One of the more surprising decisions of Bolivian indigenism is the obvious alliance between the leaders of the Indigenous Confederation of Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB, acronym in Spanish) and the conservative Green party (Verdes) of the governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, against a process of change that defends the indigenous. It is an inconceivable decision, the logic of which can be understood only by taking into account, aside from the foreign million-dollar investment that stands behind it, the extensive campaign of manipulation that made it possible.
It began before World War II, during the revolutionary government of the camba Germán Busch, when, in Washington, Enrique Sanchez de Lozada was able to warn Nelson A. Rockefeller of the rise in Bolivia of revolutionary and nationalist intellectuals who sought to represent an indigenism that was beginning to claim its own political space. He proposed to get ahead of events by influencing the indigenous people through programs of social assistance. Rockefeller disseminated the proposal to the political circles of Washington using the enormous power that he exercised at the State Department.
In the economic sense, the Bohan Mission, sent to project the economic diversification of Bolivia, reached the foregone conclusion of empowering Santa Cruz. In the political sense, this was how the United States countered highlands anti-imperialism, transforming the Cruzan landowners into a modern dominant conservative class that it strengthened with agricultural and cattle-raising credits in the millions, aside from programs for irrigation and industrialization.
The manipulation had little effect in the highlands, simply because it arrived too late. The human concentration in mining centers and the support of the revolutionary governments had already united the indigenous people in powerful trade unions whose class consciousness was consolidated. In the east, to the contrary, control was absolute, due among other things to the fact that the indigenous people, called Cambas with a negative implication, lived separate from each other and in a state of absolute dependency on the agricultural and cattle-raising economy of the hacienda.
As Sanchez de Lozada had anticipated, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), which promoted the emancipation of the indigenous people, reached power through the revolution of 1952. But, so prepared was the United States for that possibility, that immediately the fighter and leader Hernan Siles Suazo was made to hand over the government to Victor Paz Estenssoro, the intellectual leader who negotiated with Washington the recognition of his government and who ended up by surrendering the revolution, fracturing the MNR into two opposing factions.
There arose in Bolivia the political practice of pretending to be revolutionary, to satisfy the people, while respecting the oligarchic interests in order to satisfy the United States, which financed everything. Fulfilling the promises of the emancipation of the indigenous people, the MNR incorporated the latter into civil society, but that did not go beyond rhetoric, because, at least in Santa Cruz, the new dominant class had not only captured the new electorate, but induced it to become part of the Right wing of the MNR that had surrendered the revolution.
From the time of colonialism, the whites had taken away the culture of indigenous peoples, completely alienating them from their warrior’s identity, respectful of nature and loving liberty. They did this by fighting them into submission, then instructing them in the catechism of a religion that conceived of slavery, and later incorporating them into the European culture based on social castes, leaving the indigenous to occupy the bottom level –precisely that of the slave, in its Latin version called servitude.
When universal suffrage turned the indigenous people into an attractive electorate, and the U.S.-supported Cruzan oligarchy took control of the right wing of the ruling party, they decided to re-acculturate themselves in order to better justify their representation of the indigenous. The word “Camba” went from being an insult to being cultivated as an adornment that humanized the whites. The oligarchy appropriated the identity of the Cambas, and that explains why the culture, the folklore, the religion, and even false beliefs were promoted by the power centers of the city of Santa Cruz, until there was implanted the aberration that the Cambas are the white leaders who set the political course, and the indigenous are the flock who follow them blindly for “religious” and “cultural” reasons.
An historical event that illustrates the resistance that the revolution found in Santa Cruz took place in 1957, when a commission from Agrarian Reform, which in theory had returned the land to the indigenous, attempted to enter the locality of Huacareta, but its members were murdered by the landowners. Facing pressure from public opinion, the authorities arrested the guilty parties, but later freed them because they had the backing of the business elite of the MNR that was protected by the United States, whose goal was to consolidate the capitalist system of the hacienda, or agricultural and cattle-raising corporation.
But U.S. support never comes free, and the new entrepreneurial class had to comply with the political objective with which it had been created: to oppose the highlands anti-imperialism and to support Washington’s policies, no matter how abusive these might be. That explains how Santa Cruz was made into the Achilles’ heel of the Bolivian revolution, always on the side of the right-wing dictatorships and of every neoliberal government supported by Washington in favor of looting and of the exploitation of the Bolivian people.
