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The Journal of
Development Studies
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Liberal democracy and

ayllu democracy in Bolivia:
The case of Northern
Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui
Andean Oral History Workshop , La Paz,
Published online: 23 Nov 2007.

To cite this article: Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (1990) Liberal democracy and
ayllu democracy in Bolivia: The case of Northern Potosí, The Journal of
Development Studies, 26:4, 97-121, DOI: 10.1080/00220389008422175

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220389008422175


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Liberal Democracy and Ayllu Democracy in Bolivia:
The Case of Northern Potosí

by Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui*

Economic and political reforms imposed on Bolivian indigenous

communities (ayllus) in the name of modernisation and democracy
have actually furthered long-standing colonial forms of oppression.
Both liberal reformers and nationalist revolutionaries promoted a
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concept of citizenship which displaced and undermined indigenous

social organisation and political practice. Even in the 1980s, pro-
gressive and leftist parties, unions, and development organisations
continued to marginalise the democratic internal life of the northern
Potosí ayllus.


Our territory is inhabited by a number of races speaking different
languages and living on different historical levels A variety of epochs
live side by side in the same areas or a very few miles apart, ignoring or
devouring one another ... Past epochs never vanish completely, and
blood still drips from all their wounds, even the most ancient.
Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
The chronological present often wears the appearance of a stratified
outcrop of rock in which various formations from the historical past are
present, and especially where, in spite of 150 years of republican
independence, the social scene wears a colonial character, either by
stagnation or regression, or by deliberate conservation.
Andrew Pearse, The Latin American Peasant
At times, even in a single place, there is an agglomeration of incongruent
elements, fantastic superpositions. The prehistoric is found alongside
the present. The various epochs reach out to one another This is why
Bolivia has had a harder time than other countries determining its
definitive identity.
Jaime Mendoza, El macizo boliviano

These various perspectives on Latin American reality all point to a key

aspect of our society: the coexistence of past and present. In Bolivia,
the colonial clash between the mestizo/creole urban minority and the
indigenous rural majority continues to shape present-day prospects for

* Andean Oral History Workshop (La Paz, Bolivia). Translation by Charles Roberts.

rural démocratisation. Cultural patterns inherited from the past have

hindered the recognition of indigenous social organisation and demo-
cratic practice, thus prolonging and revitalising colonial systems of
authoritarian and paternalistic control over the rural population.
The analytical approach taken here is inspired by E. Bloch's [1971]
concept of 'diachronic contradictions', developed in his analysis of
German fascism, as well as by Barrington Moore's [1976] historical
sociology of political transformation. Both authors allude to the impact of
unresolved tensions which, inherited from the past, continue to shape and
generate often catastrophic social conflicts. The simultaneity of past and
present is especially evident in Third World countries, where economic
and political transformations have been imposed on resisting and subsist-
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ing native structures. Because of this, attempts by national elites to bring

about economic and political change have been extremely difficult,
incoherent, and contradictory in terms of stated objectives and tangible
realisations. Unresolved diachronic contradictions have thus been strong
enough to arise again, often in major outbreaks of violence dispro-
portionate to the resultant social and economic changes.1
This type of historical analysis is extremely useful for understanding
rural démocratisation in Bolivia, since it enables us to decipher the
underlying logic of what appears to be a contradictory process of social
change. The central paradox is this: successive attempts at economic and
political reform and modernisation have reproduced and strengthened
the colonial pattern of mestizo/creole domination over the indigenous
peasantry. Modemisers from a wide range of theoretical and political
perspectives concur that the indigenous majority is eventually destined to
disappear as a cultural, social, and political entity. The dominant liberal
model of representative democracy, based on the individual as citizen,
undermines and marginalises indigenous identities, social organisation,
and political practices. The socialist model, with its massified worker, is
equally impoverished as a vision of the politically possible: the centralisa-
tion of the monolithic party and state appears incompatible with the
organisational and cultural forms of 'the other'. The Andean peasantry
has, however, retained its precapitalist rationality and differentiated
ethnic identities in spite of, and in response to, modernisation models
imposed from outside. I believe that an understanding of the long-
standing endogenous practices of the peasantry can lead to a necessary
reconceptualisation of democracy that is more in line with the multi-
cultural nature of our societies.
Elsewhere I have developed the notion of a fundamental colonial
contradiction between the world views and cultures of the mestizo/creole
urban elites and the indigenous ayllus (rural communities). This contra-
diction has been a central factor shaping the actions of the state and the
dominant sector vis-à-vis the country's indigenous peasant majority, as
well as the actions of the indigenous peasantry towards its oppressors
[Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984: 16; 1985: 131]. In this article, I apply this
analysis to a specific region in Bolivia, highlighting the three major
historical cycles or horizons that interact simultaneously in contemporary

