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Bolivia: The White Revenge


Now that we are figuring out just what has happened in Bolivia, it’s predictably a right-wing white coup supported by the military, ready to get revenge against the Native majority.

In the days since the ouster of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, deep ethnic tensions that have long divided the country have erupted, complicating efforts to move Bolivia out of political crisis.

Mr. Morales, a champion of the Indigenous, has now been replaced by an acting president of European descent, and resentments have surfaced. Police officers have ripped the Indigenous insignia off their uniforms. Protesters have burned the Indigenous flag. And the acting president, who posted tweets many consider racist, initially appointed a cabinet without a single Indigenous member.

“We feel threatened,” said Juan Acume, a farmer from the Quechua, an Indigenous group, near a protest barricade of earth mounds and tree trunks across Bolivia’s main highway on Wednesday night. “They don’t represent us; they reject us, the Indigenous.”

Their fears grew when Jeanine Añez Chavez, an opposition senator, swiftly proclaimed herself the country’s interim president on Tuesday, promising to unite the nation and to call new elections in January. But on Wednesday, when she unveiled her caretaker cabinet, not one of the 11 ministers identified as a member of an Indigenous group. After an outcry, she appointed an Indigenous minister of culture as she added more cabinet members.

In previous years, Ms. Añez had published provocative posts on Twitter mocking Indigenous people’s culture, branding their religious rites “satanic” and calling Mr. Morales a “poor Indian.”

“Racism exists in Bolivia; it existed before Evo, and it will never disappear,” said Michelle Kieffer, an insurance broker, as she sipped a cappuccino in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of the country’s administrative capital, La Paz.

“While Evo started an important discussion,” she added, “he also manipulated the race issue, and that has caused disunity. And now people of different races look at each other with suspicion.”

Ah yes, what about racism toward the whites? Both sides do it. I’m real familiar with this line.

“They made us believe that there were two Bolivias, and we always believed that there was one,” said Col. Miguel Mercado, the police commander of the neighboring province of Santa Cruz, in a television interview. “It has to shelter all of us.”

But to many of Bolivia’s Indigenous people, the Whipala desecration was a grave insult that symbolized the end of equal rights they had enjoyed under Mr. Morales. On Thursday, thousands of Cochabamba’s mainly Quechua coca leaf farmers descended on the outskirts of the regional capital waving the country’s two flags to demand Mr. Morales’s return.

Heavily armed military and police cordons blocked their entry into the city, a reminder to many coca farmers of the brutal repression they had suffered during Mr. Morales’s pro-American predecessor governments.

It was the biggest protest in Bolivia that day, yet not one local journalist was present in a city that boasts several local television channels and newspapers. To the protesters, it was yet another sign of cultural discrimination. The entertainment programs and commercials on Bolivia’s national television are almost exclusively filled with white actors and presenters.

“They’ve been giving orders for 500 years, and now they want to take away our 13 years,” said Herlinda Cruz, a coca grower dressed in a pollera and traditional bowler hat. “They will take away my pollera. They will take away my voice,” she added, breaking into tears.

There are promised elections in January. They will probably happen because it’s hard this day and age to just cancel elections with U.S. backing, a la South Vietnam in 1956. But expect lots and lots of violence, much of it overtly racist.

Morales had become really problematic in that he wasn’t going to leave office and wasn’t going to find a successor. This is a constant problem in the world. The real genius of George Washington and John Adams wasn’t anything they did in office, especially Adams. It was that they left office peacefully. But some of this is that the Latin American right is extremely awful in ways that it is often hard to get American liberals to understand. These are people who long for the days of CIA-launched coups, where they could just shoot Native people indiscriminately and without consequence. That’s very much the case in Bolivia, where whites ruled with incredible brutality for nearly the nation’s entire history before Morales. It could easily happen again. And the whites want revenge.

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