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Political Processes and the Reconfiguration of the State in Bolivia

Author(s): Pablo Regalsky and Mariana Ortega Breña

Source: Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 37, No. 3, BOLIVIA UNDER MORALES. Part 1.
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latin American Perspectives

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Political Processes and the Reconfiguration
of the State in Bolivia
Pablo Regalsky
Translated by Mariana Ortega Brena

The indigenous social movements that propelled Evo Morales and the Movimiento al
Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism?MAS) into power in Bolivia questioned the
legitimacy of the nation-state, its territorial configuration, and its system of political
representation. The MAS, rather than responding to these concerns, is attempting to
balance indigenous demands with those of the dominant and still powerful landowning
class in a new configuration of the state. As part of this process indigenous leaders have
been co-opted into municipal administration, which has subordinated their organizations
to the state and the established system of party politics. The constituent assembly that
created the constitution adopted in 2009 failed to democratize property and control over
natural resources as indigenous peoples have been demanding since 2000.

Keywords: Bolivia, Movimiento al Socialismo, Indigenous autonomy, Crisis of hege

mony, Political parties

The political emergence of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia and the large
social movements that, in 2005, demanded the creation of a foundational con
stituent assembly and the nationalization of hydrocarbons also propelled
Evo Morales into power: he won the presidency with an absolute majority in
December 2005. And yet Morales's party, the Movimiento al Socialismo
(Movement Toward Socialism?MAS), has not evolved in accordance with the
tenets that gave birth to those social movements. Whereas they questioned the
legitimacy of the nation-state, its territorial configuration, and its system of
political representation, the MAS is now attempting to reinvent the Bolivian
nation-state. The government's high revenues and renewed capacity for redis
tribution are expected to generate conditions of governance reinforced by a
decentralization that fulfills the requirements of regional development through
the revitalization of the political party system. The state reforms undertaken
by the Constituent Assembly that deliberated between August 2006 and
December 2007, particularly those involving the reorganization of the state
under a combination of the departmental authority requested by the business
sector and indigenous autonomy, opened up a space in which the MAS

Pablo Regalsky is founder of and academia coordinator at the Centro de Comunicacion y

Desarrollo Andino and the author of Etnicidad y clase: El estado boliviano y las estrategias andinas
de manejo de su espacio (2003). He was part of the advisory team for the indigenous Unity Pact
during the Constituent Assembly of 2006-2007. Mariana Ortega Brena is a freelance translator
based in Canberra, Australia.

LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 172, Vol. 37 No. 3, May 2010 35-50
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X10364032
? 2010 Latin American Perspectives


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government could serve as an intermediary between two opposing factions,

thus becoming the best political alternative for the nation's bourgeoisie. This
article explores the antinomies of calls for territorial autonomy and self-gov
ernment of indigenous groups and the nationalist politics of the Morales gov
In January 2009 a new Bolivian constitution was approved by two-thirds of
the electorate. Rather than being a unified set of rules for governing the
national territory, it is a patchwork of overlapping and often conflicting claims
involving indigenous peoples and nonindigenous propertied citizens. On the
one hand, it promises to serve as the basis for a decentralized, "reinvented"
nation-state that uses its natural-resource wealth to benefit the majority of
its citizens. On the other hand, it addresses indigenous demands for self
determination and territory that go well beyond simple calls for land.
"Territory," in this context, refers to a homeland, an area where indigenous
groups can not only control the economic use of their natural resources but
also govern themselves according to their own cultural, social, and political
norms and structures (Assies and Hoekema, 1999). This paper does not
intend to analyze the new constitution. Instead, it follows the demands of
the indigenous movement and the emergence of the MAS as an arbiter. In
doing so, it describes the array of social forces that resulted in some of the con
tradictions found in the constitution. I argue that the Morales government is
not heading a revolutionary, state-transforming process representing the inter
ests of the majority of the citizenry (i.e., the indigenous population and the
working class) but attempting to balance indigenous demands with those of
the dominant and still powerful landowning class (aligned with business inter
ests centered in Santa Cruz) in order to create new conditions for governance.
In the first part of the article I review some of the contradictions present in the
new constitution and discuss three political processes: (1) the increasing chal
lenges to the failed neoliberal national project, including the 2000 Cochabamba
water war, the rural indigenous movement, and demands for territorial
autonomy, (2) the shift in the geographical center of the dominant bourgeoisie
from La Paz to Santa Cruz, and (3) the emergence of the MAS as a political
arbiter. I point out that the process in Bolivia must be understood as a
national manifestation of a global crisis of hegemony and that this is what
partially differentiates recent events from the 1952 nationalist revolution.
Once in power, the MAS government took steps to relegitimate the nation
state and respond to indigenous claims for territory and self- determination,
which proved a challenge given the fundamental precepts of both the Bolivian
nation-state and its modernization project. Rather than push an indigenous
agenda demanding collective representation, Morales has taken a more mod
erate position.


