[Marxism] Profile of Álvaro García Linera

Louis Proyect 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

LA PAZ, Bolivia

AT first glance, Álvaro García Linera seems an 
unlikely vice president for the Bolivia of the moment.

This country’s 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 Morales’s proudest accomplishments 
has been reaching outside the country’s 
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.

“I’m 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. “It’s 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 Morales’s trips abroad. He travels 
frequently throughout the country, trying to 
soothe tension created by growing protests and 
road blockades carried out by the administration’s supporters and its foes.

Television stations and newspapers cover the vice 
president’s 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 Linera’s 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. Morales’s 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 
government’s 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 president’s translator, pointing to 
the vice president’s efforts to explain often 
confusing government pronouncements. Mr. García 
Linera rejects the label as condescending, 
describing himself instead as a broker of ideas.

“We’re 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 Linera’s 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 Mexico’s 
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 1990’s. The group took 
its name and inspiration from an Aymara Indian 
who laid siege to La Paz in the 1780’s.

He saw guerrilla action as a way to change 
Bolivia’s 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 Bolivia’s 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 Linera’s 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. Morales’s 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 Bolivia’s 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 he’s a negotiator, the next day he’s extremely radical.”

What is Mr. García Linera’s 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 government’s 
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 — I’m indifferent to them.”

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