Social Issues

Racism remains unresolved in Bolivia amid economic inequality

By Gabriel Romano

La Paz, May 24 (EFE).- Racism in Bolivia remains unresolved despite state efforts to provide the country with a regulatory framework to combat it and even declare a specific day to coin slogans against this long-standing discrimination.

“It is not a day of celebration” but “to reclaim our roots and never again allow people to be attacked, humiliated and suppressed due to their origins,” Labor Minister Veronica Navia said Monday during an event in Sucre, the capital of Bolivia, where the Day against Discrimination and Racism was commemorated.

The declaration of a day to combat racism and discrimination dates back to social tensions that emerged during the Constituent Assembly of 2008 in Sucre.

In an event on May 24 of that year, a group of peasants, from the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), was forced to march almost naked, kneel and make pledges against their will and kiss the flag of Chuquisaca.

The event led to criminal proceedings and investigations against the defendants, including several of the leaders of the civic movement in the department of Chuquisaca.

A year later, the government of then-President Evo Morales issued a decree declaring May 24 as the Day against Discrimination and Racism, which later became law and then a regulation in 2010 criminalizing and punishing such practices.

For researcher Rafael Loayza, the antecedents of the differences between whites and mixed-race and indigenous people lies in “the inheritance of the differentiated distribution of work” of “postcolonial” Bolivia.

This gave rise to a view that it is more likely that someone is poor “because they have an ethnic ancestor” than someone else who does not, which has led to “racial tension in routine public interaction,” the expert told EFE.

According to Loayza, “this difference has not been eliminated” despite all the reforms in Bolivia’s history including those that took place after a new Constitution in 2009 recognized Bolivia as a plurinational state.

“Racism persists, but it has gone from ordinary interactions to politics and has become ideologized,” he said.

Loayza argues that that happens when racism becomes a “strategy or a political tool to increase division and is (at the heart of) an electoral strategy” and adds that it has become more evident in recent times despite the country having an indigenous government.

This social confrontation has escalated with the social and political crisis that the country faced in 2019 following that year’s failed presidential vote and Evo Morales’ resignation from the presidency after denouncing an alleged coup against him.

The social effervescence contrasted two sides marked by a sociocultural position: a mobilized middle class accusing the former president of having perpetrated fraud to stay in power and another ethnic-popular sector that manifested itself when former interim president Jeanine Áñez took over the presidency.

These tensions in the political arena have even revitalized conservative sectors opposed to the MAS ruler such as those of the former civic leader and Governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, and the former lawmaker of Chuquisaca, Horacio Poppe, who proposes a return to the “republic,” Loayza said.

In his opinion, what “ferments” racism is “income-based difference” or the condition of poverty experienced by some groups and not cultural differences as such.

According to a report by the Ombudsman’s Office, 194 complaints of some form of discrimination were reported in the first four months of the year, most of them made by vulnerable groups such as women, older adults, children and adolescents.

Twenty five percent of these complaints pertain to identity issues, 17 percent to access to justice, 14 percent to labor rights claims and 11 to protection of the family. EFE


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