The creation of nation states in America went hand in hand with the creation of “normal schools” whose educational objective was to homogenise the population on the basis of a single culture, European culture. From there, the prevailing narrative was that of a Christopher Columbus who brought about the “Discovery of America” and who brought “civilisation” over the “barbarism” that supposedly inhabited these lands.
After almost 200 years, historical revisionism managed to present Christopher Columbus as who he really was, a genocide and his arrival as the “Conquest of America”, which produced the greatest genocide that human history has ever known and left approximately 120 million indigenous people dead. So great was the depletion of the indigenous population that black slaves had to be brought from Africa to compensate for the decline. But it was not only the Spaniards with bible in hand who perpetrated the genocide, but also many of those who today are remembered as Latin American “patriots”, for example Julio Roca or the “great master” Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in Argentina.
An “official version” of history was written by the hand of the European conquerors and/or their descendants, which excluded the indigenous voice, their culture, their leaders, their struggle, their political ideology, their science, their economy, etc. This version was transmitted from both the right and the left from a Eurocentric point of view. Most of the intellectuals of the traditional and colonial left or of progressivism who write about the “indigenous question” are of European descent. They run the academies, they reproduce the Eurocentric thinking and colonialism they claim to question. They do not assume their coloniality, for they conceive of colonialism as something external to the ultra-right that openly proclaims white supremacy.
Eurocentric colonial thinking, firstly, precedes us and runs through us from the moment we are born because it was imposed by blood and fire in Abya Yala, which was colonised in the past. Secondly, it is part of the colonial mental structure that is constructed mainly through the transit through an educational system built from Eurocentrism, especially the university, where even the postgraduate courses on “Cultural Diversity” or the very fashionable “Living Well” are dictated by white middle-class men or women.
They try to explain the ideology and culture of the indigenous when they cannot break with their own colonialism, which does not respect the indigenous voice they are trying to supplant and prevents them from doing something basic, doing their research based on indigenous voices, they do it based on white voices, even those who are precisely those who are confronted and accused of blocking the way to new indigenous leadership. There are numerous indigenous leaders inside and outside MAS in Bolivia of the stature of Felipe Quispe Huanca “El Malku”, the deceased mining leader Orlando Gutiérrez, the indigenous leader Segundina Flores of the Confederation of Indigenous Women “Bartolina Sisa”, etc., who accuse the elite of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) itself, made up of white middle class men called “intellectuals” who make up the colonial left in Bolivia, of using the indigenous as a “ladder” to gain access to political posts.
How can one investigate and get to know indigenous thought through white men or women? How can one ignore the voice of an indigenous people who denounce, time and again, being used and not feeling represented by a white elite within the MAS, as the indigenous leader Segundina Flores denounced on behalf of the entire unity pact and the Bolivian workers’ centre (C. O.B.) during the blockades of August 2020? Why do we hear the white bell and not the indigenous bell to relate events in the indigenous world as in the Bolivian case? This action is only understandable because of the prevailing colonial thinking where the indigenous voice is devalued, the indigenous is profitable only for the progre photo for political gain, now when they want to present their political ideology and express themselves without being told by another white, it is no longer profitable and even counterproductive, because it implies two issues: 1) it does not need a white intermediary who makes his professional career, obtains economic benefits and / or political gain at the expense of silencing the indigenous voice 2) it is more comfortable to maintain the colonial system of privileges to the detriment of the indigenous person that benefits the white man and woman who claims to support “the indigenous cause”.
If what has been denounced by various indigenous leaders is really happening in Bolivia, where an indigenous president such as Evo Morales has governed for 14 years, it is because this racism towards indigenous people is also happening and is naturalised in other countries in the region. In Argentina, it is not a minor fact that the only political prisoner who has been imprisoned for 6 years is Milagro Sala, an indigenous leader of the “Túpak Amaru” who was a “comrade” while she served, but when she began to criticise, she ceased to be one.
The same is true in Bolivia, where those who make constructive criticisms or have the audacity to demand post-coup self-criticism of the white MAS elite are subjected to smear campaigns accusing them of making pacts with the “right”, as in the case of the indigenous leader Segundina Flores, or are directly expelled from MAS, as in the case of the young Aymara woman Eva Copa. The anniversary of the death of the mining leader Orlando Gutiérrez was recently celebrated, and he passed without shame or glory, while the causes of his death are still unknown, even though he was one of the protagonists of the recovery of democracy in Bolivia; this is the treatment that indigenous people receive in Bolivia.
