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Filmmaker's view: Evo's battle
Bolivia's president has pledged to lift the indigenous population out of poverty.
Last Modified: 10 May 2009 10:58 GMT

Indigenous Bolivians make up 60 per cent of the country's population [GALLO/GETTY] 

Following Evo Morales' election in December 2005, on the promise that he would bring Bolivia's poor indigenous people out of poverty, Rodrigo Vazquez spent three years documenting the Bolivian president's government.


Narrated by Morales and other prominent members of his indigenous movement, the film follows Morales' rise to power and his first three years in government, as he struggles to keep his pledge to the poor while confronting the middle and upper classes for control of the country's natural resources.

Filmmaker Rodrigo Vazquez shares the insights he gained during the making of President Evo: Three years in the life of a revolution.


I first became interested in the story of Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, while studying Che Guevara's Bolivian Diary.

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After Che Guevara's death in the Bolivian jungle, the military that executed him controlled the country's indigenous population for 38 years.

They brutally suppressed dissent as they tried to impose capitalism in the Andes, eventually turning Bolivia into a cocaine factory.

The Cold War in South America was financed through the arms and drugs trade, although few cases became as well known as the "Iran-Contra affair" that involved Ronald Reagan, the late US president, in the 1980s.

Morales puts it bluntly: "The Americans used the drug trade to infiltrate our countries. They brought cocaine to Bolivia, as here we only used to chew the coca from the times of the Incas. We believe in a democratic revolution, an indigenous revolution, to claim back our land and all of our natural resources."

But what is this revolution really about? Has it got anything to do with Che's ideals? Or is it the birth of a new ideology?

'Culture of death'

Bolivia is still one of the world's poorest countries [GALLO/GETTY]
The first Bolivian who wrote about the need to create a new breed of ethnic nationalism in Bolivia was Facundo Reinaga, a man of mixed blood who was abandoned by his white father as a baby and raised in utter poverty in the slums of La Paz, Bolivia's administrative capital.

Reinaga wrote a book entitled The Indian Revolution in which he proposed a break with the Judaeo-Christian ideological tradition and the rediscovery of the old Inca culture and way of life.

Reinaga said that the Inca way of thinking was radically different - and far superior - to capitalism and socialism in terms of humanity's self-preservation.

"For the Incas, there was a sacred balance in the world, one which men had the duty to preserve - the balance between man, nature and cosmos," he wrote.

"Capitalism is the right hand and Communism the left.

"With both hands the white man strangles the indigenous nation, slaving us and nature to machines.

"There's nothing they [Europe] can give us that we didn't already have before the Spanish came. Only their culture of death."

Such a strong-worded message spread across the Andes like wildfire after the 500th anniversary of the Inca conquest in 1992, when Morales and a few indigenous intellectuals formed the indigenous movement and decided to run for elections.

Ideological relic?

Miners and peasants called for a referendum over a new constitution [AFP]
Today, the push to dignify the poor and excluded, the "copper nation" as Reinaga wrote, is being systematised in policies and treaties, studies and essays. I call it "indigenous nationalism".

But this trend, however original it may seem, is just one of many ideological undercurrents unleashed by Morales' electoral victory in December 2005.

In fact, indigenous nationalism is one of the few ideologies in the making that has the chance to translate its ideas into government policies straight away. But it still has to face the old and new left-wing militants, unions and politicians that make up the indigenous movement.

Is the left afraid of being left behind as some ancient ideological relic in South America's poorest country? I met one of Che's former trainees.

"Che couldn't convert a single peasant into a fighter in 1967 because he didn't speak Quechua and didn't understand indigenous culture," Ramiro Reinaga, Facunda Reinaga's son and a former guerilla fighter, told me.

"It took as two decades to realise that liberation wouldn't be imposed by a vanguard but would instead grow from the bottom up.

"No wonder Che was perceived by my people as one among thousands of foreign invaders and mercenaries."

Intricate struggle

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, recommends another socialist model [AFP]
In meeting after meeting with President Morales' colleagues and friends, like Alvaro Garcia, the vice-president, or Senator Sanchez Ramirez, I got a sense that an ideological search is afoot within the indigenous movement today - a search made possible by the new political climate created by the 2005 victory.

An intricate ideological struggle took place within the government during its first three years in power, and this determined the movement's indigenous revolutionary identity against the Socialist model recommended in Venezuela by Hugo Chavez's government, a very important ally in Evo's struggle for power.

This means that every decision is the result of long debates carried out at the grass roots level, rather than the vertical "diktat" used in the Socialist model.

This system is rooted in the Inca culture of collective assemblies and consensus and it seems to have worked.

A coca peasant once told me that all his people wanted was a decent house, a job and for their kids to go to school, just like everybody else. In the years since Morales came to power, the poorest peasants have gained free healthcare and literacy programmes have been set up across the country.

A new constitution was written and approved by a massive 59 per cent of the population, although Morales had to mobilise 300,000 peasants from across the country and start a hunger strike to make opposition legislators pass the law to consecrate the new Magna Carta.

The new constitution borrows less from the political systems of the West and more from the Inca communitarian political system, which is based on the idea of collective well-being and the balance between man, nature and cosmos rather than on materialistic progress.

How it comes to be applied is yet to be seen but there is one thing that is very clear to me, after spending three years making this film about the Bolivian Revolution, and that is that it is not what Che was fighting for - and for that the Bolivians thank Mother Earth.

President Evo can be seen from Sunday, May 10, at the following times GMT: Sunday: 1400; Monday: 0600 and 1900; Tuesday: 0300.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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