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Abstract

First op-ed on the current crisis in Bolivia.
“The%politics%of%forever%in%Bolivia%come%to%an%end—at%least%for%now”%
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In%January%2009,%just%before%the%national%vote%on%the%country’s%radical%new%constitution,%
Evo%Morales%was%in%the%full%flush%of%revolutionary%fervor.%Addressing%a%gathering%of%
Movement%to%Socialism%(MAS)%members%at%the%seventh%annual%all-party%congress%in%the%
wind-swept%altiplano%city%of%Oruro,%Morales%laid%bare—in%typically%prosaic%terms—his%
political%vision.%%
%
“We%are%not%just%passing%through%the%palace,%we%are%not%just%visiting%it.%We%have%arrived%
to%stay%.%.%.%I%want%to%say%to%you%all%that%we%have%taken%back%the%palace.%We%are%not%just%
tenants,%we%have%recovered%what%is%rightly%ours,%brothers%and%sisters.%That%will%be%
forever.”%
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I%thought%of%this%politics%of%forever%as%I%studied%the%image%of%Morales%aboard%a%plane%for%
Mexico,%looking%uncharacteristically%gaunt,%a%Mexican%flag%draped%pathetically%over%his%
lap.%The%traumatic%impact%this%photo%will%have%among%the%millions%of%his%supporters%in%
Bolivia,%many%of%whom%live%in%rural%areas%without%access%to%daily%media,%is%not%difficult%
to%imagine.%%
%
As%someone%who%spent%nearly%10%years%conducting%ethnographic%research%in%Bolivia%
across%the%entire%sweep%of%the%Morales%era,%it%was%always%clear%to%me%that%the%ultimate%
meaning%of%Morales’s%rise%to%power%could%never%be%reduced%to%either%clear%benchmarks%
of%democratic%legitimacy%or%unambiguous%socioeconomic%indicators,%like%the%dramatic%
increase%in%life%expectancy%during%the%Morales%years,%or%the%precipitous%drop%in%rates%of%
illiteracy,%or%the%extent%to%which%a%real%social%safety%net%was%created%for%the%first%time.%%
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Instead,%the%significance%of%the%“process%of%change,”%as%it%is%described%locally%in%Bolivia,%
had%to%be%understood%both%symbolically%and%historically.%Symbolically,%the%election%and%
re-elections%of%Morales%represented%a%stunning%transformation%for%the%country’s%
different%indigenous%populations,%who%collectively%constitute%a%majority.%As%a%taxi%driver%
told%me%just%after%the%constitution%was%ratified%by%a%landslide,%with%tears%in%his%eyes,%“we%
support%brother%Evo,%of%course,%we%love%him,%we%have%the%same%face.”%%
%
Or%as%Sacha%Llorenti,%a%former%close%advisor%to%Morales,%reflected%on%one%of%the%
thousands%of%visits%the%president%made%to%isolated%rural%villages%throughout%the%country:%
“I%traveled%with%Evo%to%Coro%Coro%.%.%.%last%year%and%there%are%always%large%groups%of%
children%who%rush%to%meet%him.%The%children%started%to%give%him%presents%.%.%.%when%one%
of%the%children%gave%him%a%portrait%of%the%president%that%he%had%drawn%.%.%.%This%was%an%
Aymara%child%of%around%eight%or%nine%years%old,%and%Evo%asked%him%what%he%wanted%to%
be%when%he%grew%up.%The%boy%responded,%‘I%want%to%be%president%of%Bolivia.’%That%struck%
me%immediately%.%.%.%Evo%has%changed%the%world%for%them.%Everything%is%possible.”%
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And%historically,%Bolivia’s%“refoundation”%(as%the%2009%constitution%puts%it)%as%a%
“plurinational%state”%must%be%viewed%against%500%years%of%colonial,%republican,%and%then%
neoliberal%economic%plunder,%during%which%the%nation—in%its%various%guises—became%a%
global%metaphor%for%rapacious%exploitation.%It%was%not%for%nothing%that%the%Uruguayan%
intellectual%Eduardo%Galeano%put%Bolivia%at%the%center%of%Open%Veins%of%Latin%America,%his%
definitive%study%of%“five%centuries%of%the%pillage%of%a%continent.”%The%election%of%Morales%
and%the%implementation%of%MAS’s%social%and%economic%policies,%which%included%the%
creation%of%a%vice-ministry%specifically%for%“decolonization,”%were%meant%to%signal%a%
permanent%break%with%this%centuries-long%legacy%of%imposed%immiseration.%%
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This%irreversible%rupture%was%often%described%by%MAS%officials%and%indigenous%
supporters%of%the%government%as%a%“Pachakuti,”%a%Quechua%word%meaning%“world%
renewal”%that%has%become%a%quasi-religious%principle%for%many%from%Bolivia’s%dominant%
highland%indigenous%groups.%%
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Which%brings%me%back%to%the%sight%of%the%supposed%living%embodiment%of%this%Pachakuti,%
Morales%himself,%fleeing%the%country%in%the%wake%of%urban%street%violence,%the%
reemergence%of%the%far-right%in%the%figure%of%Luis%Fernando%Camacho,%leader%of%Santa%
Cruz’s%Civic%Committee,%and,%most%worryingly%of%all,%the%threat%of%a%military%usurpation%
of%national%political%power.%%
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Whether%this%is%described%as%a%coup%d’état%or%not,%it%immediately%evokes%a%long%and%
doleful%history%of%military%take-overs,%dictatorships,%and%persecutions,%including%that%of%
General%Luis%García%Meza,%who%came%to%power%in%the%Cocaine%Coup%of%1980%and%oversaw%
a%one-year%reign%of%terror%during%which%his%circle%of%advisors%included%the%Nazi%war%
criminal%Klaus%Barbie,%the%Butcher%of%Lyon.%%
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Yet%despite%the%chaos%of%recent%days%and%the%return%to%a%level%of%national%political%
instability%not%seen%since%the%years%before%the%2005%elections%brought%Morales%to%power,%
the%deeper%meaning%and%importance%of%the%process%of%change%will%likely%endure,%even,%
ideally,%in%ways%that%become%detached%from%Morales%himself.%%%
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Nevertheless,%even%as%he%fled%the%country,%he%drew%from%indigenous%concepts%to%explain%
what%the%nation%might%expect%of%him%in%the%days%and%weeks%to%come.%In%vowing%to%return%
“with%force,”%Morales%paid%homage%to%the%defeated%late-eighteenth%century%Indian%rebel%
Túpac%Katari,%who,%just%before%being%drawn-and-quartered%by%Spanish%colonial%troops,%
supposedly%uttered,%as%his%final%words,%“I%will%return%and%I%will%be%millions.”%%%
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Mark%Goodale%is%professor%of%cultural%and%social%anthropology%at%the%University%of%
Lausanne%and%the%author%of%the%recently%published%A%Revolution%in%Fragments:%
Traversing%Scales%of%Justice,%Ideology,%and%Practice%in%Bolivia.%%
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