While the new constitution is a welcome change in terms of indigenous

rights to self-determination and autonomy (Article 2),1 it also reinforces the
rights to private property present in the previous constitution, legalizing the
appropriation of "entrepreneurial" lands (Article 315). The first article states

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that Bolivia has been transformed into a "plurinational state/' in recognition

of the fact that indigenous nations predated the colonial state. Article 7
declares that sovereignty resides in the people and is exercised both directly
(i.e., communal self-government) and via representation (i.e., the representa
tive democratic system). The section on the territorial organization of the state
recognizes several levels of autonomy?departmental, regional, municipal,
and indigenous?and details the functions assigned to each. The text
approved in the January 2009 referendum was produced during negotiations
in September 2008 in Cochabamba between the MAS government and the
Consejo Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia (National Council in Defense
of Democracy?CONALDE), which were carried out under the auspices of
the Union Sudamericana de Naciones (Union of South American Nations?
UNASUR). This text, which was ratified by the Bolivian congress on October 21,
2008, contradicted several key elements of the version that had been approved
by the Constituent Assembly in December 2007; among other things, it legal
ized latifundias (large landholdings) and subordinated indigenous territo
rial autonomy to respect for current departmental boundaries (Asamblea
Constituyente, 2008).
The constitution's eclectic content is the result of the current government's
arbiter stance, which attempts to balance a number of divergent processes
within Bolivian society of which I shall examine three. The first is the social
mobilizations generated after the water war of 2000, which became nation
wide in scope with the toppling of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in October
2003 and ended in May 2005 with the resignation of his successor, Carlos
Mesa. One of the political expressions of this process was the Pacto de Unidad
de las Organizaciones Indigenas, Originarias y Campesinas (Unity Pact among
Indigenous, Originary, and Peasant Organizations), established in 2004 and
actively involved in the pursuit of a constituent assembly as a force indepen
dent of the MAS (CENDA, 2004).
The second process is a geographical shift on the part of the bourgeoisie
resulting from the decline of the country's western mining centers (the politi
cal hub of which was La Paz) and the establishment of a new economic center
in the eastern region tied to the soy and gas production dominated by Brazilian
conglomerates. This move was initially a defensive effort to disconnect the
political heart of the state from the social effervescence taking place in the
Andean west. It found political expression in the CONALDE, an organization
made up of five departmental prefects and the civic committees that repre
sented Bolivian businesses, and was one source of the crisis of the state that
erupted between February 2003 and May 2005.
The third process is a renewal of political institutionalism and a reconstruc
tion of the state that is politically expressed in the MAS and the Morales
administration, which have attempted to serve as intermediaries between the
above-mentioned opposing forces and are primarily concerned with the pres
ervation of the state. In fact, they brought an end to the crisis of the state with
the approval of the constitution in January 2009. The social coalition made up
of the landowning classes and the dominant social sectors, which was a stable
block between 1985 and 2000, had become fragmented after 2002 and unable to
identify a common hegemonic program such as neoliberalism had once
provided with which to reconstitute itself. The social fragmentation of both

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subordinate and dominant levels of society had led to ungovernability. The

MAS government has tried to resolve this situation by reconstructing the
nation-state at a time when electoral mechanics and the international crisis
provide a highly advantageous framework (Garcia Linera, 2008). This recon
struction has played a crucial role in the social ascent of some peasants that
emerged, as a consequence of the municipal decentralization brought about by
the Law of Popular Participation and the rise of the MAS to government, to
assume the intermediate political positions previously occupied by traditional
criollo2 local elites. This shift deprived the social organizations of their leaders
or subordinated them to the various administrative levels of the state. Since
the beginning of the MAS administration in January 2006 there has been con
tinuous fragmentation of social movements and a relegitimation of the state.


