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  • Bolivia: Manifesto of Tiawanaku

    Since the early 1970s South American indigenous nations began to analyse the history of their oppression and to formulate political demands on an unprecedented scale. Nowhere in the world was the process of conscientisation more explosive, invigorating (and, perhaps, confusing) than in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Declaration followed Declaration at head-spinning speed. regional groups proliferated, and, for a few years at least, inter-organisational conflicts were subjugated to the struggle against military dictatorship. 

    One of the first seminal statements was the Manifesto of Tiawanaku, drawn up by four major Indian/campesino organisations in La Paz, Bolivia, on 30 July 1973. Membership of these organisations was largely confined to Aymara-speakers, who emigrated to the capital following the 1952 revolution, forming cultural centres as well as political parties. This movement has since been dubbed the Katarista, Tupac Katari being the legendary Indian leader whose name was taken by MITK'a (Movimiento Indio Tupac Katari) in a proclamation following the massacre of campesinos by the Banzer regime, at Tolata in January 1974. 

    In the Tiawanaku Manifesto are to be found elements of similar declarations made later by Bolivian Indians: the assertion that the peasants are Indians and the economic powerhouse of the "nation"; acknowledgement of a debt to left-wing political parties, tempered by scepticism that their leadership has the interests of Indians at heart; a recognition of the role of modern technology, medicine and education in indigenous communities (the clock cannot be turned back, but it must be set at a human pace); above all, the demand for control over their own cultural institutions."

    "A liberating peasant policy": Manifesto of Tiawanaku


    "A nation which oppresses another nation cannot be free," the Inca Yupanqui told the Spaniards. We, Quechua and Aymara peasants, together with the people of other indigenous cultures in this country, say the same. We feel exploited economically and oppressed both culturally and politically.

    In Bolivia there has been no cultural integration, but rather a superimposition and domination that have made us remain in the lowest and most exploited stratum of the pyramid. Bolivia is going and has gone through terrible frustrations. One of these, perhaps the most widely felt of all, is the lack of real participation of Quechua and Aymara peasants in the economic, political and social life of the country. We think that without radical change in this aspect it will be absolutely impossible to create national unity and a balanced and dynamic economic development which could be proper and suited for our reality and needs.

    Bolivia is entering a new stage in her political life, one of its outstanding features being the awakening of a peasant consciousness. Now that we are approaching another preelection period we are again going to see professional politicians addressing themselves to the peasants in order to woo them for their votes, and once again they do so with deceptions and by giving false promises. Our peasantry should have real political participation and not a fictitious one. No party be able to build up this country on fraud and on the exploitation of the peasants. Being peasants ourselves and far from any motivation derived from party politics, we only care for the liberation of our people and wish to express in this document the thoughts that we find are essential regarding the economic, political and social set-up of this country.

    Our Culture is of Fundamental Value

    A real social process is founded on a cultural basis because this is the deepest value of a community. Our national frustration has its origin in the fact that the Quechua and Aymara cultures have constantly been subjected to systematic attempts at destroying them. The politicians of the ruling minorities have wanted to create development exclusively based on a slavish imitation of development in other countries even though our cultural resources and traditions are totally different. Moreover, guided by a practical materialism they have come to believe that progress is exclusively based on the economic sides of life.

    We peasants want economic development but starting from our own values. We do not want to lose the noble virtues inherited from our ancestors in honour of pseudo-development. We fear this false development concept imported from abroad because it is fictitious and does not take our deepest values into consideration. We want the stale paternalist attitudes to be left behind and no longer to be treated as second class citizens. We are foreigners in our own country.

    No respect has been shown for our virtues nor for our own ideas about life and the world. School education, party politics and technical assistance have no helped bring about any significant change in the rural areas. No peasant participation has been achieved because their culture has been disregarded and their mentality has not been understood. We peasants are convinced that there will be no development in the rural areas and in the whole country until we ourselves become responsible for our progress and masters of our destiny.

