Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: Bolivia’s Lesson in Triumphalism

This an English transcription of Bolivian historian Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s intervention at the Women’s Parliament in La Paz, Bolivia, on November 12, 2019. Watch the proceedings in their entirety here. This post was updated and various errors were corrected on November 25, 2019.

I have a very serious knee problem. They say it is pride. I am proud, in fact, of being a woman, and also of somehow having kept quiet all this time, because to me, this accident has been a gift from the Pacha (Pachamama, mother earth). Just this past 23rd I fell while planting with my daughter in Cochabamba, and I take it as a sign that there is a need for a certain politics of silence.

I have felt an excessive discourse overload. I admire the internet from afar, but I love face-to-face communication, that’s why I preferred to come here, and not do it from my seat, because I can look people in the eyes, feel the vibes, and even feel anger against me. All that helps me to be myself, to be humble, to be gentle and not arrogant. This moment in history has given us a great lesson against triumphalism.

I don’t believe in the two hypotheses that are being pushed.

The triumphalism that with the fall of Evo we have recovered democracy seems to me an excess, an analysis that is out of focus.

We need a lot more to recover democracy, we need to work like ants, we need to pay attention and recognize doña Ena Taborga in Rositas (a hydroelectric dam to be built in Guarani territory), the compañeras from Tariquía, the compañeras from TIPNIS (Indigenous Territory and  Isiboro-Sécure National Park), doña Marquesa, doña Cecilia and all of the fighters and the work that they are doing right now. Some of them have even been candidates, but we need to be conscious of the realities in which democracy is still a very distant goal, because these realities are still run by unions captured by misogyny, by interests of all kinds which operate with dangerous intentions.

There are also people who have put their bodies on the line, who have fought, and yet when it comes to public spaces their word is denied as has been the case with Tariquía.

So, I think that this forum is very good, positive, in order to begin discussing what we understand by democracy, and by being an Indigenous person.

The second wrong hypothesis, which seems to me to be extremely dangerous, is that of the coup d’etat, which simply legitimizes in a complete package, wrapped in cellophane, the entire Evo Morales government in the moment when it is most degraded.  To legitimize all this degradation with the idea of a coup d’etat is criminal, therefore how this degradation began must be considered.

Upon arriving here an hour, ago I gave two people a photocopy of the newspaper from November 2. I want to point out that a fellow named Juan Ramón Quintana (former member of Morales’ government team), on November 2, was announcing the Vietnamization of the country. This is something that he has done for years: to indoctrinate, to insert Indigenous people into the networks of military mafias, which has happened in many communities.

Hugo Moldiz, who has worked with the so-called Red Ponchos… I knew other Red Ponchos, I knew brothers and sisters who went as a family to the hills to perform a ritual before entering into battle. Those are the Red Ponchos that I knew. What Hugo Moldiz did beginning on January 22, 2006 is to bring in a uniformed and absolutely armed army dressed in ponchos, but devoid of community networks.

It’s as if we were to believe that we are facing a Cuban-style revolutionary government, risking ourselves for the leftist nostalgia of a group of machos that are not only Camacho’s machos, but also leftist, misogynistic machos, who treat us like cannon fodder and as bait to build their networks of perversion of the popular sectors.

I remember very well when the military had a great orgy with the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana), with women, so as to negotiate their duty posts with the military hierarchy. We have not been able to realize that this was systematic, that it has lasted for years. That is why [Quintana] and his entire military network, which includes the man who controls the cable cars.  I witnessed the political use of the cable cars, cards for travel on them being handed out so that people go down and burn and cause vandalism like destroying the Pumakatari buses.

We have not been able to realize that this was systematic, that it has lasted for years. That is why [Quintana] and his entire military network, which includes the man who controls the cable cars.  I witnessed the political use of the cable cars, cards for travel on them being handed out so that people go down and burn and cause vandalism like destroying the Pumakatari buses.

All this is part of a dark network that includes the director of the ANH (National Hydrocarbons Agency), a close friend of Quintana. What was ANH doing during the fires [in the Chiquitanía] giving away gas stoves? That shameful act, and their superficial defense against the fires, are uniting the struggles of women, ecological struggles, young people, old women like me who are worried about the future and the water that their granddaughters and the daughters of their granddaughters are going to consume.

I am very sad because Evo is gone, but the hope of a pluricultural Bolivia is not gone, the hope that the wiphala represents to us in its different ways has not gone, the hope of ending racism has not gone. We have to continue fighting in the trenches of anti-racism, we must continue to join forces to be able to articulate a sense of recovering our democracy on a day-to-day basis. I feel very sad for what has happened, I have no sense of triumph.

I understand that religion is not just Camacho, it is a product of the anger in the face of the generalized drunkenness that has been the work carried out Quintana and soldiers who used to go to indigenous communities with jugs of alcohol. That is what hurts me, it is the same mechanism used by the colonizers in the seventeenth century: to disarm communities by giving them jugs of alcohol. The landowners and businessmen who wanted to get rid of the agrarian reform, gave out jugs of alcohol, and had a whole estate of folkloric Indians to be able to show off in museums.

We have to understand why people are reacting in this reactionary way. They are tired of this type of misogynist trade union policy, that treats people as if they were a herd.  The women of Totora Marka, who have fought for Indigenous autonomy, have been vanquished by their own husbands and their own people, who forced them into the referendum trap.

It is very sad what has happened, compañeras, and the triumphalism that we have recovered democracy the moment Evo boarded a plane seems to me a banality and extraordinary simplistic view. But the defeatism suggesting that there was a coup d’etat here and that everything has been lost is false. That would mean that we would have to think that the MAS is the only option we have for an interethnic, plural, pluricultural Bolivia.

Are we going to believe that because we have a gay minister and some women defending him from the point of view of lesbianism, that there is an intercultural, broad and anti-homophobic democracy? No, those are just symbolic acts.

I am with the wiphala and I know there are many kinds of wiphala, not just one. We have old wiphalas, they had other very different colors. That plurality is what we have to recover, sisters, and also the possibility of brotherhood with Indigenous women and men.

I have cried to see the mistreatment of Indigenous Bolivian women in the name of democracy. I have cried to see very young people beaten for saying that they are Indians. The Indian woman and man that we have inside is in a lot of pain. It’s up to us to free them and make them happy, able to speak several languages, to have a framework for theoretical thinking. That is for me the Indian.

I feel half defeated, but also, I feel hope. We have put a lot of blood sweat and tears into this process and to watch its deterioration at the hands of those trained at the School of the Americas has hurt. They have a lot to lose, they lost 30 Chinese barges, but they have all the iron ores of the Mutun, and the lithium deposits. That is what they want to plunder.

Please, let this parliament of women generate a space in which we form unity against those dark forces that begin with the IIRSA [Initiative for the Integration of the South American Regional Infrastructure] and also the Chinese, Russian, and Venezuelan capital, that entire mafia that is the main enemy and it is still alive and kicking and it is arming people and forming mentalities.

Let’s be very careful, and also be aware that we cannot incur happiness because the Indian has finally left. That to me is very painful.

Originally published on

Translated by Toward Freedom. This is an updated version of an earlier translation, which contained numerous errors. It has since been corrected by the author’s daughter.