Underlying this collection of tensions and contributing to the crisis of the

state is what world-system theorists have termed "civilizational decline," a
decline of hegemony that has cultural, political, and economic facets (Friedman
and Chase-Dunn, 2005; Gandasegui, 2007; Martins, 2007). This view is shared
by a number of Southern Hemisphere scholars whose voices are not often
heard in Northern debates, although a 2007 issue of Latin American Perspectives
(34 [1]) served as a rare English-language forum for some of them. Globalization,
as an expression of this decline of hegemony, has contributed to the wave of
Latin American governments that are questioning the United States' hemi
spheric dominance. This is not a trivial aside: by linking current processes in
Bolivia to global, secular trends we can more clearly understand the election
of Morales as a process that differs considerably from that of the 1952 nation
alist revolution.
The 1952 Revolution created the basis for a reconfigured nation-state that
aimed to dissolve indigenous communities and communal property by trans
forming indios into citizens while fostering the growth and modernization of
a national bourgeoisie. It erased the word indio from the state vocabulary and
categorized the population in terms of class in an effort to exercise social con
trol and construct an imaginary of the Bolivian nation (Anderson, 1993). The
massive implementation of schooling and military service generalized forms
of socialization and discipline. This, however, led to a paradox that, in a sense,
dates back to colonial times. The disappearance of the authoritative figure of
the landowner after the agrarian reform of 1953 led to the gradual reappearance
of indirect communal indigenous governments, this time described as commu
nitarian agrarian unions (Rivera, 2003; Carter and Albo, 1988). This change
was not noticeable at first because these systems were veiled by the corpo
rate politics of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist
Revolutionary Movement?MNR) civilian government3 and subsequent military
adniinistrations (Yashar, 1999). The Pacto Militar Campesino (Peasant-Military
Pact) established under administration of General Rene Barrientos Ortuno
in 1964 was based on the guaranteed continuity of the 1953 agrarian reform
and served as an instrument for social mobilization against the communist
threat posed by the miners' movement. This corporate mechanism, with a

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hierarchical disciplinary order that masked increasing territorial autonomy,

obscured the emergence of communal governments, which at the time were
still small and localized. In fact, local peasant governments in the form of
agrarian unions appeared to have been disciplined by the state through the
co-optation of their leaders. This process was facilitated by the distribution of
individual land titles signed by the president himself.
In 1952, local authorities established by miner militias in the mining areas
sprang up in areas dominated by the MNR (Dunkerley, 1984; Zavaleta, 1987)
and assumed local territorial power vis-a-vis the La Paz government.
According to Zavaleta (1987) and other observers (Justo, 2007), the territorial
ized miners' movement (which was itself born out of the 1952 Revolution)
attained dual powers at a certain point, and these became the embryo of a
workers' state. In contrast, the participation of labor leaders such as Juan
Lechin as "worker ministers" in the MNR government is seen as part of the
reconstitution of the bourgeois nation-state. The miners' movement, however,
was isolated from the peasant movement when the land distribution autho
rized by the 1953 agrarian reforms began. The dual, territorialized power
exercised by the miners was eventually attacked by the peasant militias mobi
lized by the MNR in the name of anticommunism around 1956 and destroyed
by the army during the 1967 San Juan massacre.
Given this characteristic set of power relations, the dominant classes were
able to consolidate their territorial dominion only in enclaves, although a new
landowning bourgeoisie was advancing over a good part of the nation's east
ern lowlands. Beginning in the late 1960s, the military regimes were able to
maintain this delicate balance with the Andean peasantry while at the same
time engaging in an agrarian counterreform, distributing vast tracts of land to
a new landed class in the lowlands, mainly in the Department of Santa Cruz
(Soruco, Plata, and Medeiros, 2008). General Hugo Banzer's government,
which had strong ties to the new landowners, made the mistake of militarily
engaging the peasants of the Cochabamba Valley to implement fiscal adjust
ment measures in 1974, thus damaging the Peasant-Military Pact.
The damage done to the pact meant that the Bolivian state lost a consider
able amount of control over the rural part of the country's western Andean
region, along with its monopoly on the exercise of violence. This process was
made explicit in 1979, when Katarismo took on a leading role in peasant orga
nizations and displaced the nationalists (Hurtado, 1986). By this time the peas
ant unions were exercising their role as indirect communal governments in an
increasingly open way, and although they were not legally recognized as such
they did interact with state institutions (CSUTCB, 1984; Orellana, 2004;
Regalsky, 2003). The general roadblocks decreed by the Confederation Sindical
Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (Single Union Confederation of
Peasant Workers of Bolivia?CSUTCB)4 in 1979 presented the first nationwide
challenge to the state's territorial authority. The strengthening of ethnic
boundaries in fact plays a fundamental role in the politicization of identities
and cultural difference (Smith, 1986), in which the recovery of the concepts of
"indigenous peoples" and "first nations" is increasingly important. The polit
icization of cultural difference cannot by itself explain the reproduction of
these local indigenous governments or the increasing importance of the net
works within which they were federated5 and which exercised territorial