In order to continue to mislead the Cambas, generation after generation, there was presented in Santa Cruz in 1976, during the dictatorship of Gen. Banzer, the monument to Chiriguano the Indian, ordered by the Ladies’ Civic Committee. It was placed as a sentinel at the entrance to the city, in the middle of the highway to Cochabamba, arrogant and bellicose, reminding all that the eastern indigenous never allowed themselves to be dominated by the Inca empire. The truth is that the bloodiest war carried out by the eastern indigenous peoples was that against the Spanish empire, as is demonstrated by history and by the significant fact that Captain Nuflo Chaves founder of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, died at the hands of the indigenous, and the city had to be moved toward the west in order to escape from the hostilities.
The true history shows that the Guarani in effect drove the invaders from their lands, but it was not the Collas (westerners) who were expelled, as the Right insinuates, but the Spanish empire. Barely had the republican epoch began when a new invasion of white and mestizo land-seekers, backed by the army, was let loose upon the fertile territories of the indigenous. But the land theft was not easy, due to the combative spirit of the Guaraní, who resisted in a long and unequal war whose battles invariably ended in massacres, such as those of Karitati in 1840, Tiritati in 1862, Machareti and Ibague in 1874, and Kuruyuqui in 1892, in which 1,000 people died including men, women, and children. After the subjugation of the indigenous, servitude and forced labor were perpetuated until the present as an open secret that the Right and the Catholic Church denied, but that the International Labor Organization and the United Nations confirmed in 2005 and 2007.
The campaign of deceit carried out by the Right and its media, in which the Church always collaborated in complicit silence, continued with the pernicious planting of monuments around the city. In 1986, during the fourth administration of Victor Paz Estenssoro, during which, following the neoliberal mandate of the Washington Consensus, he handed the country over to the transnational corporations, the “Cambas” of the dominant class, sheltered within the Civic Committee pro Santa Cruz, inaugurated another monument as a symbol of separatism between the Cambas and the Collas: that of a little-known federalist called Andres Ibanez, fist raised high, defiant and looking also to the west along the same road to Cochabamba.
Just as was done with the warrior identity of the eastern indigenous, what was usurped now was the worthy image of a reformist leader who, inspired by the French revolution, died defending the interests of the indigenous in seeking equality in an oligarchic society. Ironically, the same social class that murdered him a hundred years earlier began to use his image as a symbol of separatism. The truth is that Ibanez raised his voice, fist and rifle against the oligarchy. He was killed for having abolished servitude, turned over unused land to the small farmer, and regulated the sugar industry, imposing the payment of taxes. Ibanez fought for a more just society and died for refusing to surrender his revolution. He was the precursor of the processes of change in Bolivia and Latin America. He turned to federalism only at the end of his government, as a last resort to defend his social reforms, as the Cruzan oligarchy, with its eternal campaign of intrigues, had managed to place him at odds with the central government.
It’s not strange that the Right, lacking all empathy for the Bolivian revolution that defends the country, continues to live politically from separatism. Neither is it strange that the million-dollar investments to seduce the leaders of CIDOB have yielded fruit. But this places the indigenous leaders in a paradox. They face a popular government that seeks to take the agrarian reform to the lowlands facing against the iron-clad opposition of the conservative green party of Gov. Costas, which, contrary to constitutional principles, has reserved to itself, through its Statute of Autonomy, the power to decide on the certification of ownership of those lands in order to continue to serve the dominant class that it represents.
What is strange, therefore, is that a few leaders in search of a leading role have decided to ignore that reality and to join with their historical enemies in an attempt to undo the process of change. By its origin, history, and nature, counter-revolutionary indigenism is a method of neocolonial submission that is imposing on the Bolivian people enormous social and economic costs.
There now exists an historic opportunity for the rest of the indigenous bases and for the Cambas in general, because, although the government of Morales has the political will to revert the looting that the landowners have imposed on the indigenous people, making real such a revolutionary act will not be possible so long as the oligarchy remains entrenched in the governorship of Santa Cruz, counseled by extreme-right U.S. Republicans and financed by the NED. Even less possible will it be, as long as the eastern indigenous remain under the control of the international Right, financed by USAID and the NGOs behind which lie hidden the interests of looting and of control of the planet.
The time has come for the Cambas to break free from the trauma of racism as to the Collas that the oligarchy has cultivated in their souls. Enough with the lies! Not only are the Cambas and Collas Bolivian brethren, we are by now so intermixed that separatism is irrational. There is no longer reason for such malice in the retelling of history, because the real war that Bolivians confront is the eternal war of looting by the Right against the resistance of the Left; the war between patriotic feelings of love for our nationality and the separatism that is indispensable for continuing the looting.
It’s time for the Cambas to represent themselves, to take over the political space that belongs to them, and to act in defense of their true class interest. In this way, the laws issued in La Paz in favor of the indigenous will be able to extend under better conditions to the eastern territories that until now continue to be unassailable redoubts of the transnational oligarchy.