Bolivia. The colonial cycle, which began in 1532, left a legacy of ethnic
domination which continues to the present. The liberal cycle began with
the reforms of the late nineteenth century, which set forth the notion
of citizens as 'free and equal individuals' without communal links or
solidarity. It was this concept of citizenship which, at least in theory, was
to be the basis upon which the institutions of liberal representative
democracy were to be built. Finally, the most recent cycle began with the
1952 nationalist revolution. I call this the populist cycle, in view of the
large-scale incorporation of the hitherto excluded masses of workers and
indigenous peasants into the political arena, through universal suffrage
and parastatal unionism.
The article focuses on northern Potosí, one of the most traditional areas
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of Bolivia. In contrast to other regions, where the nineteenth century

liberal reforms promoted the expansion of latifundia and the forced
transformation of the ayllu communards into hacienda colonos, northern
Potosí has represented a bastion of ethnic resistance that only recently
began to yield to the impositions of the dominant society. The 1952
nationalist revolution and subsequent agrarian reform generated an
unprecedented organisational, ideological, and identity crisis. Paradoxi-
cally, in the 1980s progressive and leftist parties and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) have continued the largely unfinished task of
dismantling and marginalising the forms of organisation and representa-
tion particular to the ayllu. The implications of these processes for the
future of rural democracy is one of the central concerns of this analysis.
The article is divided into four sections. The first describes the complex
internal structure and functioning of the ayllus. The rules of collective life
and political representation particular to the ayllus constitute a realm of
democratic practice that has been threatened constantly, be it by liberal
reformers, nationalist revolutionaries, or leftist parties, unions, and
NGOs. The second section analyses the liberal and populist reform
periods. The argument here is that they shared a common liberal under-
standing of the individual as the basis of economic development and
political democracy; in attempting to displace and undermine indigenous
forms of social and political organisation, they shared a common colonial
character as well. The third section examines the disjunction between
union structures and the ayllus in northern Potosí. Even as an indigenous
union movement successfully combined union and ayllu forms of authority
and representation elsewhere in Bolivia, northern Potosí unions con-
tinued to reproduce mestizo/creole domination over the ayllus. Finally,
the fourth section analyses the impact of the clientelist interaction
between the ayllus and the progressive parties and NGOs on the internal
functioning of the ayllus, as well as the forms of resistance that have
developed in response to these threats. The article concludes with a
discussion of the weaknesses of a democratic system built around the
liberal concept of citizenship, particularly its structural inability to
recognise the political practices of Bolivia's indigenous majority.


The ayllu is the basic cell of Andean social organisation, dating back to
pre-hispanic times. In northern Potosí, the ayllus have retained many of
their pre-hispanic features, including an internal organisation based
on dual and vertically-organised segments, communal distribution of
resources, and a 'vertical' land tenure system which includes the use of
non-contiguous puna (highland) and valley lands [Murra, 1975].
The internal organisation of the ayllu is like a set of Chinese boxes.
Each territorial and kinship unit is part of a larger ethnic unit, within
a framework that culminates in a large dual organisation whose two
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moieties relate to one another as complementary opposites: above-

