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Bolivia was created as a Republic in 1825. However, with or without Republic, situation of indigenous peoples has been under extreme conditions in many occasions. During a long period, two themes have present in different circumstances of the history. Racism and discrimination have showed the most negative actions against native inhabitants of these lands. We have arrived to another century, and up to now, many things are supposed to have changed. One of the import aspects is human rights for every citizen of our world. Part of population is the indigenous community not only in Bolivia but in other countries in other continents. In some places, their rights are probably respected, in others it may happen the contrary. So, ¿What has changed since XVI century towards XX and XXI century for indigenous peoples? Within the vision of life of indigenous cultures of highlands in Bolivia, there is an expression that says “Qhip nair uñtas sarantañani”. Its meaning is to look back and take into account what has happened to use that knowledge to continue walking in life.

During XVI century, Spaniadars kings and their fellows dominated to peoples. The first justification for the war against indians was made with the use of natural law, that´s to say, winner dominates the loser. According to this law losers should be under the power of winners. These would say in the past that indians didn´t have culture and written laws. According to Spaniadars war was not only for cristians but also for pagans. It was said that for the ones that resisted to the conquerors, they were under their power, so, if it was their will they could reduce people to slavery. But for the ones that surrendered to Spaniadars it was not necessary to turn them slaves, in this case it could be applied tributes according to their nature and condition. Then, according to this natural indians were considered as defeated and submitted to the domination of conquerors, so, they were enslaved or racially exploited.

Racism since de arrival of Spaniadars was generating the formation of ethnic social groups. Within the Spanish mentality it was possible to demonstrate their blood purity over Indians. From this, emerged stigmatic differences of human groups that were used to show the relationship between the superiority of a race over the inferiority of another.

Colonial society was generally divided in four racial groups, whites, criollos, mestizos and indians. According to Spaniadars beliefs, conquerors had the first place in hierarchy because they had been born in Indias and mestizos were the result of a mixture between Spanish or criollo blood and indians blood. Indians as natives of these lands, according to their view were destinated to be exploited, submitted to any kind of forced jobs and all the possible humilations and abuses. This reality was expressed in 1798 by an author Martín Flores de Laja to the Governor as a reaction against the whites with the following words, “One only needs to be an Indian that anyone with white face pretends to receive complete obedience, pretends to be tolerated in all iniquity and use as an excuse to take off what is from another´s. Not only that, but also that, to be an indian was enough to be punished with prison.

A native of these lands could be a victim of any humiliation and injustices. This discriminatory action with different shades was permanent during colonial times, the same as during the Republic.

Racism in Bolivia is expressed through the discriminatory actions in the belief of a superior race over another classified as indigenous, due to their ethnic and sociocultural characteristics. Racism is present in all their social and political structures inherited since colony. In this sense, bolivian society until 1911 was formed by three racial groups, whites, mestizos and indigenous. The first ones dominant in politics and economy during the Republic, never had a role to integrate the other members of the society. On the contrary, in many cases, they used their energy in politics to abuse the others. Mestizos, the other group, with the time, slowly assimilated to the whites and became exploiters of the indigenous peoples. The whites, had the political and economical power, mestizos were the social layer of the politics, meanwhile indigenous population was discriminated and excluded from their social and political rights.

Bolivia since 1952, through education and social changes seem to have defeated racism. It seemed that during the last years the political and social movements with all their actions had advanced towards a different society. However, time would show another reality.

In Bolivia, there are 36 indigenous peoples. Each one has a particular way of dressing according to the place where they live, whether in highlands or lowlands. One of the ways of racism is derived from the type of dress that indigenous women wear. For example, in the highlands of Bolivia, mainly inhabited by two indigenous peoples: quechuas and aymaras, part of indigenous women wear a kind of long skirt named pollera in Spanish. Remedios Loza, one of the first indigenous women who became Deputy during an interview said that, she was discriminated in her political party and in other circumstances. She refers that, although she had been able to win a place at the Bolivia Parliament, she had been considered incapable of getting other higher spaces in the government. During 1990´s decade to walk on some luxury hotel in La Paz for an indigenous woman was something extraordinary. In that decade other woman, Magali Arco, said, “For the first time I walked on the carpets of Radisson Hotel, this is a pride for me. I also think that we are going to walk on the carpets of Government Palace”. Her words became true, since on December 2005 it was elected in Bolivia the first indigenous President, Evo Morales Ayma.

The arrival to the Government for the first time in the history of Bolivia has meant a huge step for indigenous communities here and for the ones living in other placer of our Mother Earth. From the nine millions of inhabitants in Bolivia, 63% of the population recognizes as part of the indigenous peoples. However, this majority was always governed by a minority who had the political power for ever and used it to submit the rest of the population.

