[Marxism] Profile of Álvaro García Linera
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 7 08:13:38 MDT 2006
NY Times, October 7, 2006
The Saturday Profile
An Urbane Bolivian Politician Who Tries to Bridge 2 Worlds
By SIMON ROMERO
LA PAZ, Bolivia
AT first glance, Álvaro García Linera seems an
unlikely vice president for the Bolivia of the moment.
This countrys ambassador to Washington is a
ponytailed magazine editor. The foreign minister,
an Aymara Indian, waxes on about the health
benefits of coca leaf. The justice minister is a former maid.
Abruptly breaking with tradition, one of
President Evo Moraless proudest accomplishments
has been reaching outside the countrys
Europeanized elite for his top advisers.
Mr. García Linera is nothing if not a product of
that elite: a suave, well-educated mathematician
and former university professor who casually
quotes Hegel. But he has quickly become the most
powerful person in government besides the
president himself, and more important, what Mr.
García Linera describes as a cultural
intermediary in a precariously fractured nation.
His role has been to act as a bridge between a
government that is pushing for greater rights for
an indigenous majority shut out of politics for
centuries and those here who are alarmed that
Bolivia may be undergoing a radical transformation.
Im here to help and serve the first indigenous
president of Bolivia, Mr. García Linera, 43,
said in an interview in an ornate meeting room in
the presidential palace. Its an opportunity to
make history, in the same way history was made in
South Africa a decade and a half ago.
Analysts say he has approached his job with
Cheneyesque authority, especially during
President Moraless trips abroad. He travels
frequently throughout the country, trying to
soothe tension created by growing protests and
road blockades carried out by the administrations supporters and its foes.
Television stations and newspapers cover the vice
presidents every appearance, competing for
interviews with the P.I. presidente interino,
or interim president as he is called when Mr.
Morales is away. Even when Mr. Morales is in
Bolivia, the president and vice president often
appear together at events, addressing audiences side by side.
They are a study in contrasts. Mr. Morales, a
former llama herder and coca farmer, is a fiery
and folksy speaker who is known for wearing
casual sweaters or traditional Aymara dress even at official events.
MR. GARCÍA LINERA, on the other hand, appears
every inch the man whose ancestors were part of
the colonial ruling class and were involved two
centuries ago in leading the independence struggle against Spain.
In public he dresses in well-tailored blazers,
often looking out of place in gatherings of
Aymara- and Quechua-speaking officials clad in
colorful ponchos. Tall and slim, he towers over
the stocky Mr. Morales and other members of the cabinet.
He speaks neither Aymara nor Quechua fluently,
though he says he learned to read some of both
languages during his education by Dutch priests
at an Augustine academy in the city of
Cochabamba, east of La Paz. Aymara grammar, in
Mr. García Lineras description, has a Kantian logic to it.
Despite those differences, or because of them,
the president has made Mr. García Linera the
public face of his administration, revealing
something of Mr. Moraless own political
astuteness in pushing forward a bourgeois
university lecturer while also pushing for an
intense effort to lift the indigenous population from misery.
Mr. Morales has made Mr. García Linera the
governments main interlocutor with the United
States, dispatching him to Washington to lobby
for the renewal of trade preferences for Bolivian
exporters even as Mr. Morales presses ahead with
efforts to decriminalize coca leaf production.
Commentators here sometimes describe Mr. García
Linera as the presidents translator, pointing to
the vice presidents efforts to explain often
confusing government pronouncements. Mr. García
Linera rejects the label as condescending,
describing himself instead as a broker of ideas.
Were witnessing a power struggle between an
entrenched elite and an emerging elite, Mr.
García Linera said, using South Africa once again
as a comparison. Here we have the mechanism of
apartheid but not the laws to go with it.
Updating our psychology is a problem we have had for centuries.
From a privileged adolescence in Cochabamba, Mr.
García Lineras personal history is its own
transformative journey and reveals a side that
seems less out of step with the president he serves.
AFTER going to study mathematics at Mexicos
National Autonomous University, he went on to
become one of the leaders in Bolivia of the Tupac
Katari Guerrilla Army, a small leftist rebel
group, during the early 1990s. The group took
its name and inspiration from an Aymara Indian
who laid siege to La Paz in the 1780s.
He saw guerrilla action as a way to change
Bolivias power structure. The authorities
captured him in 1992, imprisoning Mr. García Linera for five years.
It was during this time that he underwent an
intellectual and spiritual awakening, he says,
preparing him for mainstream politics. He said he
immersed himself in the study of historical texts
from Bolivias colonial period and read Das
Kapital letter by letter, word by word.
The government had the option to kill me, but
they did not, he said. One of the prison
officials is now a captain in my personal guard.
I drank from the waters of confrontation and emerged as a man of dialogue.
Some Bolivians, particularly those in provinces
where separatist sentiment runs strong, are not
as certain of Mr. García Lineras reputation as a
mediating influence. He shocked many people in
August during a speech before indigenous groups,
at a commemoration of an uprising over plans to
export Bolivian gas to North America, calling on
them to defend Mr. Moraless government with their fists and rifles.
Though Mr. García Linera appeared chastened
afterward, his mediating persona had been
altered. His insistence, together with that of
Mr. Morales, that an assembly convened to rewrite
the Constitution be allowed to make decisions by
a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote
has further concerned Bolivias relatively small upper class.
Álvaro is not quite a co-president, but he is
something close, said Gonzalo Chávez, an
economist and political analyst at Catholic
University in La Paz. He has two or three faces.
One day hes a negotiator, the next day hes extremely radical.
What is Mr. García Lineras true face? Citizens
of this country of nine million people, so often
hobbled by political instability, are still trying to answer that question.
Some speculate that Mr. García Linera, who is a
bachelor, could be reaching out to different
communities to test the waters for his own ascent
to the presidency someday. Vice presidents in
Bolivia have often found themselves in that
situation when protests have gathered enough force to topple their superior.
Asked if that possibility was something he
contemplated, Mr. García Linera replied that his
only focus was to ensure the governments
continuity, so our actions can be studied with
reflection and admiration in 20 years.
I only want to go back to my books, he said.
This palace, these surroundings Im indifferent to them.
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