below, masculine-feminine, older-younger, etc. In northern Potosí, there
are generally three or four levels of segmentation, and therefore the same
number of levels of ethnic authority. Adopting the denominations pro-
posed by Platt [1978:1083], the smallest residential and kinship unit is the
ayllu mínimo, or minimal ayllu; locally it is known as a cabildo or jatun
rancho. It constitutes an independent hamlet, which may have one or
more small hamlets subordinated to it (juch'uy ranchos), subject to the
authority of the Alcalde or the Jilanqu, depending on whether the ayllu
has the intermediate level of ayllu menor, or minor ayllu (see below). The
internal hierarchy between principal ranchos and subordinated ones is
determined by the existence of a system of mantas (communal lands
subject to coordinated cycles of rotation) and shared ritual spaces [Harris,
1982:5; Godoy, 1983: Ch.2]. The next level up is the ayllu menor or minor
ayllu, which is not apparent at first glance. Its territory is discontinuous, in
both the puna and the valley, and it is subject to the authority of the Jilanqu
or Jilaqäta. This level has disappeared in some ayllus, in which case the
Jilanqu would be the authority of the cabildo. Then comes the ayllu
mayor, or major ayllu, which has a continuous territorial unit in the puna,
and a discontinuous one in the valley (hence the validity of the 'archi-
pelago' image proposed by Murra, 1975), subject to the authority of the
Segunda Mayor. In the province of Bustillos there are eight major ayllus;
this is the highest level there, due to fragmentation of the area since
colonial times. In contrast, Chayanta province has a higher level, the ayllu
máximo, or maximal ayllu (the Macha ayllu, studied by Platt, is an
example), which is organised internally in two opposing and comple-
mentary moieties, which cut vertically across all levels of ayllu. The
authority for this level of the ayllu is vested in two Kurakas, corres-
ponding to the two moieties, and know as Alasaya-Mäsaya, Patasaya-
Manqhasaya, or by other local names.
One of the most important functions of the ethnic authorities is to
ensure equitable distribution of productive resources among the families
at each level of the ayllu. Depending on their placement in the hierarchical
structure just described, the authorities may settle disputes between
major and minor ayllus over access to distant valley lands; regulate the
cycle of rotation and distribution of puna communal land parcels used by

two or more minimal ayllus; or ensure harmony among the families of a

single cabildo in the use of mantas or pasture lands. In addition, the ethnic
authorities at each level fulfill other functions, such as collecting the
tribute, leading rituals, allotting new lands when a family changes its
tributary status, and overseeing the rights and duties corresponding to
each family according to their tributary category.
The population is grouped in three tributary categories: the originarios
pay a full rate, or the full quota of the tribute, and thus have complete
rights to the land, including the right to dual tenure in puna and valley
lands; the agregados or forasteros pay half the rate and are thus accorded
only half of the territorial rights, in a single ecological niche; and the kantu
runa or wit'ujaqi pay no tribute or only a minimal tribute, and have only
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precarious access to the land, by mutual agreement with other families

[Platt, 1982: 52-3]. Access to the various levels of ayllu authority is
determined by each family's tributary status. Only the originarios may
occupy the post of Kuraka or Segunda. The agregados cannot surpass the
level of Alcalde, and the kantu runas generally do not accede to any level of
governmental authority, but only to auxiliary posts, such as Pachaka,
Qhawasiri, Corregidor Auxiliar, etc. In so far as all the communards of a
given ayllu also belong to a cabildo, a minor ayllu, a parcialidad, and a
major ayllu, there is a whole articulated system of posts which the various
families are to occupy throughout their life cycle, in ascending order, as
part of the services and duties they are to render to the collective.
The system of ethnic authorities has its own electoral mechanisms,
which bring together and strike a subtle balance between elements of
communal consensus and a compulsory rotating system that involves not
only the families, but also the corresponding levels of the ayllu, depending
on the type of authority to be elected. For example, each of the minor
ayllus will participate in the election of the Segunda Mayor, according to
the order of rotation established for different types of common lands, or
by the taxpayer rolls. Likewise, the cabildos or subordinated minimal
ayllus take turns choosing the Alcalde, following the order established for
rotating cabildo lands in the mantas. None the less, the cabildo or ayllu
whose turn it is only provides candidates for the post in question; the
candidates are then evaluated in an endless process of consultation,
through visits that the authorities make to the different hamlets, until
there is consensus among the families of the various units [Godoy, 1983:
Ch2]. Similarly, an authority who has not properly discharged his duties,
or who has transgressed rules of behavior set forth in traditional law, may
be removed or dismissed. The discredit and risk that this implies for the
legitimacy of his right to the land and all his social and family relations are
such that this extreme situation practically never arises. Through this
combination of consensus and compulsory rotation, in the long run all the
families of the ayllu end up holding the principal positions of authority, in
ascending order, up to the limit determined by their tributary category.
Finally, another essential function of the ethnic authorities is to
periodically renew the community's bonds with nature and the mountain
deities, through the ceremonial and ritual cycle. This function is inti-

