Friday, June 6, 2008

Racism and Human Rights

This is a fabulous post by Professor Walter Mignolo. I really recommend it to you all.

The series of events that unfolded in Sucre, Bolivia, since May 24 have not receive much attention by the international press; and in some cases, the report contributed to obscure the facts. The events invite us, all of us, to think about racism and human rights; who are the perpetrators, who are the victims, what is at stake when human rights are violated? The events in Sucre are not isolated. Below I provide some elements of a larger context of which the events in Sucre are part of a long and complicated process that unfolded since Evo Morales Ayma was elected president of Bolivia.

1) On Tuesday, January 26, 2008, the Human Rights Foundation (with offices in New York) sent a letter to President Evo Morales Ayma expressing their concern for the violation of Human Rights in the New Constitution. The Human Rights Foundation underscored two areas in which violations of human rights were taken place: the violation of the rights to property and the violation of the rule of law in Indigenous communities who were taking law in their own hands. The first violation—the right to property–was a violation of the landowners rights, particularly in Santa Cruz. The Human Rights Foundation was taking a step in defense of landowner rights to keep their extensive masses of land. The second violation, was the indiscriminate application of “communal law,” the violating the “liberal state law” by actors implementing indigenous law. The first violation made of landowners, indirectly landowners in Santa Cruz, victims of human rights violations. In the second case, Indians were the perpetrators of human rights violation.

Vice Minister of Coordination with Social Movement and Civil Society, Sacha Sergio Llorenti Solis responded to the Human Rights Foundation. Now this letter is difficult to find on Google. It doesn’t matter how you do the search, you get the letters from the Human Rights Foundation to President Evo Morales and Vice Minister Sacha Llorenti, but not the letter from Sacha Llorenti. Thor Halvorssen replied and summarized some of the points made by Sacha Llorenti. There are indeed several versions of it on Google, including dramatic pictures in which civil society has been attacked by Indian mobs.

I have in front of me a hard copy of the official letter from Sacha Llorenti’s letter, dated January 28, 2008 (MPR-VICCORD. MS-SC N0015/09) addressed to Thor Halvorssen. And there is a summary in Spanish published by Agencia Boliviana de Información.

I have not found yet a similar expression of concern, by the Human Rights Foundation, of the attacks perpetrated by the civil society, in Sucre, against Indians and peasants. There is not much available information in English either. Indians and peasant injured are as dramatic as the picture of white victims shown in the letter from Human Rights Foundation posted on Google (shown in the previous paragraph). Documentation of civil society violence and violation of Indian and peasant human rights abound in Spanish. Here are some examples:

Several videos can be found in YouTube; and articles in Terra Magazine, as well as in Indymedia.

Sacha Llorenti’s letter to Halvorssen defended the democratic process in the writing of the New Constitution and focused on Human Rights concerns in the “indiscriminate” application of communal justice. The case invoked in the original letter by the Human Rights Foundation to President Evo Morales was the case of Benjamin Altamirano the Mayor of Ayo-Ayo, indigenous himself. The set of events that ended in his death are very complex and controversial. The Human Rights Foundation letter simplified the case to make it fit their own argument and interest.

The basic narrative is the following. The community of Ayo-Ayo accused Benjamin Altamirano of corruption and mistreatment, and they denounced to the State department of Justice. This was in 2004; much before Evo Morales became president. The year 2004 is quoted in the original letter from the Human Rights Foundation to President Evo Morales. The Bolivian President, at that time, was Carlos Mesa. The Bolivian court of justice followed suit after the accusations by the community and initiated a legal process. In the end, Altamirano was declared innocent. When returning to his community he was captured and assassinated. Anti-Indian prejudices, among Bolivians (mainly creoles and mestizos/as of the middle class) and main stream international press, made the quick assumption that the killing of Altamirano was an act of communitarian justice by the Ayllus (Indigenous socio-economic organization similar to oykos in ancient Greece), of Ayo-Ayo.

Jumping to the conclusion that Altamirano’s assassination was an act of communal justice, and not a crime, will be like linking the rhetoric and the acts of the KKK to the United States government. Saying that the government of the United States supports the rhetoric and the acts of the KKK is equivalent to saying that the government of Evo Morales, and Evo Morales himself, as an indigenous, supports un-ruled acts of violence. Since the reader has access only to the Human Rights Foundation reply to Sacha Llorenti, but not Sacha Llorenti himself, the reader is “forced” to believe in the summary presented both in the Spanish and in English.

