The battle between the “haves” and the “havenots” has been joined as Bolivia begins to consider fundamental changes in that country’s constitution. Originally designed to disenfranchise the majority indigenous populations and confirm power in the hands of the fewer descendants of conquistadors and immigrant settlers the present Constitution leaves the majority of Bolivia’s population on the outside of Bolivia. When the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September this year one question immediately emerged: how will the Declaration be implemented and where will the opposition come from in the world’s the states that voted favorably? We are seeing in Bolivia what will occur throughout the world as pressures begin to build in favor of implementing the Declaration.
Power and wealth are at the center of the growing confrontation between realizing the promises of the Declaration and preserving privilege among those who benefit from taking land, labor, living abundance and knowledge originally used and possessed by indigenous peoples. In Bolivia, the Aymara, Quechua and other indigenous peoples have long suffered as a result of the privileged using the government to confiscate indigenous peoples’ wealth. President Evo Morales and his supporters have advanced a new Bolivian Constitution that will redress the balance between the privileged few and the majority population.
The new constitution would recognize the right of self-government in the indigenous communities among other things. The power elites of four Bolivian Departments reject this fundamental right and seek to expand departmental powers to control tax revenues, land titles and security forces. The five other departments have not joined the wealthiest. Notice that land, revenue and security forces are at the center of the power elites’ concerns. Indian peoples want to reclaim lands taken from them, maintain revenues coming from those lands for the benefit of all of the people and security that is used to enforce the laws and not become a club of violence used against indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples in countries the world over are pressing more vigorously for self-government and self-determination since the adoption of the Indigenous Peoples Declaration. In Taiwan, England, Spain, United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, and many other states, indigenous peoples seek a peaceful transformation of their lives to become fully self-determining peoples. Bolivia’s President Morales is moving to redress the balance between the “haves” and the “havenots”–to give meaning to the promise of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
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