mately linked to management of the agricultural calendar and predictive

knowledge, which make it possible to endure the agriculturally difficult
climatic conditions of the Andean highlands. Renewing these bonds also
provides internal cohesion for the various segments of the ayllu, and a
renewal of its bonds of opposition and complementarity.
This brief introduction to the extremely complex internal organisation
of the ayllus may leave the impression that the communities are rigid,
hierarchical, and inegalitarian. Indeed, it is precisely this type of mis-
interpretation that has led leftist political parties and NGOs to undermine
the practices of the ayllus. As discussed below in section four, however,
apparent rigidity and inequality mask a richly democratic communal life.
Attempts by liberals, populists, and leftists to impose liberal democratic
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models on the ayllus have actually hindered the emergence and consoli-
dation of democratic practices and institutions in Bolivian society, repro-
ducing authoritarian and/or paternalistic relations rooted in the colonial
and oligarchic past.


The liberal reforms of the late nineteenth century and the populist reforms
of the post-1952 nationalist revolution shared a liberal understanding of
the role of the individual in economic and political modernisation.
Because they both imposed an alien, creole/state rationale on the ayllus,
they also recreated and reinforced colonial forms of domination over the
indigenous majority. This section provides an overview of the liberal and
populist projects with reference to the ayllus, focusing on their common
rejection of the legitimacy of indigenous identities and practices.
The liberal reforms of 1875—1900 were preceded by a lengthy debate
among the republican elite over the fate of the 'backward' territories
possessed by the ayllus since pre-Hispanic times. Opposing interests were
at stake in this debate. On the one hand, the dominant creóle elite wanted
to expand their haciendas into traditional areas, which would require the
destruction of the ayllus which controlled most of the arable land. On
the other hand, the state relied on the indigenous tribute paid by the
communities for some 50 per cent of tax revenues until the mid-nineteenth
century. When a recovery in the mining sector generated new sources of
revenues in the 1870s, the state was finally able to attempt reforms aimed
at abolishing communal forms of land ownership, legitimating its actions
through a liberal rhetoric which equated the abolition of the tribute with
the achievement of equal citizenship by the Indian population. The liberal
project was carried out through the 1874 Law of Expropriation, which
decreed the abolition of the ayllu, the parcelling of all communal lands,
the distribution of private property titles among community members,
and a tax reform that theoretically would replace the old colonial caste
tribute with a modern tax on landownership for all citizens, whether
Indian or creóle [Rivera Cusicanqui, 1978: 31-2; Mitre, 1981: 43-5;
Longer, 1988: 63-8].

The impact of these reforms varied throughout the different regions of

Bolivia. In the altiplano, for example, they led to an extensive expropria-
tion of communal lands as Indians were granted the citizen's 'right' to sell
their land [Rivera Cusicanqui, 1978]. In northern Potosí, in contrast, the
ayllus successfully resisted expropriation by the latifundia, although the
expansion of free trade ruined the long-distance wheat trade they had
developed since colonial times [Platt, 1982: 35]. In particular, they
opposed the imposition of a liberal tax refonn that would have left their
right to own lands collectively unprotected; this reform was perceived as a
unilateral break with the 'understood truce' they had reached with the
colonial invaders centuries before.2
The belligerent resistance of the northern Potosí ayllus in the 1880s and
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1890s impeded the state's attempt to destroy communal forms of organisa-

