classes who have always subjected us to discrimination and have transformed us into second class citizens. This also applies to many workers in the countryside and in the cities who through mestizaje (intermarriage), the imposition of the Spanish language and acculturation have lost their own cultural roots and who are also victims of the ruling colonial mentality. Because we are all oppressed, we share a common cause — the struggle for liberation.

In practice we are united because we share the same conditions in our lives and work. Nevertheless, because we own our own plots of land, some define us as “petty bourgeois,” thereby establishing class differences between us. They divide us into landowners and landless, peasants and labourers. Others define us as a class in the process of extinction, serving only to increase the ranks of the proletariat. We disagree with these opinions because an analysis of the social and economic structure of our country shows that dependent capitalism with colonial characteristics is the dominant mode of production of which peasants are an indispensable component. Whether as producers of foodstuffs and cheap commodities or as labour power we have sweated to feed the growing mines and cities and enriched the exploitative minority.

Therefore we the peasants do not consider ourselves marginal or a decadent class doomed to disappear. We are still the majority of the population. Nor are we a petty bourgeoisie just because we own plots of land. Land for us is mainly a condition of production and an inheritance from our forbears rather than a means of production. Therefore we do not believe that the socioeconomic differences between us constitute barriers to our unity. These differences are secondary if we compare them to the contradictions posed by the capitalist system, which nourishes itself on our work and our wealth. Whether as labourers in agro-industrial enterprises or as small agricultural producers in cattle raising, fishing or forestry, we share the same suffering and discrimination. We share a common cause of liberation because we are rural workers.


Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards we had a strong community tradition. Hunger, theft and dishonesty were unknown. In the Andean region our ayllus, markas, suyus were the basis of a great civilization in which autonomy and the diversity of our forms of work were respected. Different peoples shared the vast eastern plains, living in freedom and respecting each other. They worked as gold and silversmiths, creating music, developing elaborate hunting, fishing and gathering methods, always respectful of the environment.

This autonomous development was interrupted violently by the Spanish invasion in 1492. Since then we have been reduced to the condition of a colonized people referred to generically as “Indians.” We have been stripped of sovereignty over our territories. Even our dignity as human beings has been denied. The expansion of Spanish mercantile capitalism through theft, encomiendas, mercedes, tributo, reducciones, misiones, serfdom, mit’a and other forms of exploitation and undermining our culture has fragmented our society. Alien systems such as private property and the exploitation of the majority by the minority have been imposed on us. Colonial domination introduced a long period of systematic exclusion of our people from the structures of political and economic power and destroyed all forms of self-determination. We have been forced to bury our own social practices and forms of life in cultural clandestinity.

Our people have not been passive. Our history is one of permanent and tenacious struggle against those who have tried to dominate us. Since conquistadors set foot on our soil, all our peoples — Aymaras, Qhechwas, Tupiwaranies, Ayoreodes, etc. — have risen against injustice in pursuit of liberation.

The great freedom movements of 1780-81 shook the foundations of colonial domination and showed that colonial power was not invincible. Therefore we consider the true liberators from colonial domination to have been Tomás, Dámasco and Nicolas Katari in the Potosí region, Túpac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas in the Cuzco region, Andrés Túpac Amaru and Gregoria Apasa in the valleys north of La Paz and Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa in the Altiplano. The seeds of liberation sown by the katarist struggles descended from the Apolobamba Mountains and extended towards the eastern plains. In 1804, an Indian from the plains called Pedro Ignacio Muiba, together with the cacique of San Pedro, Manuel Maraza, disregarding the authority of the Spanish Governor, freed all slaves of the carayana adventurers who had taken over land and deprived its true natural owners of their freedom.

The emergence of the republic was of no benefit to us. The Olañetas, Murillos, Caceres and other criollo heroes changed from the side of the Spanish monarchy to the criollo side, wresting from us the anticolonial struggle, to inherit the privileges previously enjoyed by the Spaniards. This is why, since the foundation of the republic, the criollos were an ineffective substitute for the colonial power and were only able to construct a caricature of a republic. They retained the colonial structures and the same relations of exploitation and oppression. Our taxes have continued to sustain the economy of the new republic. Criollo latifundistas continued to expropriate our lands, subjecting us to pongeaje. The extermination of native people was intensified in the eastern plains with the exploitation of quinine (Peruvian bark) and rubber, devastating the rich lands of Moxos, depriving the area of its rich natural and human resources. Ultimately this culminated in the breaking-up of the country’s territory.

