By Kimberly Villafuerte Barzola
Thank you. My name is Kimberly Villafuerte Barzola. I am Quechua Peruvian and am an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). I am deeply humbled and grateful that Mahtowin Munro of United American Indians of New England asked me to speak here today and to share the struggle of our Native siblings in the South. For so many of us here, the pain and weight of today extends far beyond the southern border of the so-called United States. The legacy of the colonial looting and wealth accumulation through genocide and slavery at the hands of Spanish conquistadors and Catholic missionaries can still be felt and seen in many of our home countries, that, to this day continue to uphold a capitalist system that exploits our labor for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
However, despite the challenges faced by so many Indigenous nations in South America today, I wish to speak about Bolivia. Bolivia is a country that democratically elected its first Indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005. Evo is Aymara and comes from the agricultural labor movement and more specifically, was a coca farmer, a sacred plant for all Andean people.
Throughout his presidency, Morales prioritized the needs of working class and historically oppressed peoples unlike any of his predecessors. His commitment to his roots and people are unwavering and most importantly, can be measured by his actions. In 2009, the Constitution of Bolivia was updated to redefine the country as a secular and plurinational state, formally recognizing Indigenous nations in the country as well as elevating the status of the Quechua language nationally. His government, which represented a wide range of Indigenous nations, also led initiatives to reduce extreme poverty from being 38 percent of the nation in 2006 to 18 percent in 2014, increasing literacy from 77.3 percent to 97.7 percent, prioritizing the construction of public infrastructure like hospitals, highways and schools in rural communities where these services have historically been lacking, and bolstering the participation of Indigenous people and women in public office, half of these seats are now held by women and 68 percent of those seats also being held by Indigenous people.
All of these gains were grounded in a new Indigenous socialist orientation that Evo articulated during his election campaign through the party he represents, the Movement Towards Socialism, and that have already come into fruition evidenced by a deepening of participation in democratic institutions, the beginning of a transition to an economy that nationalized industries like natural gas and water, and the implementation of sweeping land reform to redistribute large land holdings to the people who actually work the land.
Instead of a society with an economic system that accumulates wealth for a small elite and that is intrinsically motivated to grow at the expense of workers and the environment, socialism, in essence, provides a sustainable and urgently necessary alternative that would reorganize the economic base of society to plan for and meet the basic needs of all working people.
As the growth and influence of Bolivia’s socialist project expands across the continent inspiring other nations and leaders to build alternatives of their own and even more powerfully, to work together as a region, so too have the targeted attacks grown on Bolivia and other allied countries like Cuba and Venezuela.
As many of you may know, the devastating events of the past few weeks in Bolivia have reverberated to Native and working class communities across the world including here. In an attempt to restore the power of the white, wealthy elite of Bolivia that ruled for far too long before Evo, a military coup led by right-wing forces in Bolivia forced Evo and many in his government to leave the country following his most recent electoral victory. While some may incorrectly say that Evo chose to step down, what choice does one have when the head of your military with the support of the U.S. government and paramilitary racist, right wing forces that have already begun to terrorize your supporters, ask you to step down or face the consequences?
It was despite this step backwards, that the people of Bolivia have chosen to fight back and resist the current self-imposed and unelected president, Jeanine Añez, a woman who has a long history of espousing vitriolic hate towards Indigenous people and who in her first hours as head of state, proclaimed her disdain for Indigenous peoples and wielded a bible in her hand as the true authority of the land.
However given the new powers in the government, this resistance was met with repression. The brutal and deadly response against the mass protests in the form of killings by the military and police that allowed and led the coup has further affirmed the coup’s right wing character.
One of the most egregious examples of this refueled hate and racism towards Indigenous people is the burning of the Wiphala. While the Wiphala was formally adopted as one of Bolivia’s national flags, it represents a deep historical unity for Native communities across the Andes. Each corner represents a different suyu, a corner of the former Incan empire, Tawantinsuyo, of which there were four major regions. The Wiphala represents Andean unity, our history, our organization, our philosophies, our cosmovision. To burn the Wiphala is to attempt to rid the world of who we are. To burn the Wiphala is an act of war. And it is a war that the Native and working people of Bolivia are showing the world they are willing to fight against.
So, while the current government of the U.S. may not represent those of us gathered here today, we have a duty to hold it accountable for the destruction and lives it continues to take from our people in the South, for its central role in affirming the right wing and racist leadership that Bolivia must now endure.
We must recognize and defend the alternative that Evo and the people of the Bolivia worked so hard to build, and that with each passing day, was a monumental threat to those who sought to keep the status quo of the white, wealthy elite across Latin America.
We must understand that the fight for a new and better world was not one that Evo could ever lead alone, that the legacy he is fighting to build is not one that can be taken away in a coup, or burned out of us, is a reminder of our history of resistance, the way we can empower each other, and our collective agency as native people. That within each of us, is a willingness to fight for our liberation if we choose to embrace it.
I would like to end by quoting the Aymara revolutionary, Tupac Katari, who was killed in 1781 and who was infamously known by the Spaniards for his role in uniting the masses of people of Tawantinsuyo including leaders like the Katari brothers of the North of Potosí and Tupac Amaru of Peru. His prophetic words ring true 238 years after they were uttered as we see the relentless resistance of Indigenous people across Bolivia but also in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Haiti :
Volveré, y seré milliones
“I will return and I will be millions”
This speech was first published here.