The Nights of the Long Knives

Image Elyeser Szturm

To repress and kill Indians, the Bolivian Army dispensed with decrees, it was enough to obey what racial and class hatred ordered. In five days, there are already more than 18 dead and 120 wounded by bullets; all indigenous

By Álvaro García Linera*

Like a thick nocturnal fog, hatred ferociously roams the neighborhoods of Bolivia's traditional urban middle classes. His eyes brim with anger. They don't scream, they spit; they don't claim, they impose. Their songs are not about hope or brotherhood, they are about contempt and discrimination against the Indians. They mount their motorbikes, get on their pickup trucks, join their carnival fraternities and private universities and go hunting for insurgent Indians who have dared to seize power from them.

In the case of Santa Cruz, they organize 4×4 motorized hordes with clubs in hand to terrorize the Indians, who are called collars and who live in the periphery and in the markets. Sing refrains about the need to kill collars, and if some woman from skirt They beat her up, threaten her and expel her from their territory. In Cochabamba, they organize convoys to impose racial supremacy in the southern zone, where the needy classes live, and attack, as if it were a cavalry detachment, against thousands of defenseless peasant women who march asking for peace. They carry baseball bats, chains, gas grenades, some display firearms. The woman is their favorite victim, they grab the mayor of a peasant town, humiliate her, drag her down the street, beat her, urinate on her when she falls to the ground, cut her hair, threaten to lynch her and, when they realize that are filmed, they decide to throw red paint on him, symbolizing what they will do with his blood.

In La Paz, they are suspicious of their maids and don't speak up when they bring food to the table. Deep down, they fear them, but they also despise them. Later, they take to the streets screaming, insulting Evo and in him all these Indians who dared to build an intercultural democracy with equality. When there are many drag the wiphala, the indigenous flag, they spit on it, step on it, cut it, burn it. It is a visceral rage that is unleashed on this symbol of the Indians, a symbol that they wanted to extinguish from the face of the earth along with all those who recognize themselves in it.

Racial hatred is the political language of this traditional middle class. Your academic titles, travels and faith are of no use; because in the end everything dissolves in front of the ancestors. Deep down, the imagined ancestry is stronger and seems glued to the spontaneous language of the skin it hates, the visceral gestures and its corrupted morals.

Everything exploded on Sunday, October 20, when Evo Morales won the elections with more than 10 points of difference over the second, however without the immense advantage of before, nor with 51% of the votes. It was the signal that the hidden regressive forces were waiting for, from the fearful liberal opposition candidate, the ultraconservative political forces, the OAS and the ineffable traditional middle class.

Evo had won again, but he no longer had 60% of the electorate, so he was weaker and they had to go after him. The loser did not recognize his defeat. The OAS spoke of clean elections, but of a meager victory, and asked for a second round, advising against the constitution which states that, if a candidate has more than 40% of the votes and more than 10 points of difference over the second, it is the elected candidate.

And the middle class went hunting for the Indians. On the night of Monday, October 21, five of the nine electoral bodies, including ballot papers, were burned. The city of Santa Cruz decreed a civic parade, which brought together the inhabitants of the central areas of the city, branching out to the residential areas of La Paz and Cochabamba. And so the terror was unleashed.

Paramilitary groups began to harass institutions, burn union headquarters, set fire to the homes of candidates and political leaders of the ruling party. In the end, even the president's own private domicile would be ransacked. In other places, families, including children, were abducted and threatened with being flogged and burned if their minister father or union leader did not resign. An extensive night of long knives was unleashed and fascism tickled the ears.

When the popular forces mobilized to resist this civil coup began to regain territorial control of the cities with the presence of workers, miners, peasants, indigenous people and urban settlers and the balance of the correlation of forces was leaning towards the popular forces , came the police riot.

The policemen had for weeks shown indolence and ineptitude in protecting the humble people when they were attacked and persecuted by fascist mobs. However, as of October 25th, with the civilian command not knowing, many of them would show an extraordinary ability to attack, detain, torture and kill popular demonstrators. Of course, before it had to contain the children of the middle class, and supposedly they didn't have the capacity, now that it was a question of repressing rebellious Indians, the implantation, the arrogance and the repressive rage were monumental.