Discrimination and racial oppression were strengthened by the introduction of the restricted vote and numerous prohibitions. Peasants were not allowed to walk freely through the streets and plazas of the cities. We could not vote or be elected. In the plains we did not even have the right to a life of our own because we lived under conditions of slavery. Using every possible means from massacre to a systematic denial of our identity and our cultural values, the oligarchy tried to eliminate us.

But ours is not only a history of humiliation: it is also one of struggle to change this unfair criollo society inherited from colonial times. Many uprisings, including those led by Zárate Willka, Apiyawaiki Tumpa, Santos Marka T’ula, the communities of Jesús de Machaka, Caquiaviri, Chayanta, are evidence of this. They were repressed brutally by the oligarchy. After treating us as second class people, they attempted to force us to become citizens so that we should offer our lives in the front line trenches in the Chaco war. They used us as cannon fodder to defend the republican pro-imperialist oligarchy. They vented their fury against our Guarani brothers for whom frontiers had no meaning.

Nevertheless, the blood spilled in the Chaco was not in vain: it nurtured the awakening of a new conscience among the peasantry.

In 1936 our brothers in the Cochabamba valleys organized the first rural unions against the latifundistas who had usurped the land. In the Altiplano, the struggle for the right to education and to end pongeaje led to the organization of a series of massive Indian congresses held in 1942, 1943 and 1945. New organizational methods such as strikes on the latifundios were grafted on to our old traditions of struggle. After Villarroel fell from power, the oligarchy reacted against these achievements by ignoring rural unions and violently repressing them. Again in 1947 we had no choice but to rebel. Our struggles were no longer isolated. Our brothers, the miners, were becoming organized and also struggling against the exploitative rosca.

Popular mobilization culminated in the 1952 uprising and the introduction of some progressive laws such as agrarian reform, nationalization of the mines and universal suffrage. But the ruling class appropriated the revolution and betrayed its aims, swindling the people of the expected gains.

The agrarian reform of 1953, which has been used as a political banner by those parties who claim to be the country’s saviour, was undermined by the individualistic nature of the model. Land was divided into parcelas and unproductive forms of smallholding were encouraged. The so-called agrarian reform was the culmination of an extended process of fragmentation of our community-based organization. We can also see the strengthening of a new, large landowning class in agro-industry and cattle-raising in the east of Bolivia, which mercilessly exploits the many sugar-cane workers, cotton pickers, farm labourers, etc. These large landowners receive all kinds of state benefits. The agrarian reform has never reached many regions. The latifundistas have continued to exploit Siriono, Ayoreode, Chiquitano, Guarani labourers using colonial systems and methods.

Although universal suffrage allowed us greater political participation, it was impaired by the desire to manipulate us like a submissive electoral mass. Peasant unionism was transformed by the political groups in power into an instrument of manipulation. They wanted to transform us from pongos in the field of production to political pongos.

This official and manipulative unionism was strengthened from the Barrientos period onwards with the Military-Peasant Pact. They went to the extreme of supplanting our trade union organizations by corrupt paid leaders who used our name unscrupulously to proclaim the assassins of the people as leaders of the peasantry.

The Military-Peasant Pact has only brought suffering and massacres for the genuine peasants such as those of Tolata, Epizana and Melga. It has meant anti-peasant policies such as the single agricultural tax, successive devaluations, military coups, persecution, imprisonment, confinement and the death of some of our leaders.

Since the 1960s we have struggled against the manipulation of our trade unions and against anti-peasant policies in the search for a new trade unionism based on our genuine grass-root organizations. This new peasant awakening can be found in the struggle against the single agricultural tax, the emergence of the Bloque Independiente Campesino and the independent organization of the colonizers affiliated to the Central Obrera Boliviana.[1] During the governments of Ovando and Torres new tendencies emerged within and outside the CNTCB and the leadership of this organization was temporarily wrested from the manipulations of the Military-Peasant Pact at the VIth National Congress which took place on the 2 August 1971. At this Congress our leaders once again took up the path established by Túpac Katari, Zárate Willka, Santos Marka T’ula and others. However, the coup which installed Banzer in power once more halted the independent development of the rural union movement and our organizations were left without leaders. The legitimate leaders were replaced by paid coordinators and by enemies of the peasants such as Oscar Céspedes, Clemente Alarcón, Pascual Gamón, Pedro Surco, Dionisio Osco, Leoncio Torrico, Vidal Jiménez, Willy Román, Miguel Trigo, Simón Peñaranda and other drug dealers. During the seven years of Banzer’s rule the anti-peasant policies were applied with ever greater force.