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authority in competition with the state's jurisdictional organs, but even under
the Peasant-Military Pact these communal governments exercised effective
jurisdiction over land and water following communal norms that contradicted
the civil code. In short, they had effective control over the natural resources
that conditioned the daily lives and the survival of peasant families. In the
case of the free communities of the altiplano, this process was undertaken
later with the reconstitution of the ayllu.6
The imaginary of a homogeneous mestizo nation promoted by the state
since 1952 was being questioned as these communities embarked on ethnifica
tion and the reconstitution of local power. These processes were taking place
in movements that had gradually acquired a definite national and class char
acter expressed in the CSUTCB and its affiliated peasant federations. Deep
down, ethnification underlines the reaffirmation of the commons that plays a
vital role in the reproduction of the rural indigenous community. This com
munal space found itself under threat by the structural adjustment policies
begun in 1985, the concomitant privatization (which did not recognize preex
isting communal rights to natural resources), and the primacy of private prop
erty and resource appropriation. This put an end to what was left of the
"colonial pact" between the state and indigenous peasant communities.7 The
policy of "accumulation by dispossession" (Harvey, 2003) indirectly contrib
uted to the questioning of the hegemonic control that the state, as a repository
of sovereignty, was attempting to exercise over peasant and indigenous com
munities in the name of "the nation." The state's introduction of neoliberal
policies on a national level had the contradictory effect of weakening its con
trol over the population as local indigenous communities increasingly asserted
their right to the autonomous management of resources.



While indigenous peasant communities were increasing their autonomy,

the upper classes were undergoing a change that also affected state order. For
more than three decades the nation's political and economic center had been
shifting from the mining west to the oil and agricultural fields of the east as
Brazil emerged as a regional power. Although access to the Pacific continued
to be important for mining exports, exports were increasingly directed toward
the Atlantic basin and ties to the Brazilian economy and gas and soy exports
were growing stronger. Thus, as indigenous communities were struggling to
preserve control over and access to vital natural resources through ethnifica
tion, the Bolivian bourgeoisie was moving eastward in response to Brazilian
domination of soy and gas production.8
In the context of globalization, the hegemonic crisis of a capitalist nation
state that is losing control over its territory is a consequence of territoriality's
having become a bone of contention among classes, sectors, and peoples.
Rivera (2008: 210) maintains that the "material and symbolic violence exer
cised by racist groups in Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz against the indios . . .
clearly evidences that territoriality only exacerbates violence in the margins

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and interstices of the official ethnic map." The indigenous demand for control
over access to natural resources and establishment of specifically indigenous
governmental, legislative, and juridical structures led to clashes with land
owners associated with oil and timber conglomerates. The emergence of
territoriality?or, more precisely, the reterritorialization currently being expe
rienced around the world in places in which nation-states used to wield
unquestioned power?is a consequence of the hegemonic crisis of capitalism;
it evidences the inability of the nation-state to monopolize territorial power
and, therefore, violence. Contrary to the argument that the disputed area of
territoriality should be ignored, as if the indigenous demand for autonomy
were more discursive than real, reterritorialization demands should be inter
preted as the product of a global decline in the hegemony of the nation-state.
The struggle for territorial control has been radicalized and become a source
of violence. The global crisis has narrowed the profit margins of transnational
conglomerates, which has led them to engage in the predatory use of natural
resources. The violence generated by this behavior threatens the survival of
populations that find resistance?struggle for control of territory?their only
available option. The demands for indigenous autonomy in various regions
of Latin America are an expression of that struggle (Leyva, Burguete, and
Speed, 2008).


The construction of ethnic boundaries has been taking place throughout the
lower levels of Bolivian society since the 1970s, first in the form of de facto
communal governments and later as part of ideological action spearheaded by
indigenous organizations such as the CSUTCB and the Confederation Indigena
de Bolivia (Indigenous Confederation of Bolivia?CIDOB). This has repre
sented a challenge to the culturally homogenizing forms of the nation-state.
That nation-state, which Anderson (1993) has called an "altered expression of
consciousness," an "anomaly," and that until a few years ago was universal
and had been "naturalized" in the consciousness of the masses, is now being
In contrast to the cultural-difference-based governments established by the
multinational colonial empires before the nineteenth century, the bourgeois
system of citizenship presupposes equality among members of a population
rendered individuals before the law and a single law across the whole national
territory and does not recognize collective subjects. It coincides with the con
struction of a world market based upon a network of nation-states (Wallerstein,
2004). Western civilization as a system of cultural domination and homoge
nization owes its hegemony to its main cultural artifact, commodities. The
expansion of commodification does not merely result from violent subjection,
although violence is an intrinsic part of hegemonic control. The hegemonic
decline of this system of accumulation and the nation-state is a symptom of
the failure of mercantile fetishism. This weakens cultural-homogenization
based forms of control and leaves the dominant sectors incapable of maintain
ing social control and expanding world markets through violence alone. This