The same happened with the Armed Forces. During our entire tenure in government, we never allowed them to go out to repress civil demonstrations, not even during the first civic coup d'état in 2008. Now, in the midst of upheaval and without anyone asking anything, they said they didn't have anti-riot elements, that they only had 8 bullets per member and that to be present in the street in a dissuasive way a presidential decree was required.

However, they did not hesitate to ask President Evo to resign, breaking the constitutional order. They did their best to try to kidnap him as he was on his way and he was in the plate [province of the department of Cochabamba]; and, when the coup was consummated, they took to the streets firing thousands of bullets, militarizing the cities, murdering peasants. All without presidential decree. Of course, to protect the Indian, a decree was required. To repress and kill Indians, it was only necessary to obey what racial and class hatred ordered. In five days, there are already more than 18 dead and 120 wounded by bullets; by all means, all indigenous.

The question we all must answer is how could this traditional middle class instill so much hatred and resentment in the people, leading them to embrace a racialized fascism, centered on the Indian as an enemy? How did you manage to radiate your class frustrations in the police and in the Armed Forces and be the social base of this fascistization, of this state regression and moral degeneration?

It was the rejection of equality, that is, the rejection of the very foundations of a substantial democracy. In the 14 years of government, social movements had as their main characteristic the process of social leveling, an abrupt reduction in extreme poverty (from 38 to 15%), expansion of rights for all (universal access to health, education and social protection) , Indianization of the State (more than 50% of public administration employees have an indigenous identity, a new national narrative around the indigenous stock), reduction of economic inequalities (a drop from 130 to 45% in the difference in income between the richest and poorest ), that is, the systematic democratization of wealth, access to public goods, opportunities and state power.

The economy grew from 9 billion dollars to 42 billion dollars, the internal market and savings expanded, which made it possible for many people to own their own home and improve their work activity. This allowed the percentage of people in the so-called middle class, measured in terms of income, to rise from 35% to 60% in a decade, the majority coming from popular, indigenous sectors.

It is a process of democratization of social goods through the construction of material equality, but which inevitably led to a rapid devaluation of economic, educational and political capital owned by the traditional middle classes. If before a notable surname, or the monopoly of legitimate knowledge, or the set of kinship ties typical of the traditional middle classes allowed them to access public administration posts, obtain credits, bids for works or scholarships, today the number of people who competing for the same position or opportunity not only doubled, reducing by half the possibilities of accessing these goods; in addition, the upstarts, the new middle class of popular indigenous origin, has a set of new capital (indigenous language, union ties) of greater value and state recognition to fight for the available public goods.

It is, therefore, the collapse of what was characteristic of colonial society: “ethnicity” as capital, that is, the imagined foundation of the historical superiority of the middle class over subordinate classes, because here in Bolivia the social class is only comprehensible and becomes visible in the form of racial hierarchies. That the children of this middle class were the shock troops of the reactionary insurgency is the violent cry of a new generation that sees how the inheritance of the surname and the skin fades before the force of the democratization of goods.

Although they wave flags of democracy understood as voting, they actually rebelled against democracy understood as equality and distribution of wealth. Due to this, the excess of hatred, the excessive use of violence, because racial supremacy is something irrational; one lives as the body's primary impulse, as a tattoo of colonial history on the skin. Hence, fascism is not only the expression of a failed revolution, but, paradoxically, also in postcolonial societies, the success of an achieved material democratization.

Therefore, it is not surprising that, while the Indians collect the bodies of about twenty people killed by gunfire, their material and moral murderers narrate that they did so to safeguard democracy. But, in fact, they know that what they did was to protect the privilege of caste and surname.

However, racial hatred only destroys. It is not a horizon, it is nothing more than a primitive revenge of a historically and morally decadent class that demonstrates that, behind every mediocre liberal, an experienced coup plotter hides.

*Alvaro Garcia Linera is vice president of Bolivia in exile.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

See this link for all articles