However, throughout those years our underground resistance continued and the dictatorship’s anti-popular measures, such as the 1972 devaluation and the January 1974 price increases, were opposed. Twenty thousand brothers in Cochabamba protested, using a new method of struggle — blocking the roads. The army repressed them violently in the massacres at Tolata, Epizana and Melga, thereby unmasking the true aims of the Military-Peasant Pact. The blood of those compañeros who fell in Tolata has permanently marked our enemies and also made our road to liberation more fertile. This is how, in the midst of a repressive period, we peasants have been able to build up our organization. Our leaders, elected in Potosí in 1971, regained the leadership of our main union organization at a mass rally held in Ayo-Ayo on 15 November 1977 by rejecting the coordinators and caciques paid by the fascist regime. Since then all attempts to revive the Military-Peasant Pact have been a resounding failure in the face of the new, unified, militant unionism.

We peasants were involved actively in the recovery of democratic freedoms by participating in the national hunger strike in December 1977 together with women in the mining communities and all the Bolivian people. The whole process of reorganization from the base, which we undertook in order to end government control, was given added impulse in March 1978 by the VIIth Congress of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers Túpac Katari in the presence of leaders of the FSTMB and the COB.

In the course of the struggle we came to see that our trade union movement was part of the wider struggle of all the oppressed in Bolivia. We realized that we are linked through class solidarity with our brothers in the mining, manufacturing and construction sectors and that we also share common historical, cultural roots and the struggle against common enemies. This is why we undertook the task of strengthening our relations with the main workers’ organization of Bolivia. This culminated in the First Congress of Peasant Unity which took place on 26 June 1979.

The Confederación Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, affiliated to the Central Obrera de Bolivia, was established at this event. The CSUTCB’s work respects the diversity of traditions of struggle and of organizational forms, thus representing all the oppressed in the rural areas. This process is continuously being strengthened by incorporating into the main organization the sugar-cane cutters, the rubber tappers, the brazil-nuts gatherers and cotton pickers. Likewise, links have been established with organizations in the villages in the east, northeast and south of the country.

The representativity at national level of the CSUTCB was fully confirmed by the massive mobilization of people opposing the Natusch Busch coup and the devaluation imposed by Lidia Gueiler’s government in November-December 1979. Road blocks were set up throughout the country, bringing transport to a total standstill and preventing the distribution of foodstuffs. The 1979 blockades showed us once again that racist prejudice against peasants continues as they struggle in support of their legitimate claims. Prejudice is still so strong that even the leadership of the COB was unable to understand fully the origins of our struggle. However, this experience, together with the process of union reorganization we undertook when democracy began to reestablish itself in the period 1978-80, showed us that we are united in struggle with the workers of this country, while maintaining our own character and our specific claims.

The progress of our struggle drew the attention of drug-dealing fascist opposition who took power on the 17 July 1980. On this occasion, the CSUTCB was present alongside the COB and the Comité Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia (CONADE). Our Executive Committee issued instructions to block roads and our leaders went to the provinces to continue organizing the resistance in clandestinity. But this time the fascist onslaught was worse than ever before. Mining centres and villages were invaded and bombed, in spite of fierce resistance by miners and peasants. The main leaders of the COB were assassinated, imprisoned and deported. This prevented the possibility of continuing to call an effective general, indefinite strike and the blockade of roads. The UDP, and those parties which call themselves the “vanguard” of the Bolivian people, were unable to lead the resistance and it was finally broken. In these difficult circumstances, the Executive Secretary of the CSUTCB took over the leadership of the clandestine COB. The outstanding role in the resistance played by the peasant movement and the leadership of compañero Genaro Flores in the task of reorganization undertaken by the COB caused the paramilitary groups of fascist drug dealers to [attempt to][2] murder him.