    Due to its methods, curriculum, and language, rural education has no part in our cultural reality. Not only does it seek to turn Indians into some kind of mestizos without a clear identity or personality but it also strives to assimilate them to Western capitalist culture. Rural development projects are planned within a framework of individualism despite the fact that our history is essentially marked by communal spirit and ownership. The co-operative system is inherent in the people who created modes of production based on mutual aid, such as the Ayni, MIN'A, Yapanaco, Camayo, etc. Private property, political sectarianism, individualism, class distinction and internal fights came to us together with the "Reforma" and have got worse under the regimes of the Republic. Our Land Reform was also conceived within this framework.

    Economic and political power is the basis of cultural liberation. We must modernize our traditional system and adapt it to technology, but we will under no circumstances break off from it. All attempts at europeanizing or " americanizing" us, for example in the way it has been tried through education and politics, are doomed to fail like the previous ones. Any political movement that really intends to liberate the peasants must organize itself according to a scheme which takes our cultural values into consideration. An Indian is noble; he has a sense of justice; he is moderate and respectful, hardworking and deeply religious. But this great treasure which the Indian soul possesses has never been understood nor respected. The policies of the colonial period and the different governments of the Republic have been notably destructive, causing some of us to adopt serious faults of corrupt and corrupting party politicians. We have been treated as platforms and stepping-stones for others to fight out their worst passions and vilest ambitions. We are no longer willing to follow this road of subjugation and corruption. The disastrous results of it are clear for everyone to see. Those Indians who no longer want to be Indians owing to bad education and false party politics, have adopted the worst faults of other races and have made themselves new exploiters of their own brothers and sisters. We call on them fraternally to unite with us in a movement for our rights and our culture and to all work together for the economic and political liberation of our people.

    Our governments, politicians, economists and educators should all realize that the so-called "promotion" of Aymara and Quechua peasants has been a complete failure because the methods applied have been wrong. In this document we will endeavour to outline the general features of a liberating peasant policy.

    Our history speaks

    Before the Spanish conquest our people had an age-long history with virtues that evolved within a highly socialized structure. The colonial rulers neither bothered to respect nor recognize our culture, which instead was crushed and subdued.  Independence brought no liberty for the Indians; on the contrary, it came about under liberalist principles which meant that Indians were considered and treated as a passive social element only fit for being used in the constant wars as cannon or the Indians the Republic was simply a new way of labeling the fodder. For policies of the ruling cliques. Indian liberation in the shape of Tupac Katari and his freedom fighters was laid into irons. Belazu's indigenist policy gave rise to a short upsurge of hope in the peasant masses, but among Indians life was to continue dragging itself along under ignominy, exploitation and contempt. Busch and Villarroel wanted to do something to change this state of affairs but were kept from doing anything by the reactionary handful of ruling families in the country. With the Revolution of April 9 two great liberating laws arrived: land reform and universal suffrage. The Land Reform Act enabled us Indians to liberate ourselves from the dreadful yoke of the landowners. It is a pity that this Act has not had all the positive effects that it was hoped to bring, the reason for this being that it was excessively individualist in its scope, and also because certain rightwing groups within the MNR were responsible for this Act's not being implemented, together with other Acts favouring investment, technical modernization and marketing of agricultural products. Universal suffrage should not exclude the participation of the organizations of indigenous communities in the political life of the country. It is also regrettable that it often has caused our own politicians to feel a boundless appetite for power. For this reason suffrage for the Indians has not brought about any liberation but only new forms of fraud and exploitation. When politicians of the old style approach the peasants they do not want to be of any use to them but only to make use of them. Some bad peasants have betrayed our history and our people by introducing these corrupt ways of party politics into our peasant union movement. By their double-faced conduct and degraded servility they have strained our name and our ancestral traditions. We must humbly recognize this, generously forgive and carefully learn from the experience. The important thing is to take again the road of nobleness which our forefathers showed us.

    Likewise, we give no credit to the harangues of the self-proclaimed left-wing parties which cannot see that the peasants should be given responsibility for their own life. In order to become an instrument of liberation for the peasants a political organization must be created, run and supported by us. Our political organizations should reflect our values and our real interests.


