By Ruth Conniff
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On January 22, 2002, Evo was expelled from Paradise.
Or rather: Deputy Morales was thrown out of Parliament.
On January 22, 2006, in the same grand chamber, Evo Morales was sworn in as the president of Bolivia.
Or rather: Bolivia is beginning to realize that it is a country with an indigenous majority.
At the time of Evo’s expulsion, an Indian deputy was rarer than a green dog.
Not so four years later: Today there are many legislators who chew coca leaves, an age-old custom once prohibited in the sacred halls of parliament.
Long before the expulsion of Evo, his people, the indigenous, had been expelled from the official nation.
They were not sons of Bolivia; they were merely its labor force. Until just over fifty years ago, the Indians could neither vote nor walk on the sidewalk in cities.
It was with good reason that Evo said in his first presidential address that the Indians were not invited to the foundation of Bolivia, in 1825.
The same holds true for the rest of the Americas, as well—the United States included. Our nations were born lies. From the beginning, a minuscule minority usurped the independence of the countries of the Americas, leaving out of their constitutions women, Indians, blacks, and the poor.
The election of Evo Morales is, at least in this sense, the equivalent of the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile. Evo and Eva. For the first time, Bolivia has an indigenous president, and Chile a woman president. And similarly Brazil has its first black minister of culture. After all, doesn’t the culture that has saved Brazil from sadness have roots in Africa?
In these lands, sick with racism and machismo, there will be some who see all of this as downright scandalous.
But what is scandalous is that it didn’t happen sooner.
The mask comes off, the face appears, and the torment rages.
The only language worthy of faith is that born of the necessity of speaking. Evo’s most serious flaw is that the people believe him, because he radiates authenticity even when speaking in Spanish, which is not his mother tongue, so he makes an error here and there.
The Ph.D.’s, who flaunt their mastery of echoing distant voices, accuse him of ignorance. Peddlers of promises accuse him of demagoguery. Those in the Americas who trumpet one God, one king, and one truth accuse him of being a tyrant.
Bolivia seemed to be no more than the pseudonym of those who ruled the country, and sucked it dry as they sang its anthem. The humiliation of the Indians, transformed into a custom, seemed to be fated.
But in recent times, months, years, this country has experienced a period of popular insurrection.
This process of continuous uprisings, which has left a trail of dead, culminated with the Gas War, but went much further back.
In the case of Bolivia’s gas, an ancient tale was being acted out again: the plundering of the country’s treasures, which has continued for more than 400 years, from the middle of the sixteenth century.
Where the silver of Potosi once lay, a hollow mountain stands; along the Pacific coast where saltpeter was found, all that remained was a map without a sea; and where the tin of Oruro had been, all that was left was widows.
This, and this alone, they left behind.
The uprisings of recent years were riddled with gunshots, but they succeeded in preventing Bolivia’s gas from ending up in foreign hands, and in blocking the privatization of water in Cochabamba and La Paz. They toppled governments ruled from abroad, and said no to payroll taxes and other edicts issued by the International Monetary Fund.
From the point of view of the civilized media, these explosions of popular dignity were acts of barbarism. A thousand times I must have read or seen or heard that Bolivia is an ungovernable, incomprehensible, intractable, unviable country. The journalists who repeat this are wrong: They should confess that Bolivia is, for them, an invisible country.
There is nothing unusual about it, and this blindness is not only a bad habit of arrogant foreigners.
Bolivia was born blind to itself because racism clouded its vision, and there is no lack of Bolivians who prefer to see themselves with eyes that scorn.
But it will not be for nothing that the indigenous flag of the Andes pays homage to the diversity of the world.
According to tradition, the flag was born of the encounter between the female and the male rainbow. And this rainbow of the Earth, which in the native language means “woven of rippling blood,” has more colors than the rainbow of the sky.
Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer and journalist, is author of “Open Veins of Latin America” and “Memory of Fire.” His most recent book is “Upside Down.” This article is published with permission of IPS Columnist Service.