The main point of contention is Sacha Llorenti’s charge, to the Human Rights Foundation, of lack of information and understanding of Bolivian history and social situation. Such charges are, in fact, common among experts in Indigenous laws in South America and in Spain. See, for instance, the report written by Bolívar Beltrán Gutierrez on the indigenous penal system in which, interestingly enough, Benjamin Altamirano’s case is referred.

In personal conversation with Aymara intellectual, Marcelo Fernández Osco author of La Ley del Ayllu, he stressed the unawareness from the side of the Human Rights Foundation that the Political Constitution of the Bolivian State is an obvious case of juridical coloniality, regulating the State according to the interests of a minority of European descent, and modeled after the spirit of the French Revolution; which is the case for all the Political Constitution of all Latin American States. The community of Ayo-Ayo is an obvious case of why the Political Constitution of the Bolivian State needed to be re-written in such a way that Liberal and Ayllu conceptions of the State and Democracy can co-exist in armony. The letters from the Human Rights Foundation made evident the lack of knowledge of the other side of the equation, the law of the Ayllu. The ranchers and land owners of the low lands, as well as the elite in Sucre, in accordance with the Political Constitution of the Bolivian State are violating, with their demand of autonomy and property rights, Indigenous human rights by disavowing the rights Indians communities have to live in armony with the land; not the land as property. The letter from the Human Rights Foundation is also mute about the slavery living conditions of many Indian families working under landowners rule.

2) The events in Sucre are not “directly” related to Altamirano’s case and Indigenous violations of human rights. They are indirectly related. The special rapporteur on human rights of Indigenous individuals and communities posted a strong sign of alert. In this case, it is the civil society of Sucre who is violating indigenous and peasant human rights. The international press is denouncing the outrageous barbarism perpetrated under the leadership of the “Band of Four” in the very civilized city of Sucre.

The events in Sucre are indeed signs of radical global changes. And the Human Rights Foundation’s misinterpretations are also evidence that the changes taking place are making obsolescence of entrenched ways of thinking and revealing how feelings and group interests taint our views of what constitute legal violation of human rights; who is violating property rights; and who is denouncing the violation of both as an superior, objective, and transcendent observer who is not tainted itself by its own subjective view of justice, law and property. Property rights violations, one of the concerns expressed in the letter from the Human Rights Foundation to Evo Morales, were not addressed in the letter by Sacha Llorenti. The issue should be brought into the picture because it is not unrelated to Altamirano’s case and to racist violence against Indian and peasants, in Sucre. The very day in which Santa Cruz province was voting on the referendum for its autonomy, the New York Times published a revealing article about a US citizen, named Larsen, a native of Montana, who bought land in Santa Cruz in 1969, and now he seats on an extension of about 350,000 acres.

The article is titled: “American rancher resists land reform plans in Bolivia”. Think of it. Imagine a science fiction world in which an article is published saying “Indigenous Bolivian resists tax reduction in the United States.” Now it so happens, according to the Human Rights Foundation’s interpretation, that the New Bolivian Constitution is violating property rights. That is, is violating Mr. Larsen’s rights to his property, which was acquired through “legal” procedures between the Bolivian government in 1969. These were turbulent years. Military controlled the state and although promised to maintain land reforms implemented by the revolution of 1952, there were obviously some loop-holes. Most likely Mr. Larsen benefited from them and was able to acquire the land.

At stake here is for Mr. Larsen and the Human Rights Foundation that land is a commodity and that it can be economically possessed. For Indigenous people that is not the case: land is not a commodity, and nature is not a passive entity that shall be dominated and exploited, as Sir Frances Bacon stated at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in his Novum Organum. The idea that land is property and that is that was imprinted in the literature of the conquest in the sixteenth century. Dominican legal-theological Francisco de Vitoria, a balanced mind comparable to today’s honest liberals, struggled to find a legal and moral way justifying Spaniards taking possession of Indian lands. He went through complicated but very compelling arguments, stating that just because Indians were unbelievers, unbelief was not a good reason to deny that Indians have rights to property. Vitoria finally found reasons to legitimize Spanish expropriation of land: Indians were not mature enough. A racist decision, enveloped in ethical language, stamped for even both that the idea that land property is a universal of the human species and that Indians are an inferior race of the human species.

The unprecedented situation in Santa Cruz and in Sucre, is that land owners and Mestizo State officers and members of the Civil Society, rebels against the government. The ethno-class that came to power, in all South America, gaining independence from Spain and Portugal, are resisting the coming into being of ethno-classes (peasants and indigenous), who have been dominated and exploited since the glorious days of Spanish independence. And Sucre was the city that witnessed the beginning of struggles for emancipation.