    Despite the fact that we, the peasants, produce 78% of our gross national product, we receive only 34% of the national income; at the same time the 1.7% which is made up by the major capital owners of this country receives 21 % of the national income. It is a fact that Bolivia is one of the countries with the lowest per capita income in the world since it only just amounts to US$ 120 per inhabitant per year, and even so the majority of our peasants can scarcely organise US$ 50 per year. Our diet is one of the poorest in the world in terms of vitamin content. The mortality rate in our communities is as high today as it was 50 years ago. Our economy is a subsistence economy. We work exclusively to stay alive and in many cases we do not even achieve that.

    However, nobody can claim that our peasants do not work. The farming policies of our different governments have been most unfortunate. We are totally abandoned to our fate. The country spends over US$ 20 million on importing agricultural produce from abroad even though we could produce it all ourselves. They prefer to pay foreign farmers instead of paying our own peasants. Whenever bank credits for farming have been given, the only beneficiaries have been the new landowners and the rich few who invest in cotton, sugar cane and cattle breeding.

    Following the devaluation of our currency ordained by the government last October, our wretched economy has seriously deteriorated. Nobody has given the peasants a thought. Workers living in the cities, school-teachers, public servants, etc., have all received their family bonus and a higher salary. Being real outcasts in our society, the peasants have not received the slightest compensation nor any small incentive whatsoever. Those of us who sell farm produce retail have only seen a negligible. increase in prices over the years. This increase in no way makes up for the transport costs which have gone up 40%. Whereas the things we buy - sugar, noodles, rice, agricultural implements, chemical fertilizers - have gone up 30-80%, the things we sell have only slightly improved their price level; moreover, there is a total lack of price control in the rural areas. In such an uncontrolled situation it is always the peasants who are the losers since they are the weakest group. This injustice cannot drag on any longer.

    What we propose in order to improve this situation is no further paternalist intervention by the government nor by well-meaning individuals. We believe that the only solution is to be found in authentic peasant organizations. The disparity of prices between the rural products which we sell and the goods we have to buy in the towns is a result of the power relations. Peasants are weak because they do not stand united, nor organized, nor mobilized. Our present departmental and national organizations do not properly safeguard the peasantry's interests.

    Political Parties and the Peasantry

    The peasantry of Bolivia has never really been affiliated to any political party because none has represented its true interests nor have they proceeded out of inspiration from its cultural values. However, we must recognize that the MNR more than any other party has represented peasant interests by introducing land reform bills and universal suffrage. The MNR was the first party ever to be sensitive enough to become an instrument for peasant liberation, but all this was brought to a standstill because reactionary, rightist elements without any social sensitivity penetrated into the ranks of this party and managed to stop our ongoing liberation process.

    Neither the MNR of today nor the partisans of Barrientos, nor the traditional left-wing parties, have any peasant roots. When peasants have voted for them it is because they had no alternative, because we have had no party of our own. These parties have utilized the peasant vote as a means for reaching power and remaining in it. For the sake of attaining a balance of interests and representation, peasants should have their own party to represent their social, cultural and economic interests. This will be the only way to achieve a real and positive political participation and the only manner to make possible an authentic and all-embracing development of rural areas. It is a grave mistake to think that economic and political progress in Bolivia will be possible without the direct participation of the peasantry. The peasants have been a passive political force because they have always been encouraged to remain in total passivity. Politically speaking, the peasantry is what our politicians have wanted it to be: nothing but a stepping-stone to be used for their own ambitions. It will only start to move when it is free to act as an autonomous, aboriginal force. Within the economic, political and cultural framework of our country it is impossible for the peasants to gain true political participation because they are always left out. The Armed Forces of our nation are basically composed of peasants and hence they should also reflect this fact in their culture and ideas.

    The Peasant Union Movement

    Notwithstanding that the peasant union movement at grass-roots level and in many provincial organizations is an authentically representative peasant organization, at departmental and national level it has been exploited more than once for the benefit of interests that have nothing at all to do with our class. All the faults of urban party politics have spread to rural areas thanks to pseudoleaders who act as self-proclaimed representatives of our people. They have been and still are corrupters of our people. They are the ones who have sown sectarianism, political intrigues, nepotism, economic and moral corruption, personal ambition, hatred within families, false rule by military strongmen and lack of real representation all over the rural areas. Perhaps nothing, however, has been so harmful to us as paternalism, ingenuously hoping for solutions to come from outside and from above. The development of this country, especially of the rural districts, has got to be brought about by ourselves, by the peasantry. Politically speaking we have mostly been treated like children, and governments and bad leaders have always tried to make the things which we had a right to obtain look like "gifts" or "charity."