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analysis has been questioned from various perspectives. Zizek (1997: 44), for
example, argues that multiculturalism is the ideal form of global capitalist
ideology, and Harvey (2009) says that neoliberalism has been a success in that
it has consolidated class power.
Assuming that we are experiencing a decline in the hegemony of the
nation-state, the political power recovered by indigenous and peasant com
munal administrations presupposes the end of a type of government based
on the fundamental principles of cultural homogeneity and juridical monism
(Assies and Hoekema, 1999; Friedman, 1998). Here we have the (reappear
ance of indigenous and peasant collective subjects, communal subjects with
particular jurisdictions and claims to particular territories. The increasing
fragmentation of the national political and cultural space leads to what,
from above, can be seen as local ungovernability. All of these factors have
played fundamental roles in determining the processes that began taking
place in Bolivia during the 1970s alongside the global crisis of the model of
The Law of Popular Participation decreed by the government of Gonzalo
Sanchez de Lozada in 1994 attempted to address ethnification, ungovernabil
ity, and the increasing questioning of the nature of the nation-state by indig
enous and peasant organizations. It joined a set of legal instruments designed
to develop potential markets, privatize access to natural resources, and, espe
cially, promote a market in land (Kohl, 2002). This required the delivery of
legal titles for properties illegally acquired during the agrarian counterreform
that took place from 1964 on under the military regimes (Ormachea, 2007).
While the establishment of the Instituto Nacional de Ref orma Agraria (National
Institute of Agrarian Reform?INRA) served to open up this process, the Law
of Popular Participation played a complementary role in the expansion of the
land market in regions dominated by indigenous communities.
In an attempt to disable communal mechanisms of indirect government
and control over access to land, the state extended municipal jurisdiction over
rural and indigenous communities and promoted the development of "civil
society" (Medeiros, 2001) or what Foucault (1991) called "governmentality."
The Law of Popular Participation incorporated a broad stratum of peasant
indigenous leaders into municipal administration, creating a new opportunity
for mediation between the government and the communities and for penetra
tion of these communities by the state (Blanes, 2000), but it failed to dismantle
the communal jurisdictions (Regalsky, 2008). The municipal crisis of gover
nance that followed was experienced across the nation (Regalsky, 2008). The
2003 events were triggered in part by the jailing of the Aymara leader Edwin
Huampu for murder in a case that, at heart, was about the capacity of the com
munal jurisdictional forum to deal with cattle theft in the community of Cota
Cota, in Los Andes Province. This conflict combined with opposition to a
recent increase in municipal taxes in El Alto, a nationwide movement in favor
of the nationalization of the oil industry, and a call for a constituent assembly
(Gutierrez, 2008; Lazar, 2006; Patzi, 2007). Government repression, first in
Warisata and later in El Alto, paved the way for the emergence of an extraor
dinary urban and rural antigovernment coalition that managed to topple
Sanchez de Lozada's neoliberal administration (see, e.g., Kohl and Farthing,
2006; Lazar, 2006; Mamani, 2005; Patzi, 2007; Spronk and Webber, 2007).

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The basis of the jurisdiction of Andean communities is its control over access
to land and water, limiting that access to members of the community and, by
restricting acquisition and sale, limiting the right to private property and, con
sequently, private accumulation. The political flexibility of the Law of Popular
Participation lay in recognizing the legal status of indigenous communities
while rejecting their jurisdictional functions with regard to access to communal
resources. The recognition that came with the law and the redistributive char
acter of municipal budgets had a cumulative effect on these communities; the
incorporation of peasant and indigenous leaders into municipal governments
controlled by the MAS and their progressive subordination via the redistribu
tive mechanisms of the municipal budget eventually led to the fragmentation
of the formerly solid pyramidal structure of the peasant organizations.
A new element appeared in the "tactical/electoral" political instrument
devised by the CSUTCB during a meeting in March 1995 under the title "Por
Tierra y Territorio" (For Land and Territory). Initially known as the Instrumento
Politico?Asamblea por la Soberama de los Pueblos (Political Instrument?
Assembly for the Sovereignty of the People), after some internal struggle it
became the Instrumento Politico por la Soberama de los Pueblos?Movimiento
al Socialismo (Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples?
Movement Toward Socialism). The MAS won in municipal elections, and its
electoral success presented a paradox with regard to democracy in the CSUTCB
and peasant communities. The peasant leaders who had been transformed into
public servants were shielded by laws that allowed them to evade the mecha
nisms of direct democracy initially established within the MAS as the "political
arm of the peasant organizations." The struggle over the distribution of munic
ipal budgets?the Law of Popular Participation allowed for the transfer of
significant resources to municipalities for the first time in the nation's history?
opened the door to localism and factionalism, and this led to a certain disinte
gration of the peasant and indigenous organizations that were intended to
provide some unity to the movement despite ethnic and local differences.
Paradoxically, however, this did not mean that the state could recover the rural
areas through governance managed by the so-called systemic political parties.
The loss of power by the peasant and indigenous organizations exacerbated
localism and factionalism, and at the same time a peasant political movement
emerged that quickly became national in scope and included middle-class and
urban sectors in a radical solution to the crisis of the state (Regalsky, 2006).
According to Fuentes (2007), after 2000 "the fusion within the MAS of indige
nous, union, and nationalist currents created a type of 'indigenous national
ism' in which indigenous pride was viewed as synonymous with the creation
of a new, dignified Bolivia and in which the original or first nations (naciones
originarias) were seen as the best defenders of Bolivia's resources and sover
eignty." In reality, as Fuentes acknowledges, the political instrument assembled
by the CSUTCB, created as a tool in the indigenous struggle for land and terri
tory, eventually became an instrument for the defense of the sovereignty of the
nation-state?for the relegitimation of the state institutions that had been
called into question by the 2003 semi-insurrection.

