Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

BOLIVIA: Native People, from the Margins to Political Protagonism

Juan Carlos Rocha

LA PAZ, Feb 14 1997 (IPS) - Just four years ago, the indigenous people of Bolivia had no possibilities of political participation, but now they have become protagonists, switching between parties of the right and left to see who will offer them the best deal.

With presidential and parliamentary elections less than four months off, the native peoples of east Bolivia have already already met with most of the leading political forces.

The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB), which represents some 150,000 peoples from 33 ethnic groups from the east, the Chaco and the Amazon, are looking for the power to defend their rights from there.

CIDOB president, Marcial Fabriciano, a charismatic indigenous leader who headed two long marches “for life, dignity and territory” in 1990 and 1996, has his sights firmly fixed on becoming a vicepresidential candidate.

In order to ally himself with a party, Fabriciano and the CIDOB want to be fully identified with the indigenous demands and when talking of quotas, demand the vicepresidential candidacy and eight seats in the 130-member Chamber of Deputies.

However, the indigenous leader’s “flirting” with the strongest parties has awoken suspicions between politicians and analysts, who do not look kindly on their indifference to making a pact “with God or the devil.”

The political platform of the indigenous people in the east of the country consists of demanding new territorial divisions, the creation of municipal authorities and special indigenous areas, the consolidation of territories, the promotion of a new national culture and support for sustainable development.

“Fabricano is taking the wrong path: he cannot form a lobby with the left, right and centre. This attitude will do the native peoples no good, because it seems that in reality they are only interested in power for power’s sake,” said a source close to the indigenous leader, who asked not to be identified.

But Fabricano does not appear to be concerned by the criticisms, because he said the decision on the party he will ally himself with for the June 1 elections will finally be produced by an assembly of the indigenous people.

The candidate most keen to sign an alliance with the CIDOB indigenous people is the centre Free Bolivia Movement, currently sixth in the polls.

The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, currently third or fourth in the surveys, is also negotiating with the native people and he could take Fabricano as his vicepresidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) of the former president Jaime Paz Zamora (1989-93) – second in the polls – is also looking on Fabricano as a possible candidate.

However, whichever way CIDOB eventually goes, all the other parties participating in the June elections will be allied with some minor indigenous groups who represent the various peoples of this multiethnic nation.

More than 50 percent of the seven million strong Bolivian population can be classes as indigenous, according to the language section of the 1992 national population and housing survey.

Most of them live in the western highlands or the central valleys of the nation, where the longstanding Aymara and Quechua cultures predominate.

The path to the political participation of the Bolivian native peoples was opened under the current vicepresident Victor Hugo Cardenas, an Aymara intellectual from a rural community in the La Paz highland, who accompanied Sanchez de Lozada to power in the 1993 elections.

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