Territories and citizenship: The revolution of the Chiquitanos

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The Chiquitanos are an indigenous people living in lowland Bolivia. They have suffered exclusion and discrimination under successive governments since the colonial era. In the 1980s, the Chiquitanos mobilised in response to neo-liberal reforms which put increased pressure on indigenous territories. Political decentralisation in the 1990s created impetus and political opportunities for such indigenous movements. Water privatisation and rising unemployment in 2000-01 led to political unrest throughout Bolivia, particularly amongst indigenous groups. Since 2003, mobilisation in demand for political change has reformed the basis of political participation and representation. This has resulted in the election of several indigenous people to high-level government positions, and significant directional changes in social and economic policy-making. This paper describes the Chiquitano struggle for land rights and political representation, analyses the diverse catalysts for this radical shift in Bolivian politics, and reviews the initial achievements of - and challenges for - Bolivia's new government.
    Territories and citizenship: the revolution of the Chiquitanos Eduardo Cáceres On 3 July 2007, after 12 years of frustration and persistent struggle, President Evo Morales handed over the legal titles to the indigenous million-hectare territory of Monte Verde to the Chiquitano people (numbering an estimated 120,000). Morales also gave land titles to the Chiquitanos of Lomerío (259.188 hectares) and Bajo Paragua (200 hectares). The event was attended not only by Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, but also by several ministers, three elected mayors (of San Javier, Concepción, and San Miguel), ten local councillors, a senator, a congressman, and two members of the constituent assembly, all of them Chiquitanos. 1980 All this sounds impressive. But the depth and speed of change can only be understood by taking account of the situation a few years ago. José Bailaba, who is one of the leaders of Chiquitano movements and was elected senator in 2002, remembers that until the 1980s: …everyone used to have to work for free for three days on road maintenance service, paying for our food and everything. We were forced to do the work that they, the authorities and the Catholic Church, used to assign us… 1  Younger than Bailaba, Justo Seoane (a leader and elected major of Concepción) recalled that: …the Monsignor had to call the townspeople of Concepción by ringing the bells. ‘Neither  paicos nor cunumis 2  can own land,’ they said…they thought we were only fit to obey orders  from the authorities. 3   Colonial condition Inhabitants of Bolivian lowlands, the Chiquitanos srcinally occupied the semi-humid forest of El Chaco. They grew food around their hamlets, and went fishing and hunting in the forest. This semi-sedentary pattern was altered during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because of the Spanish conquest. Due to a kind of ‘missional pact’ 4  with Jesuits, however, the Chiquitanos avoided the worst consequences of colonial rule. Accepting the evangelisation and their confinement to reducciones , 5  they maintained some traditional institutions and authorities and gained access to education and training in many arts. As stated by an eyewitness in the eighteenth century:  At the end, you found everywhere carpenters blacksmiths, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, lathe operators, clockmakers. In the holidays you heard excellent music from voices and instruments:  pipe organs, harps, violins, flutes and clarinets. 6   This case study was written as a contribution to the development of From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World , Oxfam International 2008. It is published in order to share widely the results of commissioned research and programme experience. The views it expresses are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam International or its affiliate organisations.    Territories and citizenship From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   2 and liberties, especially when the Bolivian state decided to ‘colonise’ the east, an area populated by dispersed chunchos  or salvajes  (savages). During the boom of rubber exploitation (1890–1920), thousands of Chiquitanos, Ayoreos, Guaranies, and other indigenous peoples of the lowlands were captured and confined in the barracas  (large estates) where they worked as slaves. 