[Marxism] regarding La Paz and indigenous culture Was: Bolivia From colonialism to Indianism

Craig Brozefsky craig at red-bean.com
Sat May 12 13:46:31 MDT 2007

"Fred Fuentes" <fred.fuentes at gmail.com> writes:

> Thank you very much to Richard Fidler for translating this very important
> and interesting article on the dynamics of the Bolivian revolution and the
> centrality of the indigenous question, something that even today most
> marxist outside of Bolivia just simply do not get.

I recently returned from a 3 week vacation in Bolivia and Peru.  Me
and my friend, Mike, stayed in La Paz for a week, and I fell head over
heels in love with the city.  Its density, vitality, and geography
were intoxicating.  The indigenous culture permeated the whole city,
most of the merchants and vendors who lined nearly all the streets
were indigenous.  The mamitas with their bowlers, beautiful skirts,
and vibrantly colored blankets on their backs carrying their wares and
their children (wawas), were ubiquitous once you left the main drag.

We were basically leisurely tourists, taking to heart Ivan Illich's
"To Hell With Good Intentions" and his exortation to "Come to look,
come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But
do not come to help."  We spent our days and nights walking around La
Paz -- guided mostly by our whims and our noses.

One of the most magical meals of my life was right on the sidewalk
just uphill from the Plaza San Francisco.  A round mamita sat on a
stool under a single bare lightbulb, surrounded first by cauldrons and
buckets and bags of food and then by about 25 locals of all types.
They were carrying on like a dinner party, devouring the fish, lamb,
chicken, potatos and rice the round lady dished out for them like an
octopus dipping her hands wrapped in little plastic bags into the
containers and piling up the vittles on plates.  She was an entire
restaurant by herself, with a young mamita to help collect dishes and
wash them.

I devoured the rich, tender lamb chops, nibbling the fat off the bone,
sitting on a wooden bench next to an Argentine we had run into on a
Trufi ride to Tiwanaku.  The hills were filled with lights, the street
had a steady stream of people running down it - a few would join the
island of food on the sidewalk, succumbing to the exortations of the
ocopus mamita to come eat.  The lights that covered the hills climbing
up to El Alto made me feel as if the starry sky was inverted and I was
in the milky way itself.  After the meal we bought some beers from an
old man around the corner and sat on a stoop to drink and watch the
people go by in the early evening.

Ok, so I'm not offering anyone some penetrating insights into the
political situation in Bolivia -- just confessing my love for the city
and people.  I sat in cafes reading papers as much to practice my
spanish as to get a grip on what the riots along the gas pipeline in
the southeast were about.  I read the graffiti which ranged from the
older "Goni is a Murderer", to "Thanks Evo for the telephones" to
"Indian Power = National Power" and many other references that I could
not decipher, including several supporting various hunger strikes.

In the end, what struck me most was the sheer presence and power of
indigenous people.  As you climbed the hills up towards the rim and El
Alto it became even more pronounced.  Between the nearly vertigo
inducing landscape with Illumani sitting on the horizon with a halo of
clouds, and the dense markets which lines both sidewalks and the
middle of the street in some areas -- I was dumbstruck and quickly
realized that my pre-conceptions regarding politics and culture in
this environment were worthless.  

At the risk of making an ignorant comparison, Peru seemed quite
different.  I enjoyed Peruvian hospitality *very* much, but it seems
that the mainstream political culture is much more enamored of their
dead indians than their living indians.  Tho the U.S. is even worse in
this respect, where the dominant perception of native cultures are
that they were wiped out and are now dead and good mostly for
generating liberal guilt about the genocidal foundations of our
country, the occasional spiritual or cultural signifier of
authenticity, and casinos.

I have at least one counter-exmaple.  The tour guide, Marieta, who
took us to the floating islands in the harbor of Puno spoke directly
to this, saying that Peru appeared very poor, but was very rich in
resources (which she proudly described to us on the boat ride out) but
that it had never had a government that was honest and was not ruled
by greed and thievery.  The indians who lived on these islands had a
very rough life and were the descendents of a culture who had suffered
(yet also proved to be adaptable and ingenious) under several empires
before the Spaniards arrived.  She said, only partly joking, that this
will soon change, because she will one day run for president and win.
Back on shore that evening, I suggested that maybe Peru will have an
indian president like Bolivia, and her face lit up and she said
grinning she hoped so and she would call us as soon as that happened.
There is certainly more to Peruvian indigenous political forces than
met my tourist eye.

So, what does some gringo from an relatively ignorant political
culture have to offer these people in terms of "critical support" for
their pachakuti or any of the other kinds of kibbutzing we often see
here and in other internationalist political forums?  It seems to me
only friendship and the concrete political cooperation of social
relations across borders.  Some political analysis, often coming with
admonishments to perform this or that political action, or chastise
actors for not going far enough in some political realm, appear to be
a tremendous waste of time and serve more the self-image of the
"critic" than solidarity.

I am in no way suggesting people "shut up" or that there be no
analysis or thought regarding these processes.  I am saying that we
have *much* more to learn than we do to teach or critique.  In that
context, some of the political analysis we get here is of limited
value IMO.  This makes me really appreciate the work of people, like
Richard Fidler, who translate materials.  Learning spanish
sufficiently to help in this project was one of the motivators of my
trip, but I'm admittedly not quite there yet!

Sincerely, Craig Brozefsky              <craig at red-bean.com>
Free Scheme/Lisp Software     http://www.red-bean.com/~craig
Less matter, more form!                       - Bruno Schulz
ignazz, I am truly korrupted by yore sinful tzourceware. -jb
what a klon  - neko

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