A number of peasant leaders such as Florencio Gabriel in the north of Potosí, Macedonio Layme in Achacachi and many other compañeros were among the union and political leaders who were killed in the resistance. However, to the extent that CSUTCB was rooted in each community and each rural union in every region, the policy of eliminating the leaders, intimidation and terror did not achieve its aims. Thus our struggle has made a decisive contribution to reestablishing democracy. Before the military government declared an amnesty in 1982 our organization was already back in full action from the time when compañero Genaro Flores returned from exile. He declared publicly:

“I have returned to continue the struggle of our people and to continue in the footsteps of Túpac Katari.”

Thus we were able to wrest from the military dictatorships the recognition of our organizational and political rights, fully confirmed at the Vth National Congress of our organization which took place in La Paz between the 5 and 8 of July 1982.

The reestablishment of democracy has thus been the fruit of our joint struggle with all Bolivian workers. Since the 10 October 1982 we have achieved the recognition of our trade union and political freedoms. So far, however, this so-called representative democracy does not represent the interests of the national majorities. The parties comprising the UDP have made repeated attempts to establish a parallel government sponsored union by imposing political pongueaje and the old clientele system of the MNR. These aim to divide the peasant movement and to weaken our union and political independence, transforming us into a submissive and docile instrument of government policy. Moreover, the demagogic promises made by the government to improve our living conditions and to meet our claims have never been fulfilled. This is why we had no choice but to resort to blocking the roads again in April 1983.

For all these reasons our struggle will continue until we gain our real freedom, defending our principles of union and political independence and strengthening our unity around the CSUTCB and the COB.


Our five centuries of struggle against different forms of oppression and exploitation have provided us with valuable experience and lessons for the future. In the first place, our oppressors have attempted systematically to strip us of our historical identity by a variety of methods. They tried to make us forget our true origins and reduce us to mere peasants with no personality, history or identity. However, our entire history has demonstrated that we know how to resist such attempts. In this struggle for liberation we have held on to our character as Aymara, Qhechwa, Camba Chapaco, Tupiwarani, etc. and we have learned that we can achieve liberation without losing our cultural and national identity, without being ashamed of what we are; we will recover our lost dignity.

Second, we have seen new forms of capitalist exploitation added to the colonial system. Our history has taught us to identify and differentiate these two forms of exploitation and oppression. Workers, peasants and other sectors identify in our struggle against colonial oppression because we share common cultural roots and because we share the common aim of eradicating forever all forms of racial discrimination and of exile from our own land. Along with our brothers the workers we struggle against capitalist exploitation, seeking a society in which there are neither exploited nor exploiters. We reject the reduction of the whole of our history to one single factor, either a class struggle or an ethnic struggle. It is in the practice of both these dimensions that we recognize our unity with the workers and also our own, distinct personality.

Third, our history shows us that we have been able to adapt and renew our methods of struggle without losing continuity with our historical roots. For example, we have adopted a trade union form of organization without forgetting our mallkus, kurakas and our own forms of organization. We do not need outsiders as leaders. We have our own, such as the brothers Nicolás and Dámaso Katari, Túpac Katari, Pablo Zárate Willka, Apiyawaiki Tumpa, Bartolina Sisa, Túpac Amaru, Miacaela Bastidas, Santos Marka T’ula, Florencio Gabriel, Pedro Rivera, Facundo Olmos, Macedonio Layme, Pedro and Desirio Delgadillo and all the militants who fought and gave their lives for our liberation.

Fourth, our history teaches us that our peoples were capable of organizing a society where hunger and exploitation were unknown, where rulers did not gain power in order to steal or to take advantage of their position. These great civilizations developed knowledge and increased their productivity in farming, cattle rearing, in engineering works, jewelry making, textiles and the metal industry. All the knowledge built up over the centuries was ignored and destroyed after the Spanish conquest and today we are reduced to living in conditions of hunger, scarcity and exploitation. For this reason, it is necessary to retrieve and update this scientific knowledge and combine it with modern technological improvements in order to build a society in which productivity is high and hunger or exploitation do not exist.