7  As the communities weakened, the estates continued to grow, including the people as one of the assets of the owners. Until the last decades of the twentieth century, the estates were bought and sold with the purchase of the indigenous families working there included in the contracts. Backwardness and exclusion Bolivia was usually referred to as an example of a weak state in permanent crisis. It lost large portions of its territory in wars with Chile in the late nineteenth century and with Brazil and Paraguay in the twentieth century. Rich in natural resources, Bolivia lacks a ‘nation building’ project capable of transforming these resources into prosperity for the many. As in the case of rubber, economic and political elites – many living in Europe 8  – have exploited natural resources without any ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the population. Inspired by nationalism and syndicalism, 9  a revolution took place in 1952. As a result, the mining and oil activities were nationalised and an agrarian reform was initiated. But in the lowlands the situation did not change for the better. One of the key ideas of nationalistic governments – and of their opponents, including military governments – was the March to the East, promoting migration from the highlands and the ‘distribution’ of lands to political clients and landowners, 10  affecting the indigenous territories. The long march The lowland indigenous people had to wait until the 1980s to initiate their own revolution. Eastern Bolivia’s indigenous populations met in 1982 and created the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia Confederation (CIDOB). The Chiquitanos took an active part in the process due to their local organisations’ efforts in previous years (beginning around 1977), as recorded by José Bailaba. 11  A Chiquitano often filled the position of president of CIDOB, until they broke with it in 2002 to concentrate on a departmental organisation, the Coordinating Committee of Ethnic Peoples of Chiquitanía (CPESC, created in 1995). Inside CPESC the Chiquitanos formed the Organización Indígena Chiquitana (OICH – the Chiquitano Indigenous People’s Organisation). 12  Why then and not before? One of the probable reasons was the erosion of the ‘nation building’ project whose last government ended abruptly in the middle of a deep economic and political crisis (1985), opening the way to a neo-liberal cycle in Bolivian politics. This also opened the way to new ideas, new actors, and new identities in the popular camp. As analysed by García Linera, 13  during the 1980s and 1990s the term ‘indigenous’ began to replace the term ‘peasant’. ‘Indigenous’ denotes a more autonomous condition, based on identity and traditions. An old woman remembers the years of servitude and links the change in attitude with a change in self-identification from campesinos to indígenas: Few years ago, we begun to call ourselves Chiquitanos indigenous … Chiquitanos women are similar, all of us have been “empatronadas”, the “patrones” gave us our tasks, we work for them, and they call us “cambas” or “peasants” until now. 14   According to the national census of 2001, around 300,000 people in Bolivia identify themselves as lowland indigenous people. This change had consequences for the perception of their demands. Until the fifth congress (1986), the main demand of CIDOB was tierra (land). In the sixth congress (1988), the demand changed to territorio (territory). And this was one of the slogans of the first march in 1990.    Another reason for this dynamic of organisation and mobilisation in the 1980s is related to the unexpected consequences of the neo-liberal project. The era of neo-liberalism in Bolivia In the middle of a debt crisis, the election of Victor Paz Estensoro as president (July 1985) initiated the era of neo-liberal governments in Bolivia. This was capped with the approval of Law 21060 (1985), which dramatically changed the course of the previous three decades of nationalism, state intervention, and social rights. The 21060 Law included: 1. Reduction of state expenditures and increase of revenues through the increase of public prices (mainly oil and gas). 2. Free flotation of the peso against the dollar. 3. Massive lay-off (‘re-localisation’) of public workers (including 23,000 miners). 4. Liberalisation of markets. 5. Promotion of export sector. 6. Tax system reform. As in other countries in the region, the main political forces accepted the recipe of the Washington Consensus, 15  and the main parties brokered a pact to implement the economic reforms needed to implement it, and to come out better off (this pact was the national democratic agreement or democracia pactada , which included all the traditional parties). In successive elections, the electorate – with high expectations or a lukewarm resignation – supported the successive governments, up until the 2000 change process. The first and second march: initial gains This pro-market and pro-business shift increased the pressure over indigenous territories, so indigenous people decided to mobilise. Following previous experiences of other social movements (the miners were famous for their marches, the last taking place in August 1986: la marcha por la vida y  por la paz ), lowland indigenous people organised a march to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia: la marcha por el territorio y la dignidad  (August 1990) . Some legal measures were weakly implemented in the following years. The main result was a sense of recognition, as stated by Egberto Tavo: ‘la marcha sirvió para mostrar que los indígenas del oriente existimos’ (the march demonstrated that we exist). 16  The 1990s were not only the years of economic reforms, but also of the ‘modernisation’ of the state. For complex reasons (including the needs of the parties to have some form of legitimisation), the political reforms included some ‘progressive’ or unorthodox components of reform. The constitution was reformed to include a definition of the state as pluri-ethnic and multi-cultural (1994), and the same year a law was passed that promoted popular participation in local governments ( Ley de Participación Popular  ). Two years later an institute was created to accelerate the agrarian reform ( Ley del Instituto de Reforma Agraria ). All this created a special momentum for indigenous movements. 