Accustomed to have all the power, some members of the defeated parties during the last elections have been taking racist actions against indigenous peoples. For example, May 25th in Sucre, a group of indigenous women and men were severely abused. Men were taken to the main square of Sucre. There, they were forced to sit on her knees. They were hit, insulted, and forced to shout words against the government. One of the most important symbols named wiphala was burnt. I remember one my friends in Sucre. She was also badly treated. Racists didn`t consider she was a woman, they only hit her and screamed lots of insults. I know that all the indigenous men and women will never forget that May 25th in Sucre 2008. Something similar happened in Santa Cruz, where, only to have an indigenous look was enough to be discriminated. Some, months later on September, a group of indigenous women and men in El Porvenir, Pando were stopped when they were going to have a meeting in Cobija, Pando. Men had to escape to a river to save their lives, but even though they were in the water, they were shot. More than ten indigenous men were killed by these racist groups. Later it was known that, some people who is supposed to have responsibility in this racist attack escaped. One of the ex authorities of Pando is now in prison.

Last January 25th, a referendum took place in Bolivia to decide the approval of a new State Political Constitution. According to this, all the indigenous peoples are officially recognized. It is the first time since the foundation of Bolivia in 1825 that a Constitution recognizes the rights of the majority of the population. This is an important document for all the citizens because it will allow from now on, to take part in political, social and economical spheres. For a long time, indigenous peoples were voters but not considered to be elected. At the Bolivian Parliament, now, there are people that belong to different indigenous peoples but also as authorities. This is a step, but it is also necessary that in other countries indigenous men and women could become parliamentarians but also authorities at State levels.

Racist and discrimination actions have not ended. However, doors are opened so that every human being takes action to defeat theses practices. Change begins with each one. An indigenous man, an indigenous woman or an indigenous child is also a human being. We are sons and daughters of the same Mother, our Mother Earth. So, racist and discrimination procedures damages to the victim but also to the ones that makes these actions. The result, is a damage to our nature as a whole.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.


You are telling the truth, but as usual, there is always another angle to any statement. By adding some important facts that you left out, we will be able to see a more complete picture of what the situation of indigenous people is here in Bolivia. I couldn't agree more when you say that racism and discrimination are some of the lowest feelings in humanity, as jealousy, revenge and hatred are. I think you are mestiza, as more than 80% of us are. As you know, no Bolivian person can say they don't have indigenous blood: it is just a matter of how much indigenous blood we have.

So, I know that the fact that Andrés de Santa Cruz y Calahumana was the first Indigenous President of Bolivia back in 1825, talks about how indigenous we really were and are in Bolivia. You cannot deny the existence of the great Marshal Andrés. Did you forget in purpose or just unintentionally leave it out?

Mestizos are called Cholos here in Bolivia, and women who wear polleras are called Cholas, did you forget that too? Because pure indigenous here wear slightly different clothes than Remedios Loza. Your article gives the impression that 'pollera' means 'indigenous', which in reality means 'mestiza or chola', am I wrong? Each pure indigenous culture has a specific way of dressing, different to pollera. Potosi women wear a black dress beautifully adorned, guarani women from Tarija wear a one piece dress of brilliant colors, and Cholas around Bolivia wear stylish different long and short polleras, and they have recently held a fashion show in the Radisson, with the latest trends. This is not indigenous, it is cholo style, right?

I am proud to be Bolivian, in the first place, and to have all kinds of bloods in the second place. I totally agree with you that the way our ancestors (both yours and mine), have behaved ruthlessly. Let us not follow their example, and experience a new act of love. Will the cholo government have a heart big enough to forgive tha past, live the present and work for a better future?

One big step towards the big act of love would be to accept that in Pando, the 'ex authority'' that you refer to, HAS BEEN ELECTED BY THE LOCAL PEOPLE, and thus it is the local people who had to determine if he had to leave. The government has taken him out of there through the military force. Did he do wrong? Yes. What did he do wrong? He fought back. Did he have a fair trial? No. Since the hapennings, he has not had the possibility to have a trial in Pando! Lately, all the procedure documents were... robbed in the middle of the night. We can say a lot of things, but the hard truth is: there is a military local government ruling in Pando through a local coup d'etat.

In the case of Sucre, I must remind you that the present local governor is a humble woman, mother of seven, who wears polleras (which neither you or I wear), you left out the reason of the fight: there is a part of indigenous Bolivians who did not agree on signing a constitution that threatened them to loose their land on behalf of other indigenous who are not local. This is exactly what is going on in Pando now: Quechuas and Aymaras (which represent 85% of the 36 indigenous cultures) are being taken to Pando against the will of the local indigenous original land owners .. so they can vote for Evo, and he can have the Senators he is missing now! You did not explain that the Pando population is very small, (53,000), and the government is spending 22 million dollars to take families that add up to 8.000 new quechua aymara voters.

Indigenous Leaders like Marcial Fabricano, who was beaten until he almost died, have hushed now. Marcial is a real leader, and so have many of the people who are against the assaults. Let us then, dear Cristina, acknowledge the fact that people like you and I are both Bolivian, indigenous to some extent, and have lived in trouble but not in war, as the owners of the change want to make us believe is the only way.

I voted for Evo. I think he has a lot of good ideas. Let us just help him no to become a puppet in the hands of another kind of racism: racism against the less indigenous, that is an idea of our vice president who is white as milk.

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

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