Fifth, our history has taught us who are our enemies. A minority has grasped the leadership and organization of our country. During the colonial period it was a Spanish oligarchy of encomenderos, priests, land and mine owners. During the republic it was the criollo oligarchy of landowners, mine-owners, merchants, industrialists, bankers and military men. During the last few years this oligarchy has put on a disguise, using populist and pseudo-leftist language in order to assume the representation of the majority and retain their own privileges. The capitalist exploiters and the new rich who live off our labour are visible enemies. But we also have hidden enemies who are the product of the capitalist colonial system we live in, and who, chamaleon-like, change their colour. Finally, there is an enemy we do not see — the state. It channels neo-colonial and imperialist interests through a multiplicity of mechanisms of domination. At times they are repressive and violent, at others they have more subtle methods of control. In either case, the whole power structure has to be changed, not only the governments that rule it.

We must therefore stop being manipulated by the ruling caste that talks, thinks and acts on our behalf and which controls the government as well as the state. The time has come for us to determine our own path to liberation, to refuse to be a ladder which serves the political ambitions of the current rosca ruler or of the roscawawas.

Finally, our history tells us that we are able to develop a unified struggle of all the rural oppressed, without losing respect for the diversity of our languages, cultures, historical traditions and forms of organization and work. We must end the false process of cultural integration which makes our cultures homogeneous and which attempts to depersonalize us by imposing the Spanish language on us, and we must put a stop to acculturation and alienation. The CSUTCB should become an increasingly genuine and unified expression of this. This also has implications at a political level. Our struggle must aim to express this diversity in all aspects of national life. We do not want patchy or partial reforms. We want lasting liberation and a multinational and multicultural society. While maintaining the unity of a single state, the state should combine and develop the diversity of all the nations of which it is comprised: Aymara, Qhechwa, Tupiwarani, Ayoreode and others. There cannot be true liberation if the multinational diversity of our country and the variety of forms of self-government of our people are not respected.


Trade unionism is a form of organization adopted from the experience of our brothers the factory workers. It has become so rooted among us that it channels everything we rural workers hold important in the struggle to defend our social economic, cultural and political interests. Prior to the emergence and adoption of trade unionism, our action was and, in some areas, still is guided by our traditional organizations such as the ayllus, cabildos, etc. In our view such traditional organizations do not conflict with trade unionism, rather they are complementary.

Rural unionism is different in nature from urban workers’ trade unions. The rural union takes up our grievances and is also a genuine communal form of government. On the whole it is not a means of challenging the employers. It can be used to organize our productive and social lives and to confront the invisible master — the state — and the capitalist system that oppresses us. These characteristics typify our organization and distinguish it from the experience of the factory workers’ unions.

The first rural unions emerged following the Chaco war. They were organized in 1936 by the ex-combatant Qhechwa farm workers. The organization of the unions was not the work of any leader or any party: it was the result of our own efforts. The unions then decided to struggle for the abolition of pongueaje and the haciendas, for the right to education, reflecting demands that had already been made in many areas by the mallkus, kurakas and traditional authorities. A partial victory was obtained with the agrarian reform of 1953 which was manipulated by the Movimientista intellectuals who allocated the best land to the owning class and their relatives and reduced us to smallholders.[3] Nevertheless, we gained valuable experience from this first stage of the trade union struggle (1936-1952) because we created a grass-root movement led by disinterested leaders who were prepared to put their lives at risk in the struggle.

However, this trade union democracy was undermined when the MNR came to power. The MNR began to organize the rural unions from the top down in order to ensure they served each government, as a ladder to the benefit of each leader or group. Such manipulation continued throughout the MNR government of 1952-1964 and, during the period of military governments, civilian manipulation was replaced by military manipulation through the Military-Peasant Pact, 1964-1978.

Such experiences have taught us to reject those forms of trade union which depend on the government. We reject apolitical and “yellow” trade unionism because that only seeks gifts and handouts from the powerful and because it encourages divisions and the growth of patronage.

Since the awakening of the peasantry we have struggled to achieve and have been building in practice a new form of trade unionism. We claim that trade unionism should be:

ONE: In spite of our differences of language, culture, forms of work and traditions of organization, all the oppressed of the rural areas should build a single organization with a single leadership.

DEMOCRATIC: Because that expresses our tradition of community democracy and because it is the expression of the grass roots, where leaders are appointed by the peasants themselves and not imposed from above.

INDEPENDENT: Because we reject any type of tutelage or interference by individuals, groups or parties from outside our organization and because, politically, we are guided only by our own political beliefs.

IN SOLIDARITY: Because our cause is the cause of other workers, not only in this country but beyond our frontiers too. But, above all, because we have won our own place in the Central Obrera Boliviana, the main workers’ organization in the country.

