A member of the Swedish section of REVOLUTION is currently travelling Bolivia. This report, on the right-wing stronghold of Sucre, is the first in a coming series due to be posted on the Swedish REVOLUTION website.
Around the time of the French Revolution, heroic uprisings took place also in the area now part of Bolivia. Aymaras, Quechuas, and other native peoples revolted, lead by Tupac Amaru II and Tupac Catari — now historical heroes of the native people of Bolivia. The revolution against Spanish colonial rule failed, however — the uprising was smashed, and Tupac Catari was tortured to death after refusing to accept defeat.
It would be another forty years before the colonial overlords were finally thrown out of the country, the struggle at that time lead by Simón Bolivar, a representative of the Creole elite. Named after this ”liberator”, the national state of Bolivia was formed in 1825. Sucre, named after Bolivar’s close collaborator, Antonio José de Sucre, became the capital of the country. Formerly known as La Plata (”the silver”), the city was the juridical, religious and cultural centre of the region since mid-16th century. This tradition lived on until 1898, when the Bolivian government moved to La Paz after the decrease of the silver industry in the adjacent mining area of Potosí.
Trade-unionist teachers march on the streets of Sucre in 2005
Today, the oppressed population of Bolivia rise yet again — this time to throw out the imperialists and their neoliberal politicians rather than the colonial overloards. After the ”Water War” of 2000 in Cochacamba, when a progressive uprising mobilised hundreds of thousands people to kick out the US owned water company, the struggle of native people, workers and students has forced one neoliberal politician after another out of office. The movement then brought Evo Morales and his Movement towards Socialism (MAS) to power, and demanded a rewrite of the bourgeois constitution, nationalisation of the gas and oil industry, expropriation of the big land owners, and other revolutionary measures. “The election of Evo Morales did not bring about a revolution. It was a revolution that brought about the government of Evo Morales”, to quote historians Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson.
The incredible, progressive boost of this struggle, and its potential for a social revolution, is however lost on the inhabitants of Sucre. The political mentality here is still on a nineteenth-century level. Listening to someone living in Sucre, it’s easy to believe that the government moved to La Paz just yesterday, and not in 1898.
The unbelievably strong ”regional nationalism” here is hard to explain, even impossible in Swedish terms. ”¡Sucre capital plena!”, Sucre, full capital, is a massively popular slogan, found on many of the city’s walls, and often followed by words such as ”democratia”, ”libertad” and ”autonomia”. Other popular themes include racist abuse against the native population in La Paz, and theories of a homosexual relationship between Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. One central event in the regionalist struggle is the ”Noviembre Negro”; the Sucre right’s counterpart to the heroic mobilisations of the working class and peasants over the last couple of years. During November of 2007, student based demonstrations turned into clashes with the police, leading to the death of three students. What made these students sacrifice their lives? A worthless, reactionary cause. The regionalist movement has gained a lot of popular support thanks to these ”martyrs”. Naturally, the demonstrations were caught on camera, and this material is currently distributed on at least three different DVD and VCD versions, and is becoming as usual in the homes of the middle class of Sucre as Disney movies in their Swedish equivalents. In the version I saw, the material was fittingly accompanied by nationalist music, and two Sucre banners and the slogan ”SUCRE CAPITAL PLENA” were superimposed on the footage during the extent of the movie. One particularily upsetting part is when three ”MAS-istas” captured by the crowd are undressed and forced to call out bourgeois slogans.
The bourgeoisie of Sucre fear the radicalisation of the workers
Another obvious element of the Sucrean reaction is, of course, racism. If you’re patient enough to let a right-winger lay out his ideas, you can be sure to be presented with the most bizarrely obsolete ideas. One retired teacher complained over how lazy the Indians are nowadays, and mentioned how people at least worked hard during ”la epoca colonial”. To this profound idea, one could answer, nah, slavery is illegal nowadays. Another example is that of a well-off woman, who pedagogically described how all Indians are evil, and the horrible fact that one of them is now the president. She was just about to leave for the US with video material for CNN, ”proving” how horrible the situation in Bolivia is because of the MAS. Also worth mentioning is the despicable but all-too-common comparison between Aymaras and animals. These are not examples of isolated madmen. Sucre is simply an inexhaustible source of race arguments designed to take down the oppressed now on the rise.