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The expansion of the MAS's influence over the state's administrative appa
ratus, moving quickly from the municipal to the central level, cannot be
explained entirely as an expression of the mobilization of peasant movements
experiencing a favorable moment. The other side of the equation was the pro
found crisis of the social coalition that controlled the state and its system of
hegemonic domination. Those at the top appeared incapable of presenting
a credible political alternative for the middle class, while those below were
increasingly averse to being ruled by a system undergoing a crisis of legitimacy.
It is in this context that MAS appeared as a bridge and an unexpected mediator.
Goodale (2006: 635) posits that the MAS represents a second revolution, a
"radically hybrid indigenous cosmopolitanism ... [and] a striking example of
what Pheng Cheah has described as 'the cosmopolitical': a political worldview
that ambiguously straddles the line between 'mass-based forms of global con
sciousness [and]... existing imagined political... communities/" Behind the
differences in vocabulary, both Rivera and Goodale argue that the indigenous
project does not oppose modernity but, instead, destabilizes its meanings. And
yet, in their attempt to provide a nonessentialist understanding of the indige
nous, they lose sight of the fact that it has emerged through the politicization
of difference. This process of ethnification calls into question the historical core
of modernity, the ideology of bourgeois civilization, which implies the imposi
tion of forms of appropriation of social resources, forms of private property,
and a certain construction of the individual and the simultaneous destruction
of the commons through commodification and/or privatization. Modernity
means the construction of a fragmented and homogeneous mass of individuals
understood as the dissolution of collective subjects not as abstract identities or
"imagined communities" but as historical subjects and agents that control a
certain material habitat. This is the modernization that those who identify them
selves as indigenous have experienced during this period of neoliberalism, and
it has posed a direct threat to their survival because it has taken away their
access to water and imperiled their reproduction.
The success of the subaltern urban/rural coalition that opposed the priva
tization of water in Cochabamba contributed to the crisis of legitimacy in the
neoliberal program as a foundation for interparty agreements, and this led to
fissures in the block that had enabled the efficacious management of these
agreements. The combination of the middle classes' growing disapproval of
this modernization program and the increasing condemnation of the corrupt
practices of political elites chipped away at the hegemony of the social coali
tion in control of the state.
After the first victory of the social movements in the 2000 water war, social
demands immediately moved to the territorial reconfiguration of the state and
the call for a sovereign and foundational constituent assembly. Whose demands
were these? Not those of an undifferentiated mass of individuals that serves
as a counterpart to the sovereign state but those of collective subjects: peasant
indigenous communities grouped into national organizations that exercised
effective sovereignty and jurisdiction over their daily lives, whether or not this
was acknowledged by the state. It was these collective subjects who asked
who would control access to what resources and what territories. This was a
political issue that could already be discerned behind the demands for territo
rial recognition issued by the first march of indigenous groups from the

