The Grievance to the Dead

“They had waited a whole decade biting their teeth so as not to spit on the Indians and show them their contempt; and now, protected by bayonets, they don’t hesitate to unload all their hatred of caste.”

By Alvaro Garcia Linera

“Even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins… ..”
W. Benjamin

A massive funeral procession runs through the streets of El Alto and La Paz. In front are two coffins and behind thousands and thousands of mourners. They are humble people; residents of El Alto, artisans, peasants, neighbors, mothers, indigenous people from the provinces of La Paz, Potosí, Cochabamba and Oruro. They have walked with their pain about ten kilometers, and in their wake there are workers, merchants and tearful students who cross themselves, applaud and deliver water and bread to those who march. The city is paralyzed, and the people of the working class neighborhoods are in mourning. Only on November 20, in the Senkata area, eight villagers were killed with military firearms, more than a hundred were shot, reaching thirty-four dead in the last nine days of the coup in Bolivia.

They have come down from El Alto to demand justice for their dead; they have walked so far for people to see what is happening, since the gagged media do not talk about the tragedy suffered; They go hours and hours to tell the world that they are not terrorists or vandals; That they are the people.

And since the day of the coup d’etat, all the mobilizations of working class and peasant sectors that came out to defend democracy and respect for the citizen vote were the subject of a fierce smear campaign that overflowed the networks and the media. There was no talk of workers, or neighbors, or indigenous people. They were “dangerous hordes”, “vandals” that threaten social peace. And when the inhabitants of the brave city of El Alto and the indigenous and peasants blocked roads, a rabid language seized the coup and media: “terrorists”, “drug traffickers”, “savages”, “criminals”, “drunk mobs ” “looters”and other adjectives were used to disqualify and criminalize the protest of the needy classes.

Since then, women of the Pollera (indigenous women wearing traditional long skirt) with children on their backs, school girls who accompany their parents, young university students, welder workers, poncho farmers and ice cream vendors are the new face of the “dangerous seditious” who want to burn the country. This stigmatization of the rebel mob, especially if they are Indians, is not new. During the Colony, in the 16th century, Fray Ginés de Sepúlveda compared the natives with monkeys; the priest Tomás Ortíz described them as “beasts”; in the nineteenth century there was talk of “degenerate races”; and the dictatorships of the twentieth century mutated towards the criminalization of the insurgent Indian, calling it “subversive,” “seditious,” which wants to jeopardize property, order and religion.

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Now, the traditional middle classes perform a shameful verbal fusion between colonial language and counterinsurgency. Not even their organic intellectuals educated in foreign universities can escape this call of blood and racial prejudice. For them, the marches of neighbors are meetings of “drunken criminals”, the blockades of peasants’ roads are acts of “terrorism” and those killed by the military bullet are account adjustments between “thugs.” The forced restraint with which all these years the conservative scribes had qualified the empowered Indians, today rampage as a whirlwind of prejudices, insults and racialized disqualifications.

They had waited a whole decade biting their teeth so as not to spit on the Indians and show them their contempt; and now, covered in bayonets, they don’t hesitate to unload all their caste hatred. It is the time of revenge and they do it enraged. It is as if they wanted to erase not only the presence of the Indian who defeated them, and that is why they are able to kill as long as Evo is not a candidate; They also wish to take their mark from the memory of the humble classes by murdering, imprisoning, torturing, threatening those who pronounce his name. That is why they burn the Wiphala that Evo introduced into state institutions; that’s why they burn the schools he had built in the popular neighborhoods; that’s why they applaud and toast for the militarization of cities. There is no longer room for dignity or decorum of a class that is frantically revolting in the mud of authoritarianism, intolerance and racism.

And it is against this that the humble classes of El Alto and the provinces march. They go down by thousands, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand. The number doesn’t matter anymore. The power they defend is not that of one person or that Weber theorized as the ability to influence the behavior of another. For the popular classes, the experience of power of these last fourteen years is that of being recognized as equals, that of having the right to water, education, work, health under similar conditions as the rest of the citizenry. The exercise of power for the people won at the polls, more than that of a capacity for command, has been that of a daily bodily experience of being able to face each other without having to be ashamed of the skin color or mother’s skirt; is to have been taken into account as human beings; it is being able to sell in the market, work the land or be an authority without any surname barrier. Hence, although the experience of state power for the subaltern classes – as Gramsci saw it – is, in the first place, the practical construction of its unity as a social bloc, the way to verbalize and morally understand that power has been the conquest of dignity, that is, its experience as a people with a self-dignified collective body.