When it comes to youth movements, the most visible group is the Fascist organisation FALANGE. The city centre is covered in their propaganda. I’ve never seen any of them in public, though, and according to second hand information, the movement is made up of about 40 militant youth and four senior leaders. Not surprisingly, the national leadership of the FALANGE is in Santa Cruz, stronghold of the Bolivian right, and its continental leadership on Chile.
Fascist propaganda on the walls of Sucre
One truly great light in this darkness is ”Lustrabotas” — the young shoe polishers of Plaza Mayor, whose democratic organisation is affiliated with a bigger trade union for all young workers in Sucre. The mood here is completely different. When asked on his opinions on the new government, the president of Lustrabotas (13 years old), answered that they finally have a president who shares their background, nationalises the country’s resources and opposes social injustice. A full story on these youth will be posted later.
In the university there is a local group of the student front URUS – a part of POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario: Bolivian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International). According to one witness, the group posted flyers during Noviembre Negro that described the situation correctly, but they were torn down within 30 seconds. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate this group at the university yet but if the reader of this article passes by Sucre, the group is supposedly located in the faculty of law in the University of San Francisco. My impression is that they’re not the most outgoing crowd, as I haven’t seen any of their propaganda — even though that might be due to the fact that it’s being torn down. I have also heard that there is a Maoist student front, who has created an alliance with the right-wing students!
So why are so many fanatically positive to Sucre as the capital of the country, and so scared of the radical movements of the native people and the working class? The answer is to be found in the systematic stupefying from demagogues in privately owned media, the political elite, the Catholic Church and the leadership of the university.
The right wing in Sucre and Medialuna (the six eastern provinces and base of the oligarchs, Catholic Church, main landowners and the extreme right) want a Bolivia where their power and privileges are not threatened. While preparing a counter-revolution, but with a TEMPORARY lack of support from the military, they’re attempting to push through a referendum on their demands of autonomy and Sucre as the full capital.
Violent demonstrations in Sucre at the time of the new constitution, last autumn
The demands for a referendum and autonomy for Sucre and Medialuna is nothing but a way for the bourgeoisie to use parliamentary democracy in order to stop economic and cultural democracy. This is done by alluding to primitive regionalism and fear of the poor masses of La Paz. Autonomy for the eastern provinces would mean a barrier between them and the reformist government, which is precisely what the oligarchs and big landowners want. Naturally, they oppose any cooperation with a government that poses a threat to their power and rests on the radical masses they despise. But access to the natural resources and wealth of the oligarchs and big landowners is decisive in improving the situation of the impoverished masses of Bolivia. Therefore, autonomy for Medialuna is unacceptable and nothing a consistently revolutionary government would chance.
Viewed in this light, the question of Sucre as capital is not only an expression of dumb regionalism. On a deeper level, the question of where the government should be based, is of great importance, since it would be more vulnerable to reactionary mobilisations if seated in Sucre. The present seat of state power is buzzing with progressive movements defending the revolution and exercising a radical influence on the government.
The working class can complete the Bolivian revolution — by organising workers’ councils and forming a new revolutionary workers’ party!
REVOLUTION supports the progressive reforms of the government, that is, the ones improving the situation of the working class and impoverished masses of Bolivia, but we’re deeply critical of the strategy and approach of the government. MAS’s talk of ”Andean capitalism” as their objective and their social democratic subservience to the bourgeoisie will eventually lead them to letting down the needs of the working class and the oppressed. That’s why the Bolivian revolution can’t end with Evo Morales and Garcia Linera in power: While putting demands on MAS, the progressive organisations and trade-unions of Bolivia needs to spread the democratic councils of power such as the ones on Fejuve in El Alto ot the entire country. They must be pushed into forming a new workers’ party. Such a party must be a democratic centralist party, organising the best revolutionary workers in the struggle for a revolutionary socialist program for Bolivia, and for the revolution in Latin America.