17  In this context, two key events took place: January 1995 was the date of the first legal demand for the titles of Monteverde TCO (‘Territorio Comunitario de Orígen’), (which was later completed in November 1996). August 1996 was the month of the second indigenous march that obtained the INRA law, including the explicit reference to TCOs being legalised in ten months. Despite its official name, marcha nacional por la tierra y territorio, derechos políticos y dignidad, it was better identified as the ‘March for Life’, as stated by Marisol Solano, a woman leader of Chiquitanos: In   mid-96 we had the ‘March for Life’, where we were fighting for land and territory…and the other demand had to do with political participation, so that our indigenous representatives could participate in municipal governments. 18   Territories and citizenship From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   3    The following years were years of tedious legal procedures, small gains, reversals, claims to international institutions (such as the International Labour Organisation), pressure and violence from landowners, self-defence initiatives, and new marches. 19  The changing course of the legal demand can only be understood in the context of the acceleration of political processes in Bolivia at the beginning of the new century. It was not a fortuitous coincidence that the third Indigenous March took place in  June–July 2000, the previous months of the Cochabamba uprising against the privatisation of water services. Crisis and change: from doubtful expectations to rejection Despite the increase in foreign direct investment ($4.8bn between 1996 and 2001), the growth of gross national product (GNP) oscillated around a 2.8 per cent annual rate. Employment increased by only 2.1 per cent during the same period, and unemployment doubled up to 13 per cent (2004). The quality of employment also deteriorated due to deregulation of labour markets. The implementation of different strategies for poverty reduction had no impact on poor people: despite the improvement of some social indicators, income poverty worsened (extreme poverty grew from 38 per cent in 1997 to 41 per cent in 2002). April 2000 was a turning point due to the uprising in Cochabamba against the privatisation of the water service. Privatisation had lead to a dramatic increase of tariffs, immediately rejected by the population, which organised around a ‘Water Co-ordination’, a social platform involving a coalition of multifarious organisations: urban, rural, cultural, civic, and so on. They developed an array of strategies including a referendum on the issue. In the end, they reversed the privatisation process. 20  This victory triggered a wave of protest against liberalisation policies. After this, the popular unrest grew month after month. It included not only unionised workers and peasants, but also the police, claiming better salaries. The kinds of structures supporting these actions were similar to the Cochabamba Water Coordination. The best expression of this was the loose but effective Gas Coordination that led the ‘gas war’ in October 2003. 21  In this context, the third march acquired a more political shape. To the claim for recognition of the TCOs, the indigenous people added the claim for a constituent assembly. And they were the first voice to be heard in the growing chorus demanding the ‘refoundation of the republic’ in the following years. As the national political crisis developed, the tension increased in the Chiquitanía. The year 2001 was a turning point with regard to the use of force by landowners. As they began to lose in the courts and official institutions (such as INRA), they resorted to ‘private armies’. 22  The weakening of the national state contributed to this. Fortunately, the partial resolution of the crisis after October 2003, and the conformation of a transitional government that included indigenous leaders in key posts (Justo Seoane became Minister of Indigenous Affairs), stopped the violence from growing.  Just before the October crisis, a new march confirmed indigenous peoples’ lead role in the national arena. Not only did they include national demands (for a constituent assembly, nationalisation of hydrocarbons, and the reform of INRA law), but they also established national alliances. To put this big leap forward into context, we must remember the differences between the lowland indigenous people and those in the highlands. Ignacio Paticu, a Chiquitano leader, explains it in terms of different political attitudes: I really don’t think we can form a single indigenous organization for the whole country, because indigenous people in the lowlands are quite different to those in the highlands. Whenever there’s any conflict, the highland people always want to break the dialogue with the government, while we Chiquitanos are always willing to talk. 23   Territories and citizenship From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   4
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