Bolivian Historian Cusicanqui: A Starbucks in Bolivia – ‘Go to Hell!’
Bolivian historian and social theorist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is author of the classic work Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles Among the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia, and has recently emerged as one of the country’s foremost critics of President Evo Morales from an indigenous perspective. Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with her in New York City, where she recently served as guest chair of Latin American studies at New York University’s King Juan Carlos Center.
What is your current work in Bolivia?
I used to teach at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, which is the biggest public university in Bolivia. And I was very much involved in university politics, because I was trying to fight corruption in the university. In 2005, I had a 15-day-long hunger strike, and we managed to kick the dean out. But he left a lot of corruptos were still there, and I was forced to retire.
Since then, I have been doing community things, trying to network and create micro-politics. I am working with artisans, with urban self-reliance groups in La Paz, ecological and feminist groups, working in the qhatu, or traditional peasant fair or market. We try to link every public issue where human rights, indigenous rights, and the rights of the Pachamama [Mother Earth] are involved. We call ourselves Colectivo Ch’ixi—from the Aymara word meaning “stain.” We are mestizos, but we have a strong Indian stain in our souls.
The current Bolivian situation seems to be one of many contradictions...
I had so much hope at the moment when Evo Morales came into the government. But he has come to crave centralized power. The idea that Bolivia is a weak state and needs to be a strong state—this is such a recurrent idea, and it is becoming the self-suicide of revolution. Because the revolution is what the people do—and what the people do is decentralized. It is a megalomaniacal kind of thing to have a “strong nation.” It is an inferiority complex. I think we should have many reasons to be very happy with what we are. Instead of always craving to be more modern, more developed, more fucking big—more highways, more technology...
One can anticipate the response that Bolivia is trying to assert control over its own territory and resources against the United States, and other imperial powers. And it is therefore necessary to form a strong state.
I would say that the strength of Bolivia is not the state but the people. And the people have been strong and stubborn enough to be what they are, and to put their own desires as the terms and conditions of what is going to be the change.
Half the population of Bolivians live outside Bolivia. There are probably 9 million Bolivians in the diaspora—in Argentina, in Spain, in Italy, Chile, the United States. And it is not the weakness of the state that has thrown people away—it is the strength of the state that has thrown people away! Because they are starting to normalize, homogenize, totalize, control and make difficult the lives of the people.
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