On the other hand, indigenous communicators who try to open a critical line of thought within the MAS itself are not hired, do not receive advertising from the state or are accused of being “functional to the right”. Perhaps for this reason, the indigenous community radio stations that Áñez took away in order to silence the indigenous voice have still not been returned to the social organisations. Those who do receive advertising from the state without problems are the right-wing media. What prevails in the state media is the white face in a country with an indigenous majority, as they are not going to question anything because racism is not an issue that affects them. The procedure of closing the way to critical thinking and self-criticism is a double-edged sword because it is what ends up imploding a party.
A key to indigenous liberation: to be led by another indigenous person.
The popular power of the women’s movement in Argentina lies in the fact that they have managed to ensure that their leaders are women, that those who speak about their problems and struggles are women. Because it is women who experience gender violence in all its forms in their bodies, and therefore they are the only ones who are capable of fighting and giving their lives for their own cause. This is a vital achievement for the liberation of the collective. Even feminist epistemology is being produced and a social history is being reconstructed from a gender perspective, recovering women leaders excluded from official history. Because historically, science and history were produced by white Western men who, from their masculine and Eurocentric parameters, excluded women and native peoples.
The indigenous movement has not been able to conquer this exemplary approach of the women’s movement in Argentina at the regional level, not even in Bolivia, and they face the challenge of breaking with their coloniality and making it a reality. Today, they are the political subjects who are the protagonists of social transformations throughout the region. They are the ones who put their bodies on the front lines of the battlefield in the face of neoliberalism, where there are no white “revolutionary” intellectuals on their desks who try to direct them in a paternalistic and colonial way in order to impose their own interests.
The native peoples have the right, if currently no party can win an election without their vote, as in the case of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, etc., to demand high-ranking political positions of decision-making power within the government, including the presidency.
In Bolivia, it has become naturalised that white middle-class men who use the unnecessary strategy of putting on a poncho, folklorising the indigenous, present themselves as leaders of the indigenous movement, ignoring the problems of the indigenous with demagogic speeches in an indigenous key. But the hegemonic white male model does not experience colonial oppression in the body, nor is racism something that affects it, and so in moments of crisis it disappears from the map, as did the white elite of the MAS who did not participate in the resistance and the recovery of democracy in Bolivia.
The official story vs. the story of the “nobodies” about the coup d’état.
In order to dismantle imposed narratives such as the “Discovery of America” and construct our own history and common sense, more indigenous people are needed in high-ranking political decision-making positions because it is from political power that decolonising policies are constructed in terms of communication, education, etc. From the bottom of the pyramid of power, indigenous people only have a decorative function. Furthermore, there is a need for more indigenous communicators and media that communicate from a decolonial perspective, in order to avoid white intermediaries who, tell the story and the struggle of the indigenous from Eurocentric perspectives. The women’s movement worldwide has understood this key point in order to confront the cultural battle and promote patriarchal deconstruction, which is why they have their communicators with a gender perspective, which today has become a specialty within the field of communication, and they also have their own “feminist” media.
It is also important to give a voice to indigenous intellectuals such as “El Mallku” who have emerged in the heat of the indigenous struggle. The mistake of the former vice-presidency of the former MAS government that promoted white Eurocentric intellectuals, including foreigners, to advise a Bolivian government cannot be repeated, because this is not only a counterproductive and colonial practice, but also humiliating for Bolivians. Neither before the coup could they anticipate the coup with their “wisdom” and their doctorates in “anti-imperialism”, nor during the coup did they come out to defend the former MAS government, since they were precisely part of the errors pointed out within the indigenous hard core of the MAS.
Today there are basically two opposing narratives facing each other in Bolivia about what happened during the coup d’état in 2019, an “official history” told by the MAS elite who proclaim themselves in their own books as “heroes” who recovered democracy, when they were not on the battlefield, some of them were not even inside the country at the time. Moreover, they were at odds with the Resistance Unity Pact and the Bolivian Central Workers’ Union (C.O.B.) during the coup d’état.
What role do indigenous people play in these comics, such as the leader Felipe Quispe Huanca “El Mallku”, who was defamed by this sector? There is another version of the history of the coup, there is always another version of everything in a country, or rather in a misnamed America, where the indigenous voice is devalued, it is the voice of the “nobodies”, where the microphone of the progressive international press does not reach, nor the Eurocentric intellectuals who write about the “indigenous question”. There are the stories of the indigenous people who have a lot to tell because they put their bodies on the ground during the blockades that forced Jeanine Áñez to set an election date, which paved the way for Luis Arce’s triumph as president of the plurinational state of Bolivia.