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lowlands, which left Beni and arrived in La Paz in September 1990. It managed
to extract territorial recognition from the Paz Zamora administration. The
fourth march, in 2002, called for a constituent assembly that would ensure
indigenous territory (Romero, 2005). Rivera (2008: 213) erroneously assumes
that the proposal of the Unity Pact was an attempt to map "36 territorialized
and circumscribed ethnicities, apparently stuck in a remote pre-mercantile
past, [that] leads to a denial of their contemporaneity, their condition as sub
jects, actors, and participants in the demands and challenges of modernity."
The peasant-indigenous proposal (Pacto de Unidad, 2006) was, in fact, a policy
for the reconfiguration of the state, presented as a "refounding of the state" via
a sovereign constituent assembly, that would allow the Andean and Amazonian
communities and peoples to exercise expansive rather than circumscribed
jurisdiction, employ a particular set of norms to protect their living areas, and
restrict the power of the timber, mining, and oil multinationals and their land
owning allies who exploited their resources and destroyed their territories.9 It
was additionally intended to encourage urban populations to take control of
their habitat in the same way as the city of El Alto did in 2003 (Mamani, 2005).
This is the reason the June 2002 national elections were questioned by the
fourth march, which arrived in La Paz from Santa Cruz and demanded the
immediate convocation of a constituent assembly (Romero, 2005). The MAS
had a strong interest in those elections and in fact vigorously opposed (per
haps because this would increase its credibility as a political party) the march
ers' demand that it ignore the elections and convoke an assembly instead.
News of the enrichment of the Bolivian congress by 30 representatives in
indigenous dress circulated around the world, but this did not resolve the
crisis of the political system. In February 2003 a government attempt to impose
new taxes led to armed clashes involving the police and the military in the
Plaza de Gobierno. Urban and rural uprisings during October of that year
completely destroyed the credibility of the political party system, forcing
then-President Sanchez de Lozada, the architect of the structural reforms, to
flee the country. Threatened with total collapse by the social mobilizations
carried out in May and June of 2005, the established parties were forced to
approve the call for a sovereign constituent assembly that would approve
electoral forms other than "one citizen, one vote" and recognize indigenous
peoples as collective subjects. However, this eventuality was avoided when,
in response to a request by the Church, the leader of the MAS demanded early
presidential elections?a strategy that managed to restore legitimacy to the
established political system (Regalsky, 2006).
Once the revolutionary crisis of May and June 2005 had been quelled with
the presidential elections and the call for a constituent assembly had been
postponed, the MAS's overwhelming triumph led to a strange new situation.
On the one hand, the political party that was born out of indigenous and peas
ant movements and was now charged with transforming the state sought to
strengthen itself institutionally and within the framework of the nation-state
(Seleme, 2006). On the other hand, displaced from the center of government,
the right wing interpreted the ascent of the MAS as the prelude to a radical
transformation of the political configuration of the country and barricaded
itself in the so-called Media Luna (Half Moon), made up of the Departments
of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija. The bourgeoisie understood Morales's

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rise to power and, above all, the call for a constituent assembly as a threat to
its ownership of productive land. According to INRA data (Balderrama, 2002),
successive Bolivian administrations since 1956 had given 89 percent of the
lands made available by the agrarian reform to a new class of large landown
ers. Landowning and property in general became the dominant subject on the
political agenda after the 2003 upheavals. The Morales government has gone
to enormous effort to demonstrate that it guarantees private property while at
the same time seeking to maintain its social base. In spite of this, the middle
and upper-class sectors have become convinced that private property is under
threat. The issue of property is, in fact, implicit in the "nationalization" of
hydrocarbons; the measures taken by the Morales government increase the
state's participation in the oil industry but respect the property of the transna
tional conglomerates.
Here it becomes necessary to recount the events that preceded the approval
of the constitutional text submitted to the referendum of January 25,2009. The
January 2007 events in Cochabamba served as a watershed in national dynam
ics. Sectors of the urban middle class took up arms in order to resist the peas
ant "invasion" of the city?a defensive and territorial act whose overtly racist
character served to mask the middle class's fear of a perceived threat to its
homes and belongings. The events that followed underline a MAS strategy
that had already been evidenced in the law convoking the Constituent Assembly.
This law established that representation in the assembly would be through
political parties and other such forms with national legal status, thus failing to
acknowledge the demand of the indigenous organizations (many of them
with limited regional presence) for representation as collective subjects. It
confirmed the citizenship principle established in the current liberal constitu
tion (one citizen, one vote) and, in doing so, rejected the direct representation
of collective subjects called for by the Unity Pact and approved by the previ
ous parliament. Peasant and indigenous representatives had to be channeled
through the partisan instrument embodied by the MAS and were reduced to
fewer than a dozen. Despite their minority status in the assembly, however,
the indigenous and peasant organizations of the Unity Pact were an obstacle
to the texts prepared by the right wing and were able to present proposals for
discussion in most of the working committees.10 A series of unfortunate gov
ernment statements led to conflict in the city of Sucre, whose residents wanted
it to return to the seat of the national government (the legislative capital had
been moved to La Paz after the liberal victory in the 1899 civil war). The
Morales government allowed the conflict to increase to the point that the
deliberations of the Constituent Assembly became impossible. Under the aus
pices of Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, an interparty committee was
formed in La Paz, and the constitutional text that it produced and agreed
upon was different from the one being discussed in Sucre (Natanson, 2007). In
spite of the presence of right-wing parties on this committees, the regional
prefects and civic committees represented by the CONALDE refused to recog
nize its negotiations, as did the indigenous organizations. The only option left
was to endorse the Oruro constitutional text, which had been approved in that
city on December 9, 2007, and adopted some of the Unity Pact's proposals,
proposing increased indigenous autonomy. The conflict became radicalized
and went on until September 2008, when pressure from Brazil and UNASUR