But there is still an issue that Vitoria took for granted and has been accepted since: that Vitoria’s Indians (indeed, people from Tawantinsuyu and Anáhuac), would have to accept their relation to land as that of property, as a commodity. It did not occur to Vitoria (and none of the Spanish missionaries from different religious order), to ask that question. If they would have asked and listened to the answer, they would have understood that property was not the way Vitoria’s Indians related to land and nature.

3) Sacha Llorenti is right in pointing out that members of the Human Rights Foundation who wrote the letter misunderstand (it would be more exact to say “ignored”) the other side of the coin: that there is an Indian rationality which is not compatible with the rationality manifested in the Human Rights Foundation’s letter. Sacha Llorenti did not address the question of property rights, but the same charge could be made, on this matter, to the short-sided and partial view of the Human Rights Foundation.

Indeed, one cannot but be surprised to an statement appearing in the Human Rights response to (paragraph #3 of the letter dated 31 de enero de 2008), to Sacha Llorenti. Thor Helvorssen (President) and Armando Valladares (Secretario General), who signed the letter, accused President Evo Morales of making public a false accusation against the Human Rights Foundation. Helvorssen and Valladares’ letter transcribe the following allegedly Morales’s statement, pronounced in Chanel 7 (a state managed TV channel):

“Esta ONG tiene una clara filiación derechista y entre sus miembros aprece el hijo de Vargas Llosa”

The counterargument is interesting to say the least. The first counterargument is to dispel the accusation that Vargas Llosa’s son (both, father and son are well known for their neo-liberal positions and harsh criticism to leftists as well as Indigenous movements in Latin America), is to say Nobel Prize Elie Wiesel is one of the member of the committee whom, the letter clarifies “was prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.” With all due respect to Mr. Elie Wiesel, who has nothing to do with the situation, one wonders to what extent having been prisoner in a concentration camp is a warranty for the statements and accusations made by the Human Rights Foundation (or by the signers Helvorssen and Valladares).

The second counterargument is more philosophical but equally questionable. The signers of the letter address the accusation that the Foundation is a right wing institution: “For the Human Rights Foundation, human rights are neither from left nor from right; as human rights they are just human rights and as such they shall be respected, protected and guaranteed by all and every democratic state in the world, with independence of the political ideology of their government” (translation into English mine, WM).

Who speaks indeed for “human” in human rights? The signers of the letter are apparently assuming that “human rights” are a transcendent entity, some kind of dive or natural law, and that the Foundation has direct access to them. As such, the Foundation arrogates to itself the transcendental power of the observer who observed without being observed. The Foundation really knows what “human rights” are and the “human rights” they know (such as the right to private property), shall be respected. The Foundation operates under the assumption of an epistemology without parenthesis: and objectivity of “human rights” that cannot be contested; that can only be obeyed.

The point I am trying to make is not to advocate in favor of President Evo Morales and Sacha Llorenti’s arguments. My point is that Evo Morales and Sacha Llorenti have a point and that the Human Rights Foundation is reluctant to hear. The Human Rights Foundation is not the proprietor of “human rights”, and since they are not, their role will be enhanced and more helpful if they step down from their role of observer from above and be more aware of what interests they are defending and representing. The fight for human rights is a noble cause in which we all should be involved.

And it is in such spirit that I am here writing.

An institution such as the Human Rights Foundation shall not assume that because it is a Foundation it has the right of property to human rights; and that it is an institution from where you can observe but cannot be observed–what Chilean scientist and intellectual Humberto Maturana calls “objectivity without parenthesis.”

Walter Mignolo


Anonymous said...

So how you like the fact that Evo has admited in a recent interview that he is a pedophile?

What kind of sicko wants to retire and spend the sunset of his life "growing coca, be with a 15yr old, and a charango"?

I find it really despicable that you would support this type of person. Someone who dreams of having sex with little children in his golden years is by far the most base of characters.

PS. The whole Sucre thing was not racist. As much as you try to muddy the waters with unrelated facts or events. The attack was POLITICALLY motivated against a group of people that were the advance patrol of an invading army (ponchos rojos) and having them get on their knees and ask for forgiveness is a far lighter punishment than the what the MAS supporters have done in La Paz, or Cochabamab were opposition supporters have been savagely beaten or killed for simply speaking against the govermnet. These people wanted to KILL the sucrense, so if anything we should applaud their restraint.

