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American Indian Movement of Colorado

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Sunday, July 18, 2004

referendum in Bolivia

In addition to posting news about Indigenous Peoples in North America specifically, we will also post information about Indigenous Peoples generally.
Colorado AIM has always recognized the similar nature of the struggles of Indigenous Peoples around the world. Our members have traveled to their homelands  in acts of solidarity and support. What we have learned is that one small supportive act we can engage in is to publicize the struggle of Indigenous Peoples who’s efforts are marginalized in the media.  As American Indians, our homelands are located in the belly of the beast and we feel a certain responsibility to turn that into an advantage by utilizing our position to call attention to other Indigenous Struggles. 
Today the Government of Bolivia will hold a referendum that includes 5 questions. The purpose of the referendum is to determine how the county’s natural gas reserves should be used.  Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserve in South America. If the voters answer “yes” to the 5 question in the referendum, that would nationalize the gas reserves, giving the Bolivian State owned Company control of the gas reserves.
The point of contention for the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia is that there is no question on the referendum that would allow the citizens of Bolivia to determine how the Bolivian Government would utilize the gas reserves. The concern is that the Bolivian government would continue to exploit the resources by selling them to foreign companies & governments,  while the people of Bolivia would neither benefit from the royalties nor the actual energy of their natural gas reserves.
In most states,  the government simply ignores the concerns of the Indigenous Peoples but this is a risky option to pursue for the  Bolivian government . Indigenous Peoples make up roughly 60% of the country’s population. They now control a third of the 157 seat Congress. They also are in control of mayoral seats and key leadership positions in 200 of Bolivia’s 315 municipalities.  Their protests also forced the resignation of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada last year.
Says a Bolivian Government official
We go to a crime scene but the people tell us we will be lynched," said Marco Antonio Nina, a government investigator who has been unable to investigate the murder of a mayor and other crimes in isolated villages. "People see you, and see the white face, and they do not want to let you in.''
 "They have become even more radical and they seem more open to resorting to violent acts," Ricardo Calla, the indigenous affairs minister, said of Aymara groups in the highlands east of the capital. "You cannot underestimate its presence and how it is passing down to lowland regions."  
"Each community is like a semi-state: they regulate water, their internal conflicts, their politics," said Álvaro García, a sociologist who is close to Indian leaders. The state, he said, "has not been completely expelled, but there is semiautonomy."
In schools and town offices in the highlands, the posters of past presidents or Independence-era generals have been replaced by those of Túpac Katari, who led a insurrection against the Spanish in 1781. Local councils have banned officials from the state or central governments. Prospective investors with mining companies have been chased out. full article

One of the Aymaran’s spearheading this resurgence in Indigenous Resistance is Felipe Quispe. 
"If (the government) doesn't understand us, we could even be obliged to take up arms," Felipe Quispe, a former guerrilla who is one of Bolivia's most well-known Indian leaders, said on Friday, just days before a natural gas referendum on Sunday that the government must win to survive.
"The strikes, the marches, are getting worn out. We may have to opt for another form of battle," said the 62-year-old Quispe, an mobile-phone carrying Amyara Indian wearing a cowboy-style hat, denim shirt and leather jacket.
Quispe spent five years in prison in the 1990s for leading a group of guerrillas that tried to blow up power pylons. He named the rebels after Tupac Katari, an Indian who laid siege to Spanish colonists in La Paz and forced settlers to survive by eating rats. Around his office lie paintings of Inca leaders killed in battles against the Spanish empire.
"We have sacrificed so much, the dead and wounded. These were all Indigenous people, not mixed bloods or whites," said the man known as "Mallku", the Aymara Indian word for chief. Quispe wants Bolivia to revert back to "Ayllu", a basic form of Indian community self-rule since Inca times. He calls Mea a "bearded conquistador." "In many villages, inhabitants have expelled the police. There is now a parallel power," he said full article

Quispe is one of many Aymaran’s who are either advocating a boycott of the referendum or confiscating and burning of the ballots. The referendum takes place today.


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