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forced the parties to agree to a final text that, as I have pointed out, guarantees
increased powers to departmental autonomies while at the same time estab
lishing more safeguards for private property (Article 56) and legalizing lati
fundias (Articles 315, 399).


This development, the result of the disarray of the CONALDE, has consoli
dated the position of the Morales government but left an unexpected victim
along the way. The Unity Pact has disappeared, a casualty of the co-optation
of most of its leaders by the party in power. What began as a demand for the
reconfiguration of the state and an attempt to achieve recognition for com
munal indigenous autonomies has had its representative organizations sub
ordinated to the state, thus reinforcing the system of party-based political
representation. This subordination is masked by a discourse of "state co
optation." As I have pointed out, the current period of globalization and decline
of civilization produces a very different context from that of the 1950s and the
MNR administration, and there is little possibility of building a "class block"
that is sustainable and encompasses not only the dominant sectors of society
but also the social movements. At this juncture, a favorable balance of trade
and a fiscal surplus have allowed the MAS to retain its position as an arbiter
and a source of legitimacy that enables the incorporation of a large sector of
peasant leaders into various levels of government. At the same time, financial
stability and state surplus provides interesting opportunities for the business
sector, and this has served to neutralize for the moment the conflict between
the various social forces. This is a transition phase that reveals the paradoxical
and contradictory nature of the constitution's approved text. The creation of a
sovereign constituent assembly that truly democratizes property and control
over natural resources, as demanded by the indigenous and originary peoples
since 2000, has yet to take place.


1. "Article 2. Given the precolonial existence of the indigenous nations and original peasant
peoples and their ancestral dominion over their territory, their right to free determination is
determined within the framework of the unity of the state, and this consists of their right to
autonomy, self-government, their culture, the recognition of their institutions, and the consolid
tion of their territorial entities, in accordance with this constitution and the law" (Asamble
Constituyente, 2009).
2.1 use criollo to mean someone of Spanish descent and, more generally, a white person or a
"whitened" mestizo (see Lagos, 1997).
3. This movement was catapulted into power by the 1952 Revolution.
4. The CSUTCB, organized by Aymara Kataristas, was an effort to assemble the various peasant
and indigenous communities. The Confederacion Indigena de Bolivia (Indigenous Confederatio
of Bolivia?CIDOB), originally called the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Center, was founded in 1982.
The latter represents the indigenous organizations of the lowlands (Hurtado, 1986).
5. Here I am referring to the provincial peasant centrales (or centers), which are grouped into
departmental and regional peasant federations.
6. There has been much debate regarding the nature of peasant unions as opposed to the
reconstitution of the ayllu, the Andean system of jurisdictional authority in place before Spanis

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colonization, which served as the foundation for the indirect exercise of colonial government
(see Piatt, 1982; Rivera, 1982; Patzi, 2007).
7. The colonial pact referenced by Piatt (1982) involves the Spanish crown's decision to
maintain indigenous forms of authority, jurisdiction, and control over communal access to the
land in exchange for subjection to the crown, the provision of free labor, and payment of tribute.
9. One of the few processes that has not been completely neutralized in the new constitution
is the recognition of the autonomous jurisdiction of an indigenous authority, which presupposes
a radical juridical pluralism and a questioning of the nation-state's juridical project.
10. Fundamentally, the project presented by the Unity Pact consisted of the introduction of
the principle of juridical pluralism, the establishment of indigenous jurisdiction, the right of any
population, indigenous or not, to be consulted before the implementation of any policy or project
that might affect it, recognition of self-government, direct exercise of sovereignty by the people,
with elections based on traditional custom (usos y costumbres) but acknowledged at the same
level as democratic representation or universal suffrage, and the recognition that the owners of
the nation's natural resources are the citizens and not the state. This differed from right-wing
proposals that sought to consolidate the sovereignty principle in the state while promoting its
decentralization and increased departmental authority.


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