REVOLUTIONARY: Because we struggle for the peasants, miners, factory workers and other oppressed workers for our liberation from all kinds of capitalist exploitation and colonial oppression, for a more just society without exploiters or exploited. Because we are struggling for genuine and consistent leadership which guarantees that the struggle of working people will continue until final victory is won.

Freedom without loss of our historical and national identity!

Our liberation will be the result of our own efforts!

It will never be granted by generals, intellectuals or the new rich!

We are oppressed but not defeated!

Long live peasant unity!

Long live the unity of the Bolivian workers!

Glory to Túpac Katari!

La Paz, June 1983

Second National Congress of the CSUTCB

[1] Colonizers. This refers to the landless or near landless who have settled on newly opened up areas in the tropical eastern regions of Bolivia. [Note by UN translator]

[2] Correction of mistranslation of “atentaran contra su vida.” In fact, as Dangl’s book says, Flores was paralyzed in the attack, but not killed. [RF]

[3] Movimientista intellectuals refers to certain members of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario. [Translator’s note.]

[1] La Migraña, No. 20, http://www.vicepresidencia.gob.bo/IMG/pdf/migrana-20.pdf.

[2] Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas de Qullasuyu – National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu.

[3] Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia – Nation-wide Mine Workers Federation, founded in 1944.

[4] For a detailed account of the origins of the Pulacayo Thesis, and of the Trotskyist organization that spawned it, see S. Sándor John, Bolivia’s Radical Tradition: Permanent Revolution in the Andes (University of Arizona Press, 2009).

[5] See, for example, Álvaro García Linera, “Indianism and Marxism: The Disparity between Two Revolutionary Rationales,” in Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-Class, and Popular Identities in Bolivia (Haymarket, 2014).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The TIPNIS case: International tribunal faults Bolivia, calls for reparations

Leading environmentalists find government violated Rights of Nature and Indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth

[The following news release was issued May 15 by the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, a body created in 2013 pursuant to a recommendation of the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in April 2010 in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, Bolivia. That conference was sponsored by the Bolivian government headed by President Evo Morales.]

On May 15, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal (hereinafter the Tribunal) released on its website its ruling regarding alleged violations of the Rights of Nature in the case of the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in Bolivia.

The TIPNIS case was presented by representatives of Subcentral TIPNIS and the TIPNIS women’s organization before the Tribunal during its session in Bonn, Germany, on November 7 and 8 of 2017. The Tribunal agreed to try the case in January 2018 and decided to send an International Observer Commission to Bolivia to determine the facts and meet with all parties involved. Following a visit to Bolivia, the Commission — comprising Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Shannon Biggs (USA), Enrique Viale (Argentina) and Hana Begovic (Sweden) — presented its report in January 2019. That report is the basis of the Tribunal’s ruling, which concludes that, in the TIPNIS case, the Plurinational State of Bolivia has violated the Rights of Nature and of Indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth and failed to comply with its obligation to respect, protect, and guarantee the Rights of Mother Earth as established under national legislation and relevant international regulations (p.82).

The French naturalist Alcides D’Orbigny (1802-1857) called the region now known as TIPNIS “the most beautiful jungle in the world.” This territory became the “Loma Santa” in the “Casa Grande” where the Mojeño Trinitarios, Yuracares, and Tsimanes Indigenous peoples sought refuge during the “rubber rush” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The region was declared a national park in 1965, and in 1990, after the first indigenous March for Territory and Dignity, it assumed the double status of national park and Indigenous territory. On February 13, 2009, the Yuracaré, Tsimane, and Moxeño Trinitario peoples obtained the deed for 1,091,656 hectares, a small fraction of the initial request due to settlements by Andean migrants and the use of the valleys for coca leaf plantations in the area known as “Polygon 7” of TIPNIS.

In 2008, the government of Evo Morales hired the Brazilian company OAS to build a highway that would divide the protected area of TIPNIS without ever carrying out a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the three sections into which the road fragmented the park.

In October 2011, the Eighth Indigenous March, after being repressed by police forces in the town of Chaparina, achieved the enactment of Law 180 for the protection of TIPNIS, Article 3 of which expressly prohibited the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio of Moxos road or any other road crossing TIPNIS.

Six years later, in 2017, Law 180 was repealed by Law 969, which is what led this case to be presented before the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.

