The prominence of indigenous movements in the recent protests in Peru and Bolivia revealed a “rebirth of pride of origin” which, together with discontent with political realities, is leading both countries to a turning point and forced transformation, experts said.
At an event organized by the Center for the Study of Economic and Social Reality (CERES) of Bolivia and the Florida International University in the US, analysts highlighted the ethnic, cultural and territorial influences that are driving social unrest.
“People are mobilizing not so much for material issues, but for a need for recognition versus the politics of resentment, that is, a kind of vindication of the dignity of social groups, especially minorities, who have found themselves always marginalized and that they are becoming a very important mobilizing device”, explained María Teresa Zegada, researcher member of the CERES board.
Due to the lack of construction -in Bolivia and Peru- of nations that integrate all their cultural and identity components, ethnicity became a “pending issue that is generating internal contradictions,” he added.
In the case of Peru, the protests began as a show of discontent with members of Parliament and President Dina Boluarte, who took power after the arrest of former president Pedro Castillo for his failed attempt to dissolve Congress.
His ouster ignited deep-seated anger in the rural provinces, especially the copper-rich south, against the moneyed and political elite in the capital Lima. Protests in Peru have left 58 deaths to date, most of them civilians, with the exception of a policeman who was burned in the Andes.
“We are facing a manifestation of very strong territorialized ethnic discontent,” said Ramón Majuelo, principal investigator at the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP). “It is clear to recognize an indigenous peasant movement that has its axes in regional dynamics and in a strong awareness of distance and difference with respect to Lima, and that has developed in the midst of this protest.”
The demands of the protesters would not be limited only to a request for Boluarte’s resignation, but to a “demand for democratization accompanied by a strong denial of racism, open discrimination, neglect and a rejection of Lima as the capital of the country, which it continues to concentrate benefits and privileges, and that it continues to be the center of what for many people consists of a continuity that must be broken through the installation of a new government and a Constituent Assembly,” added Majuelo.
The researcher highlighted the role of the Aymara people in the demonstrations that have “paralyzed and sustained the paralysis for weeks” in cities like Puno, in southern Peru, which is considered a commercial hub.
Peru, a country that has seen six presidents in the last five years, now also faces the potential collapse of its economy due to lockdowns. Cusco, normally a mecca for foreign travelers, is a ghost town these days. The Plaza de Armas, where women dressed in colorful Andean textiles used to pose for instant photos, is now the site of protests
“The provinces are rejecting a type of modernity that does not include them culturally speaking, that does not respect their traditions and their essences, and that rejects a modernization that makes them homogeneous. In other words, it is a rather citizen, egalitarian struggle, for an inclusion that respects this cultural pluralism”, added Alberto Adrianzén, principal investigator of the Center for Development Studies and Promotion (DESCO) in Peru.
Last Friday, the legislative commission of the Constitution of the Parliament filed the proposal Presented by President Boluarte to advance the presidential and congressional elections to October and thus change authorities at the end of 2023.
Despite the demands made by the dissatisfied in the protests, the decision of the Constitution commission implies that, according to the rules of Congress, a new initiative to advance elections will not be discussed until the next legislature that begins in July.
Discontent spreads to Bolivia
In Bolivia, the protests began on December 28 with the arrest of the governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho. This region, considered the economic engine of the country and opposition stronghold, rebelled against the imprisonment on charges of alleged terrorism against Camacho, who has been critical of the management of President Luis Arce and that of Evo Morales in the past.
The governor of Santa Cruz was sent preventively for four months to a prison, from where he performs his duties, while he is being investigated for allegedly encouraging the protests that followed the failed 2019 elections in which then-President Morales sought his fourth consecutive term and which were described as fraudulent by the Organization of American States (OAS). This unleashed a political and social crisis that left 37 dead and forced Morales to resign and flee the country.
The current manifestations They have left 27 institutions on fire, as well as 44 cars. There are more than 100 detainees, 27 of them charged with destruction, according to the Ministry of Government.
Zegada highlighted that ethnic cultural inclusion is one of the “deep unresolved fractures in the history of Bolivia.” This issue, he said, has been used more forcefully by the Movement for Socialism (MAS), led by Morales, who tried to point to a “vindication of the indigenous” that several years later saw a decline “due to the contradictions of the project of the MAS, violating the rights of indigenous peoples on repeated occasions.”
“The ethnic cultural issue has become a very powerful element used by power factors to establish themselves on the political scene, to generate adhesion, social support and that obviously has a great capacity for mobilization,” he added.
Peru and Bolivia, facing each other
The Boluarte government and the Peruvian Congress have accused former President Morales of alleged intervention from Bolivia and have prohibited him from entering Peru. Morales has denied the accusations and has accused Boluarte of “seeking blame for his mismanagement of the conflict.”
Some politicians and leaders in Peru question the participation of Morales and his entourage in meetings with groups opposed to the Boluarte government in Puno.
“To leave implicit the affirmation that the Peruvian popular political mobilization is the result of foreign intervention is to attribute to Evo Morales a capacity for influence that he obviously does not have in Peru. It is free, incorrect information, which can eventually be explained by the desire to hide the violence of the repression in the south and in the Peruvian Andes,” said Gustavo Fernández, former Bolivian foreign minister.
The current president of Bolivia also was accused by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru of “supposed interference” in the internal affairs of the country. Arce referred last Saturday to the crisis that Peru is experiencing and expressed that the “Peruvian people are in a fight to recover their democracy and also to recover the right to elect a government that represents them.”
Claudio de la Puente, former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru, described it as “an inadmissible interference, not only by President Arce but also by former President Morales in matters of concern to Peruvians.” “I do not believe that the reaction of the Foreign Ministry has been intemperate or unintelligent, it seems to me that what had to be done has been done.
De la Puente highlighted that the protest in both countries has “legitimate demands that respond to a historical debt with marginalized populations and that have been totally alien to the process of growth and greater well-being”, however, he condemned the movements as “a wave of destructive violence that cannot be justified, in my opinion under any circumstances”.
Finally, Zegada pointed out that “the issue of identity has been established, defined from social theory in recent years as one of the most serious problems of mobilization and social protest in the world. This perception of us in front of the others, a shared vision of symbols, discourses, myths, history, shared memories that confront the other, trace a border with the other and generate a confrontation”.
[Este artículo contiene información de The Associated Press y Reuters]
Source: VOA Español