Bolivia: A Culture of Victimization; Indigenous Exclusion "Arguable"-FIU-SOUTHCOM

Bolivia Strategic Culture Report-March 2010 (Click for pdf version of full report), by Eduardo Gamarra
Quotes culled by Jenny Grubbs

This legacy is expressed in Bolivia’s Strategic Culture, a three-pillar political culture of victimization that includes a rapacious economic elite, pillaging neighbors, and other foreign powers, including the United States p. 4

The image of Bolivia as a “beggar on a throne of gold” is paralleled by a domestic view that the country is privileged with all types of natural resources, ranging from minerals to hydrocarbons...At the same time, however, Bolivia is still one of the poorest and most unequal nations in the Hemisphere. P. 4

The question of how to fund the exploration and subsequent development of these natural resources has always been at the core of all political debates, and has fueled intense battles that have sometimes been violent, involving even neighbors and other foreign actors. P. 4

Bolivian victimization culture involves the profound notion that indigenous Bolivians have been systematically excluded in social, political and economic terms for the past 500 years. In other words, despite the Revolution of 1952 and the democratization experience of the past two decades, the indigenous majority has been purposely and systematically excluded. This arguable notion, based on the profound and lamentable reality of poverty and inequality, has become one of the legitimizing concepts of the current Morales administration. In contemporary Bolivia, the central premise of this legitimizing rhetoric is the idea that the colonial experience (internal and external) ended only in 2005 with the election of Evo Morales. P. 5

Bolivia, like other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, possesses an incomplete State characterized by a very weak institutional setting, little or no control over vast sectors of its national territory, an inability to enforce public policy uniformly, and a recurrent challenge to the legitimate monopoly over the use of force. P. 5

A characteristic of Bolivia as an incomplete State is the prevalence of political pacts between politicians, the elite, distinct social sectors, and the military. These impacts generally opt for authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian solutions aimed at consolidating political hegemony which is organized around networks to redistribute patronage (jobs, contracts, and natural resource revenue) among regime supports. P. 6

One of the constants of Bolivian politics has been the conflict between those who are in power and those who demand a greater share of the patronage spoils from the outside. The contemporary period is not immune from this profound dynamic. P. 6

Bolivian Strategic Culture is largely defined by significance of several strong men whose role determined the course of history and influenced political culture and recurrent political practice. For some authors, that independence from Spain was forged by men on horseback who played a decisive role in legitimizing irregular and illegitimate changes of government. Strong men on horseback in the 1800s became men in helicopters in the 1960s and indigenous contemporary saviors bent on changing the rules to suit their particular and sometimes peculiar political ambitions. P. 7

The vastness of the territory and the inadequacy of institutions and resources made it a virtual impossibility for the State to control the country’s geography. To add to this weakness, the country has always been plagued by profound regional tensions pitting the eastern lowlands against the highlanders. P. 7

The election of Evo Morales in 2005 is often characterized as the end of a corrupt, oligarchic party-centered regime that excluded indigenous people and the poor in the name of a foreign imposed “neoliberal” economic strategy. P. 8

(quote from Toranzo) If any nation shows an interest in establishing relations with Bolivia, our country asks: what are its real evil intentions? What territory and resources is it after? ... This fear of pillagers is linked to a profound culture of victimization as Bolivians always view themselves as someone’s victim and the object of foreign conspiracies. P. 12

In some measure, the distrust of the business community reinforced the profound belief that the State’s central role was to protect Bolivians from rapacious businessmen and their foreign allies. Paradoxically, Bolivia is a country where foreign companies have had little presence, comparatively speaking. P. 14

This self-congratulatory sentiment was dashed at the turn of the century when Bolivia suddenly faced a conflict defined as a confrontation between the “pais politico” and the “pais profundo.” In other words, Bolivia had managed to construct two countries: the first managed by the mestizo and middle class politicians under the rubric of democratization, and the second the more profound rural and indigenous country that felt excluded and angry. P. 15

The politicians who governed Bolivia under what was termed a “pacted democracy” are seen today as a group of corrupt individuals who sacked the State and distributed jobs, contracts, and natural resource revenue among themselves and, who like the economic elite of the past, sold off the country’s vast natural resources to foreign corporations, resources which included oil companies from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, and Europe. P. 16

It is slightly more difficult to pinpoint the influences on the MAS. Its leadership and the mainly white middle-class ideologues that surround President Morales point to indigenous communalism as the main influence. Morales also credits the Marxist influence, mainly inspired by Cuba and Venezuela. P. 19

The long military interlude that followed the Revolution can also be seen as a failed repetitive cycle in which soldiers and their civilian allies attempted to craft a new State. Their failure, and the failure more generally of authoritarian attempts to transform the State, led to its most severe crisis in the mid 1980s. At that particular moment, Bolivia defaulted into an attempt to reconstruct the State through a liberal representative democracy and market-oriented economic policies, generally described as “neoliberal.” P. 22

In a country where contradictions are prevalent, the neoliberal strategy contrasted deeply with the concrete patronage logic of the politicians who adroitly crafted a model that enabled the principal political parties to rotate in and out of government, and to share the patronage that the State provided. P. 22

At the same time, this view of Bolivian syndicalism denies the centrality of the coca-cocaine complex that surrounds Evo Morales’s movement and which has been significant in Bolivia since at least the mid 1970s. p. 29

Coca farmers, displaced mine workers, military officers, traffickers, and political parties all participate in the illicit coca-cocaine economy. The growth of this immense and intricate complex, its concomitant web of corruption and joint Bolivian-US efforts to combat its proliferation, all taxed Bolivia’s weak political system and had ramifications beyond a law enforcement or national security perspective. P. 29

A final dimension influencing Bolivian Strategic Culture concerns the profound regional divisions that have plagued national unity and the very formation of the national State. P.33

The vastness of the territory and the inadequacy of institutions and resources made it a virtual impossibility for the State to control the country’s geography. To add to this weakness, the country has always been plagued by profound regional tensions pitting the eastern lowlands against the highlanders. P. 33

In this sense, this Findings Report disagrees with most contemporary interpretations of the current process in Bolivia, who see it as something new, unique and profoundly democratic. The discussion provided in this essay reveals just how historically and structurally-grounded this project is, and how likely it is to inevitably fall victim to its own trappings. P. 36