Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The 'Indigenous Native Peasant' Trinity: Imagining a Plurinational Community in Evo Morales's Bolivia

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The 'Indigenous Native Peasant' Trinity: Imagining a Plurinational Community in Evo Morales's Bolivia

Article excerpt

Abstract. Over the last two decades Latin America has been a laboratory for the implementation of new models of state and citizenship. In Bolivia the (neo)liberal multicultural paradigm dominant in the 1990s has recently been replaced by a plurinational paradigm, which implies a deepening of the decentralization process and the strengthening of rights for traditionally marginalized social sectors. This paper describes the process of construction of a plurinational 'imagined community' and, in particular, of one of its core narratives: the 'indigenous native peasant'. I argue that the negotiation of this collective identity and its inclusion as one of the core ideas in the new constitution is the result of a contingent strategy in response to a highly conflictive scenario, which has not been, however, able to trigger a change in the way people identify themselves. Yet in recent years, social movements' identities have been shaped by centrifugal forces. These forces should be understood as the result of a process of collective actors' adaptation to institutional and regulatory reforms and contribute to explaining the increase of new intrasocietal conflicts linked to the redefinition of citizenship and territorial boundaries.

Keywords: plurinational state, citizenship, collective identities, consultation, social movements, Bolivia

1 Introduction

Plurinationalism is a growing field of research in political science and philosophy (Anderson, 2010; Keating, 2001; Requejo Coll and Caminal i Badia, 2011). Some recent experiences in Latin America provide a breeding ground for exploring how the well-known tensions between state and ethnocultural claims to self-determination are manifested in practice. (1) Yet, in Bolivia, the election of Evo Morales as President in 2005 gave political meaning to plurinationalism as an alternative model of state and citizenship. After harsh disagreements, conflictive episodes, and turbulent negotiations, the key features of this alternative model were eventually crystallized in a new constitution, and ratified by the Bolivian people in January 2009.

This process of reform was sustained mainly by rural social movements, which, after the so-called Social Wars in the early 2000s (Dangl, 2007; Perreault, 2006; Spronk and Webber, 2007), gained a key role in Bolivian politics. Far from being uniform, these movements have cyclically undergone phases of fragmentation and alliance, under the influence of changing political contexts, legal reforms, and international dynamics (Fontana, 2014a). Over the last thirty years the three main driving forces of rural Bolivia--the peasant unions, the lowlands indigenous groups, and the highlands native 'nations'--have entered a phase of disarticulation and growing tensions. This has been due to a number of factors: the consolidation of a regulatory framework which triggered competition for land and resources; the growing interventions of international cooperation agencies and NGOs in indigenous peoples' economic and ideological support; and the changes in the network of alliances between the government in power and social forces.

The electoral victory of Morales radically modified the equilibrium of power between traditional political elites and social movements, but also between social actors themselves. As various analyses have highlighted (Do Alto, 2011; Zuazo, 2009), the movement towards socialism (Movimento al Socialismo, MAS) was founded as a 'political instrument' of the peasantry, and especially of coca-growers' unions. This is also the biographical origin and political training of Morales himself as leader of the Seven Federations of the Cochabamba Tropic. In fact the alliance with indigenous/native sectors was consolidated only after the MAS electoral victory. (2) From a strategic point of view, this alliance was important in order to implement more substantial reforms, to benefit from a block of cohesive forces against external (political) threats, and to frame an appealing international imagery, recalling the indigenous-related symbolism. …

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