Bolivia, like many Latin American countries, has as part of its history an exploitation and alienation of indigenous peoples. From the time the first Europeans set foot on its soil in search of new resources, there has been a suppression of the native people and suppression of native identity. This atmosphere of colonial and post-colonial corruption, as well as a continual sale of Bolivian resources which could be seen as representative of the country itself has led the average Bolivian to seek out their connection to a life and history rooted in the indigenous culture.
The current politics of the country have been such as to both use and promote this idea of an indigenous culture. In fact, the policies and rhetoric of the current president Evo Morales are aimed at and constructed with the majority of the population. Identifying with an indigenous culture has given the population of Bolivia a way of reclaiming their country after centuries of seeing it being sold away bit by bit. With a land rich in natural materials such as minerals, oil and water as well as prime agricultural land (Canessa 145) the conquest of Bolivia was an eventuality given the greed of the colonial powers in Spain.
The native people of Bolivia were used for cheap labor in the fields and the mines and were kept in sub-par conditions without any representation in the government. Even after the independence they continued to be marginalized and kept outside the governing of their own countries, instead living under the laws of the minority. As Andrew Canessa notes in his introduction to Bolivian political and cultural changes, the elites continued to rule as the majority of the population, identified largely as indigenous, continued to work in the mines and on the land producing materials for sale to foreign countries.
With the land reform in 1952 (Canessa 146), land was once more dispersed to indigenous people and they were able to gain back ownership rights if not the political representation that should have gone hand in hand. They still saw their products and resources sold to foreign interests while their own people suffered. The coca fields that became predominant as part of their agricultural sector during the military dictatorships of the 1970 through 1982 (Canessa 147), were scenes of political oppression and once more the fruits of the workers labor were being sold to the highest bidder with little trickling down to the workers who produced it.
It is no wonder this industry produced pro-indigenous president Evo Morales. From the 1970s through the present, the urban population has continually grown as droughts have limited the traditional agricultural industry and pushed people closer to the cities. Canessa notes that even as short a time ago as the 1990s, people in the cities did not generally consider themselves to be indigenous (Canessa 147).
The organization of the different agricultural and production sectors of the population in protest and anger against the government for attempting to sell not only coca or gold but also the very water that runs through the country (148). Eventually a people as a whole will rise up against this type of abject corruption and that is exactly what the people of Bolivia have done. Part of this was made possible by being able to connect with their country on a cultural level. Being indigenous has become not only a cultural but a political signifier in a country with so long depressed a native heritage.
Where once the term Indian was seen as derogatory it has turned into a major signifier, as the people of Bolivia have sought to culturally ally themselves with their nation. For them it denotes a freedom and control over their country that has been lacking since the Spanish first landed on their coast. Works Cited Canessa, Andrew. “A Postcolonial Turn: Social and Political Change in the New Indigenous Order in Bolivia. ” Urban Anthropology & Studies of Cultural Systems & World Economic Development. 36 (3). 2007, 145+.
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