    For our limpid Inca history it is disgraceful that our alienated peasant leaders have successively proclaimed all recent presidents of the Republic "Peasant Leaders". The best thing which our governments and political parties could do would be to let us freely and democratically elect our own leaders and give us an opportunity to elaborate our own socio-economic policies based on our cultural background.

    Our past - and even present - experience tells us that when the peasants of the Altiplano are free to elect their "hilacatas", "hilancos" and other community authorities, they do so in a democratic spirit and with the greatest courtesy and respect for other people's opinions. The present internal conflicts among peasants have been a result of the ambitions of outsiders throughout.

    Rural education

    We face two extremely serious problems in rural education. One is that of curriculum content and the other is the serious shortage of financial resources.

    It is no secret that the rural school system has never been based on our own cultural values; the curricula have been prepared by government officials and reflect ideas and methods imported from other countries. Rural education has been a new form (the most subtle) of domination and immobilization. Rural teacher training is nothing but a brainwashing system for the future teachers in these areas. The education given bears no relation to everyday reality, both in terms of the things taught and the methods used by the teachers. It is not only the language which has nothing to do with our daily life but also the history, heroes, ideals and values conveyed.

    In terms of practical organization, rural schools are not far from being a NATIONAL CATASTROPHE. The education budget is insufficient and the allocated funds are, unevenly distributed with a much greater share for urban than for rural areas. Even today 51% of the children living in the rural areas cannot go to school for the simple reason that no school is located near their homes. The countryside not only is short of classrooms but also of books, blackboards, desks, and teaching materials, and above all it lacks teachers who really appreciate and love our oppressed people.

    We could go on pointing out all aspects of peasant life to show how it is lived amidst the most appalling misery and in total neglect from our authorities. In the countryside the revolution has got nowhere; it is yet to be done. However, it has to be done by raising once again the banners and great ideals of Tupac Katari, Bartolina Sisa, Willca Zárate, etc. It has to be done starting from ourselves.

    On our legendary Altiplano, infrastructure works are non-existent; there are no roads, no electricity, no hospitals, no progress. Transport facilities are poor, trading systems out of date, technical training not worth mentioning. In the countryside an undue number of rural schools are being set up as compared with the total lack of technical schools. Virtually everything remains to be done. We do not want anybody to do it for us,- we only want to be allowed to do it ourselves.

    We do not wish to finish this document, which undoubtedly will be the origin of a powerful, autonomous peasant movement, without inviting the press, the radio and all institutions which sincerely want to improve our peasants' living conditions, to encourage this noble desire to struggle for an authentic advancement of our people and of all Bolivia.

    The miners, factory workers, builders, transport workers, and the impoverished middle classes are all our brothers and sisters, victims in different ways of the same exploitation, descendants of the same race and united in solidarity for the same ideals of struggle and liberation. Only united can we achieve a great future for our country.

    Also we invite the Roman Catholic Church (to which the great majority of peasants belongs), together with other Evangelical churches, to cooperate with us for this great ideal of liberation for our Aymara and Quechua peoples. We wish to incorporate into our lives all our cultural values without despising the cultural treasures of other peoples,

    La Paz, July 30, 1973.

    Signed: Centro de Coordinación y Promoción Campesina MINK'A 
    Centro Campesino Tupac Kalari 
    Asociación de Estudiantes Campesinos de Bolivia 
    Asociación Nacional de Profesores Campesinos.

    (Translation: Courtesy of IWGIA, Copenhagen, 1978).

    Source: Moody, Roger ed. The Indigenous Voice: Visions and Realities. 2nd Edition. Utrecht: International Books, 1988. p.476-483. Taken from The Indian Liberation and Social Movements in Kollasuyu (Bolivia) Julio Tumiri Apaza (ed.) IWGLA Document No. 30, Copenhagen, May 1978.

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