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Cultural Resilience, Identity and the Restructuring of Political Power in Bolivia

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Healey, Susan
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1488
Sector: Social Organization
Region: South America
Subject(s): IASC
indigenous institutions
governance and politics
Abstract: "On January 22, 2006, history was made in Bolivia when Evo Morales was sworn in as Bolivia's first indigenous president, becoming the first leader of a rural-based social movement to govern a Latin American nation. Against the historical backdrop of a brutal colonial regime, elitist statehood, revolution and, most recently, neoliberal structural adjustment, the resilience of Bolivia's original peoples is striking. This paper explores key events and actors in a decades long struggle through which Bolivia's marginalized indigenous population succeeded in gaining the most powerful voice in the national political arena - a voice that had been silenced for over 500 years. With the political maturation of peasant and indigenous organizations, Bolivia's condition as a multilingual, plurinational state, with individual, community and territorially based rights to land and natural resources is increasingly important to its continued existence as a nation-state. The concept of ethno-ecological identity - a social identity shaped by the unique human-environment relationships of highland and lowland peoples - is key to understanding the dominant political alliances in Bolivia today, and visions for the future. The extent to which strength and unity in diversity makes for a viable and durable political alternative to Western imposed notions of development remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it marks a fundamental and irreversible shift in the Bolivian political landscape. Based in part on in- depth interviews with campesino and indigenous leaders, intellectuals and political activists in Bolivia during the period leading up to the 2005 election, this paper identifies critical elements in the evolution from Andean cultural resilience to indigenous political capital, with the goal of informing similar processes underway in other parts of the world."

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