That is why the pollera woman and the worker cry when fascism burns the Wiphala, they cry when Evo is expelled, they cry when they are prevented from entering the cities. They cry because they are tearing apart the symbolic and real body of their unity and their social power. And when they carry their dead ahead in the middle of thousands of black crepes and funeral cavalry boleros, they do it to ask the wealthy classes to respect their dead, those dead who are the ultimate threshold where the living, be they of class or social status, must stop their orgy of blood and hate, to venerate the virtue of life.

But the response of the coup plotters is atrocious, immoral, dantesque. They shoot tear gas, fire bullets, move their tanks and the coffins are left on the floor, wrapped in a cloud of gases escorted by people who kneel and risk suffocation rather than abandon them.

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“They don’t respect the dead,” people shout. It is not a protest phrase, it is a historical sentence. The same one that the parents of the assaulted of today pronounced, when another military coup in the fateful November of 1979 machine-gunned from the American Mustang airplanes the mourners who prayed and made offerings to the deceased relatives on the day of the dead or “all saints “. The adventurers of the military coup at the time, after their ephemeral drunken victory, were parked in the sewer of history, a place where today’s coupists will surely be soon. The dead cannot be punished with impunity, because in the culture of the people they are part of the basic regulating principles of the destiny of the living.

The brutality of the coup makers today evokes people’s fear, but it has opened the doors of widespread resentment. The sutures with which the secular class, regional and racial cracks had been closed have burst through the air leaving bleeding social wounds. Today there is hatred everywhere, against each other. The traditional middle classes would like to see Evo’s body dragged through the streets, like that of former President Villarroel in 1946. The plebeian classes would like to see the rich fenced in their neighborhoods suffering from hunger due to lack of food. A new race war nests in the spirit of a country torn by the felony of a class that found in the colonial prejudice of superiority the defense of its privileges.

As we have already said, the fascistization of the traditional middle class is the conservative response to its social decline as a result of the devaluation of its legitimate skills, capitals, opportunities and knowledge in the face of the “invasion” of a new middle class of popular and indigenous origin with most effective social promotion repertoires in the Indianized state of the last decade. It is not that they have had a depreciation of their assets – which in fact increased passively due to the general economic expansion of the country – but of their opportunities and social bets of greater social ascent taking advantage of the exponential growth of national wealth.

But this has not limited a relevant fact of social class structures and processes of political hegemony: the state irradiation of the middle classes. Strictly speaking, the State is, in its regularity, the common sense monopoly of a society. While political power is, by far, the belief and conviction of some of the power of others, it is in some ways also a kind of intersubjective sensation. This is the thick world of deep narratives with a state effect. The “public opinion”, that is, the narratives, symbols and senses of understanding of the legitimacy that strives to realign the common political sense, is largely concentrated by the traditional middle classes by disposition of time, resources and labor specialization.

In Bolivia, the social rise of new indigenous-popular middle classes has been accompanied by new narratives and senses of reality but not solid enough to radiate or counter racialize the discourse of conservative classes and support a new predominant “public opinion”. The traditional middle classes have experience in discursive formations and in the historical sediments of the dominant common sense, which has allowed them to expand pieces of their way of seeing the world beyond the class frontier, even in parts of the new classes’ media and popular sectors. In fact, the new middle class, rather than a social class with mobilized public existence, is a statistical class, that is, it is not yet a class with state irradiation.

Hence the dramatic ways in which indigenous-popular forces try to stage and narrate their resistance. These are other ways of constructing public opinion and articulating common sense that radiate to other social sectors, but as a result of the force of the coup d’état, now subalternized, fragmented.

Meanwhile, fascism rides like a mad rider inside the walls of the classic middle-class neighborhoods. There, culture and reasons have been eradicated without dissimulation by prejudice and revenge. And it seems that only stupor, the fruit of a new social outbreak or of the economic debacle that appears on the horizon, product of so much hatred and destruction, can crack so much irrationality spit out as discourse.


Translated by JRE/EF

Alvaro Garcia Linera
+ posts

Álvaro Marcelo García Linera  is a Bolivian politician and intellectual, who serves as Vice President of Bolivia since 2006.

Alvaro Garcia Linera

Álvaro Marcelo García Linera  is a Bolivian politician and intellectual, who serves as Vice President of Bolivia since 2006.