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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Viewpoint: A new nationalism
By Rodrigo Vazquez
Director, Looking for the Revolution

Quechua indigenous demonstration in Sucre on 10 September
Many indigenous Bolivians feel oppressed by European tradition

After Che Guevara's death in the Bolivian jungle, the military that executed him controlled the country's indigenous population for 38 years.

They brutally suppressed dissent among civilians as they tried to impose capitalism in the Andes and finally turned this place into what it is now - a cocaine factory.

The Cold War in South America was financed through the arms and drugs trade, although few cases became as well known as the "Iran-Contra affair" that involved the late US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, puts it bluntly: "The Americans used the drug trade to infiltrate our countries. They brought cocaine to Bolivia, as here we only used to chew the coca from the times of the Incas.

"We believe in a democratic revolution, an indigenous revolution, to claim back our land and all of our natural resources."

But what is this revolution really about? Has it got anything to do with Che's ideals? Or is it the birth of a new ideology?

'Culture of death'

The first Bolivian who wrote about the need to create a new breed of ethnic nationalism in Bolivia was Facundo Reinaga, a man of mixed blood who was abandoned by his white father as a baby and raised in utter poverty in the slums of La Paz, Bolivia's administrative capital.

With both hands the white man strangles the indigenous nation, slaving us and nature to machines
Facundo Reinaga
Bolivian nationalist
Reinaga wrote a book entitled The Indian Revolution in which he proposed a break with the Judaeo-Christian ideological tradition and the rediscovery of the old Inca culture and way of life.

Reinaga said that the Inca way of thinking was radically different and far superior to capitalism and socialism in terms of humanity's self-preservation.

"For the Incas, there was a sacred balance in the world, one which men had the duty to preserve - the balance between man, nature and cosmos," he wrote.

"Capitalism is the right hand and Communism the left.

"With both hands the white man strangles the indigenous nation, slaving us and nature to machines.

"There's nothing they [Europe] can give us that we didn't already have before the Spanish came. Only their culture of death."

Such a strong-worded message spread across the Andes like wildfire after the 500th anniversary of the conquest in 1992, when Evo Morales and a few Indigenous intellectuals formed the Indigenous Movement and decided to run for elections.

Ideological relic?

Today, the push to dignify the poor and excluded, the "copper nation" as Reinaga wrote, is being systematised in policies and treaties, studies and essays at the same time.

Che Guevara merchandise on sale in Vallegrande, Bolivia
Che Guevara's memory is being honoured, but to many he is just another foreign invader
I call it "indigenous nationalism". But this trend, however original it may seem, is just one of many ideological undercurrents unleashed by Evo Morales' electoral victory two years ago, in December 2005.

In fact, indigenous nationalism is one of the few ideologies in the making that has the chance to translate its ideas into government policies straight away. But it still has to face the old and new left-wing militants, unions and politicians that make up the indigenous movement.

Is the left afraid of being left behind as some ancient ideological relic in South America's poorest country? I met one of Che's former trainees.

"Che decided to teach French in the jungle, as well as Quechua, but we had no Quechua teachers, so he just taught French. No wonder he never got through to anybody there," said Ramiro Reinaga, Facundo Reinaga's son and former guerrilla fighter.

"No wonder Che was perceived by my people as one among thousands of foreign invaders and mercenaries.

Intricate struggle

In meeting after meeting with President Morales' colleagues and friends, like Vice-President Alvaro Garcia or Senator Sanchez Ramirez, I felt this sense of ideological search within the indigenous movement today, a search that is only possible due to the new political climate made possible by the 2005 indigenous victory.

Evo Morales
Mr Morales' election unleashed a multitude of ideological undercurrents
An intricate ideological struggle is taking place within the government that will determine the movement's revolutionary identity.

A coca peasant once told me that all his people wanted was a decent house, a job, their kids to go to school, just like everybody else.

Two years after President Morales came to power, the poorest peasants have free healthcare and literacy programmes have been set up across the country.

A new constitution is being written that will ideally borrow less from the political systems of the West and more from the Inca traditions and political system, entirely based on the idea of community as opposed to the individual, and on the balance between man, nature and cosmos.

This sounds wishy-washy to many but is nevertheless being discussed at the Constitutional Assembly.

There's one thing, though, that is very clear to me, after spending two years making this film about the Bolivian Revolution - it is not what Che was fighting for, and for that the Bolivians thank Mother Earth.

Looking for the Revolution is part of the BBC's Why Democracy? season and will be broadcast on Tuesday 9 October at 2230 BST on BBC Four.


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