The report by the International Observer Commission that visited Bolivia from August 15 to 23 of 2018, presented sufficient evidence that the highway will expand the deforestation already present in Polygon 7, lead to the expansion of coca leaf production, and affect biodiversity, causing the irreparable loss of natural beings. The report also presents evidence that there was no consultation for the free, prior, and informed consent in good faith of the Indigenous peoples of TIPNIS, and that the colonization processes in Polygon 7 is already having negative impacts on life of these people.

Based on all of this evidence, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal deems proven the allegation that the Plurinational State of Bolivia, and in particular the Government of Evo Morales Ayma, have violated the rights of Mother Earth in the TIPNIS case. Likewise, the Tribunal believes that the Bolivian State has violated the collective and individual rights of the nations and Indigenous peoples of TIPNIS.

The Tribunal’s sentence proposes several reparations to be made immediately, including:

  • An immediate and definitive end to any type of progress in the construction of road infrastructure in “Section II” from Isinuta to Monte Grande in the interior of TIPNIS.
  • The repeal of Law No. 969 and the subsequent preparation and enactment of a law guaranteeing the conservation and protection of TIPNIS.
  • The recognition of the territorial rights and autonomy of the area of the former Bosque de Chimanes forest concessions in favor of a Multiethnic Indigenous Territory (TIM, for its initials in Spanish), to guarantee the control and management of the northern zone of TIPNIS.
  • The adoption of effective measures to halt the advance of colonization toward the central area of TIPNIS.
  • The cancellation of plans for oil expansion in TIPNIS.
  • The identification and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations in Chaparina in 2011.
  • The recognition of the State’s responsibility in the lack of justice so far and a public apology by the president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
  • The implementation of the Mother Earth Ombudsman’s Office, which has yet to begin operating nine years after its establishment under Law No. 71.
  • The cessation of all pressure designed to discipline and control organizations that defend Mother Earth and the issuance of guarantees to fulfill this task, which is essential for the reproduction of life on Earth.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal was created in 2013. Its sentences are based primarily on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted at the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which was held in April 2010 in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Tribunal’s resolutions and sentences have an ethical character that is essential for building a true Earth community to prevent a sixth extinction of life on Earth. Without ethics, no government, institution, or person can recover the humanity that is needed now more than ever to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s vital cycles.

The Tribunal is made up of judges of recognized ethical and scientific authority regarding the Rights of Nature that have been appointed by defenders of Mother Earth from different parts of the world. In the particular case of this sentence and given that the Morales administration promotes the rights of Mother Earth internationally, it has requested that the sentence be reviewed and signed by other judges who have participated in different hearings by the International Rights of Nature Tribunal. The members of the Extended Tribunal listed as signatories are:

Tom Goldtooth (Dine’ and Dakota, USA), Cormac Cullinan (South Africa), Vandana Shiva (India), Osprey Orielle Lake (USA), Simona Fraudatario (Italy), Fernando “Pino” Solanas (Argentina), Ute Koczy (Germany), Yaku Pérez (Kichwa, Ecuador), Blanca Chancoso (Kichwa, Ecuador), Maristella Svampa (Argentina), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya), Nnimmo Bassey (Nigeria), Ashish Kothari (India), Enrique Leff (Mexico), Francesco Martone (Italy), Antoni Pigrau (Catalonia), Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, USA), Antonio Elizalde (Chile), Horacio Machado Aráoz (Argentina), Rita Segato (Argentina), Valerie Cabanes (France), Arturo Escobar (Colombia), Rocío Silva Santiesteban (Peru), Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa Sarayaku), Atossa Soltani (USA, Iran), and Mario Melo (Ecuador).

* * *

Note: The full text of the tribunal’s judgment may be downloaded here in Spanish and English. The English translation is legible albeit apparently unrevised in a few places. For example, the last sentence in para. 48 should read that “57 of the 58 [communities consulted] indicated their rejection of intangibility,” if it is to correspond with the original Spanish text.

The tribunal’s judgment is, as it says, “ethical” and is not binding on the Bolivian government. For the government’s initial response to the 2011 TIPNIS protests, see Geopolitics of the Amazon, by Vice-President Álvaro Garcia Linera, published in English translation in several posts on this website and subsequently as a pamphlet in pdf format by Climate & Capitalism.