Restraint was also shown by the oil sindicate, lest we forget how the cocalero syndicate reacts when the government tries to cut their production.

Bolivia needs to change, but this is change for the worse, and we do not need a pedophile in charge of leading the change.

Rebelde said...

By seeing your brainless comments here I can judge you are the self-centered BL that plays the 'democracy fighter' and fools around crying out your worst nightmares as if they are the dreams the rest of Bolivians have. Disgusting!

Anonymous said...

You quote 350,000 acres, but the article you link to says:
At stake is the 37,000-acre Caraparicito ranch, which Mr. Larsen bought in 1969 for $55,000, and other holdings of more than 104,000 acres, the government estimates.

In todays' dollars that equals $320,000

Considering he had to clear the land, the roads were almost non existent (in the center of Santa Cruz back then a rain would turn the streets to mud.) Its not as if he go the land for nothing.

The paper also states that he divided the land among his sons so how much of a case does the government really have here? I dont know the man personally, but after whats been said about Branko Marinkovic's family I wonder if Morales is manufacturing the whole thing.

Eduardo Saucedo Justiniano said...

Lol, what happened Rebelde, no arguments about the pedophile comments? Or do you agree with Evo? Or what about the fascists comments were he acknowledges that "politics come firts, then the law is accomodated to politics."

We are hoping for some answers... Is this what Bolivia is changing for??

This is our President my friend...


Did you know that Ego Ipse is soon posting an entire post dedicated to me on his blog?? I am soo honored, i wanted to share it with you, he finally came out of the closet!!!

Cheers and

AutoSImic greetings my friend!!

Unknown said...

So good......

Wiraqocha Yupanqui said...

No rebelde, I wasn’t me; don’t worry, soon I will comment about the post, man you have some serious democracy fighter persecution dreams. I will like for you to comment on the pedophile issue do. I am not really that sure where that comes from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Evo likes them tender; it’s a common fitches issue among peasant community leaders.

Anonymous said...

Levantemos la Enseña Sagrada
De la tierra de Ñuflo de Chaves,
con la límpida frente elevada
a la altura gloriosa del sol.

Hoy juremos de pie, desafiantes,
preservarla sin mancha ni afrenta,
y vivir a su sombra triunfantes,
o morir defendiendo su honor.

Desplegada al cielo,
verde, blanco y verde
brille nuestro suelo
con su resplandor.

Arriba, cruceños
hagamos historia
el excelso sueño
de un mundo mejor.

Antigonum Cajan said...

Do we need this loooonngggg article to start a discussion on such a lame subject?
At any rate I came to check this out since you have/had some sort of hilarious/bitter debate with a Tamarind fellow, regarding the white exploiters from Santa Cruz, Bolivia I just dropped by to lay my rock of salt in your blog.
I believe I should start a blog in English. I feel more speedy at the key board. For those of you, bilingual, check:
an abrasive critique to the pendejismopaisajista in Puerto Rico, USA. Your comments abrasive, informative or not are welcome.

Anonymous said...

Periodista de USA presenta pruebas de la injerencia de su país (USA) en Bolivia

■ Los textos señalan que desde los años 90 Evo Morales es visto por Washington como una amenaza

■ Líderes indígenas, en reuniones de trabajo del embajador estadunidense para tratar temas nacionales

Ampliar la imagen Activistas por la autonomía de Santa Cruz se manifiestan contra el gobierno boliviano y la Carta Magna aprobada por la Asamblea Constituyente Activistas por la autonomía de Santa Cruz se manifiestan contra el gobierno boliviano y la Carta Magna aprobada por la Asamblea Constituyente Foto: Reuters

La Paz, 11 de octubre. Documentos desclasificados del Departamento de Estado estadunidense y copias de correos electrónicos cursados entre personal de la Agencia para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID) en Bolivia, presentó hoy el periodista estadunidense Jeremy Bigwood como una “prueba clara” de que Washington, a través de varias entidades, “ha estado y continúa conspirando contra el gobierno” del presidente Evo Morales.

En rueda de prensa, el reportero presentó seis documentos obtenidos mediante la Ley para la Libertad de Información de su país, que demuestran “el intervencionismo alarmante” de Washington en Bolivia mediante la USAID y el Fondo Nacional para la Democracia (NED, por sus siglas en inglés).

Aseveró asimismo que desde principios de los años 90, el gobierno de su país ha visto al entonces dirigente cocalero “como una amenaza para los planes de Estados Unidos en el hemisferio”.

Entre los documentos presentados por Bigwood se encuentran correos electrónicos cruzados entre el 12 y el 14 de febrero de 2007 por personal de la USAID en Bolivia, para organizar un almuerzo del embajador Philip Goldberg –expulsado del país en septiembre pasado– con dirigentes indígenas, con quienes trataría problemas que enfrentan con sus territorios.

En el intercambio de notas se mencionan los nombres de algunos caciques de organizaciones indígenas del oriente boliviano, algunos de los cuales son señalados como “aliados nuestros”.

Los documentos desclasificados que presentó el periodista corresponden a los años 2001, 2002, 2004 y 2006.

En uno de los textos, la embajada señala que un proyecto de reforma de los partidos políticos en Bolivia, preparado por la USAID, debería “servir como un contrapeso al radical MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) o sus sucesores”.

Otro muestra que el NED financió a la Cámara de Comercio de Santa Cruz, lo que muestra, dijo Bigwood, “una relación histórica” entre instituciones estadunidenses y opositores cruceños.

Documentación de 2006 del Instituto Nacional Democrático y de USAID muestra que ambos trabajan para promover eventos centrados en la autonomía regional y la descentralización.

Rosa Rojas (Corresponsal)

(Jeremy Bigwood See telephone numbers for interviews.)

Tel: Saturday in La Paz: 73049561 Monday in US: 202-319-9150

- Pablo -

Percy Herbas Choquehuanca said...

Lindito poliglota callawaya ipsito:

Me enteradito que mi hermanito siames te está difamando bien jodido:

¿porque no le pagas algun cursito de fotografia digital?, ahh me olvidaba tu silencio acerca de mi concursazo para elegir a la bloguera boliviana mas sexy esta siendo bien grave puis, ¿acaso a los callawayas intelectuales no les gustan las sexyrulas?, propon nomas algunita durita para el concursito yaaaa???????

Anonymous said...

eres pedofilo? ciudadano k tambien? deberian hacer un club.

Anonymous said...

desde lejos se entiende el panorama de siempre si la CIA sponzoriza Dalai Lama porque no derrotaria al etnico santo.
Give him some time this Bolivia is like paraguay...
do not expect multiparty democracy in aymara to be alive from sine che was killed
I believe Evo since he put Luzmilla Carpio ambassador in Paris so and the white loosers there is a time to come and there is a time to go viva bolivia

Anonymous said...

Lies lies and lies posted by the first anonymous pedophile coward.

The Ponchos Rojos went to Sucre in 2007 to support the acceptance of the new Constitution, the right-wing conspirators used radio and local TV to instigate violence among Bolivians, they told Ponchos Rojos where armed and ready to kill which was false, the sucretinos (mob) got all exited and started to persecute to constituents (government officials that were working writing the new constitution) and they got refugee in an army base and the police protected those people from the mob. 3 people were killed the police denies any responsibility but the sucretinos blame them.

In May 24 of this year 2008 a group of peasants from Chuquisaca went to get ambulances from government donation, they meet in Sucre the capital of Chuquisaca as they had their meeting the racist mob attacked and 50 peasants were kidnapped and later taken to the main plaza half naked and badly beaten were forced to kiss Sucre's flag and curse Morales, the peasants were not Ponchos Rojos.

If totally false that MASISTAS killed people from the opposition in La Paz. In Cochabamba 3 peasants where killed by the HIJITOS DE PAPI.

Things are really changing in Bolivia, the poor peasants are in charge now and the corrupt narco elites are mad and will LIE or kill like they did in Pando this time 17 peasants where killed by those cowards.


Jallalla Evo Morales.

~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu reading your blog

~PakKaramu~ said...


~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu readin g your blog

Cristian Gomez said...


Evo go Home!!!!!!!!GO TO CHAPARE

Anonymous said...

The Human Rights Commission has already found the gringos and their "pets" guilty of human rights violations in Bolivia.

Its about time Bolivia became a real democracy and threw away minority rule.

Imagine a place where the minority rules instead of the majority thus keeping a country third world for over a century.

If the minority doesn't like the majority of people in a country, why not simply go back to where they came from?

Antigonum Cajan said...

Sorry this was two long, please visit my blog, take a look not at the quality of writing but the lenght.
I was worn out after three parragraphs.

Que viva Hugo Chaves! Perdon, Evo Morales....

august said...

hi! i have a question and would be very happy if someone could ask me:

i wonder how the program for financial aid for families who keeps their children in school functions? is it like the very successfull bolsa familia in brazil?

who started this program? evo morales?

/august, sweden

august said...

*answer me