tion through the Law of Expropriation. The parcelling of communal lands
was, in fact, cancelled in 1902 [Platt, 1982:15]. Despite this, the private
property regime was strengthened with the revisita of 1881, through which
small merchants and mestizo landowners of the rural towns in the region
secured tenure over lands they had taken from the ayllus in a variety
of ways, thereby consolidating their economic domination over the
indigenous population. This also strengthened the mestizo landowners in
political terms, as their increased ability to extract concessions from
the ayllus, such as free labour services, benefited the civic and church
authorities of the towns. These processes thus reproduced the colonial
urban-rural contradiction, reinforcing the position of the dominant
mestizo sectors as 'collective bosses' of the ayllus [Platt, 1982:16].
In this way, what began as a liberal capitalist initiative to transfer land
from corporate control to the market ended in a renewed colonial attack
on the territories and peoples of the ayllus, rolling back the communal-
mercantile economic forms to what were, in effect, servile-colonial forms
of labour organisation. The most obvious effects of the liberal reforms
were to turn communal production away from the market, to eliminate all
guarantees of the ayllus' survival, and to abandon the communards to the
repressive forces of the local mestizo-creóle authorities. This situation
persisted, amidst mounting conflict and tension, until the 1950s.
With the victory of the 1952 popular insurrection under the populist
leadership of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR), diverse
forms of peasant political participation emerged, resulting in an apparent
démocratisation of political power in Bolivian society. Trade unions and
armed militia in the fields, mines, and cities successfully confronted the
local power structure in many regions. In the face of such popular
pressure, many landowners turned to rentier and commercial activities in
urban areas. A brief period of mass euphoria gave the regime a lasting
dose of legitimacy, but also concealed the mechanisms through which
the state usurped the popular will, incorporating worker and peasant
organisations into state-mediated structures.
As was the case with the liberal reforms, the impact of the 1952
revolution and its aftermath varied across different regions in Bolivia.
The revolution's democratic impact was greatest in the grain-producing

valleys of Cochabamba, where a long tradition of smallholder agriculture

and cultural cross-fertilisation facilitated the organisation of peasant
unions. Similarly, the peasant unions in the Aymara altiplano of La
Paz merged with traditional forms of ethnic authority, achieving the
active subordination of the regions's Aymara peasantry to the post-
revolutionary state. The peasantry's incorporation was incomplete and
imperfect, however, creating the conditions for the resurgence of ethnic
grievances in the 1970s, and for the reorganisation of the peasant trade
union movement under the aegis of the new Aymara trade unionism
[Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984:166-8].
In northern Potosí, where the ayllus had survived with their pre-
hispanic characteristics largely intact, the smallholder orientation of the
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agrarian reform and the organisation of peasant unions under state

tutelage constituted a more complex and subtle attack on the indigenous
society. The agrarian reform law attempted to put a definitive end to
communal systems of resource control, and was an explicit attack on the
pwra-valley systems of verticality, as it prohibited dual land tenure.
Nevertheless, the ayllus were able to cushion the impact of these measures
because of their internal cohesion and capacity to renew social relations
regulated by traditional law. Most of the region's ayllus obtained collec-
tive titles, and maintained communal regulation of the families' pro-
ductive activities and of the internal distribution of resources. Despite the
legal obstacles of the agrarian reform, a significant percentage of families
also succeeded in maintaining direct access to lands in different ecological
niches, thus generating a broad network of exchange and indirect access
relations that involves the majority of ayllu families.3
Given the ayllus' capacity to resist the imposed changes, the principal
impact of the 1953 agrarian reform in northern Potosí was the definitive
consolidation of private property rights acquired since the late nineteenth
century by the mestizo townsfolk. Most elements of the local power
structure were, in fact, quick to abandon their former alliances with
upper class landowners and realign with the MNR, adopting in the
process the reformist language and proposals of the new state, including
its 'civilising' attitute toward the indigenous population. It was in the
political-ideological sphere that the post-revolutionary state had its
greatest impact on the ayllus of northern Potosí: the creation of parastatal
unions, the extension of universal suffrage, and the massive teaching of
Spanish and other measures aimed at the cultural homogenisation of
Bolivian society all affected the internal functioning of the region's ayllus
far more than the agrarian reform.
In the valleys of northern Potosí, former miners and townsfolk
organised a vast union movement to press for the application of the
agrarian reform law to the large and mid-size haciendas remaining in the
region.4 While some hacienda workers joined this movement, they had
little impact on the unions' political style or ideological perspectives. The
valley unions established clientelist forms of leadership and. recruitment
from the outset; the leaders built and maintained their power through
armed militia and control over state resources. The unions were easily co-

opted by urban elites, and the movement quickly degenerated into

factionalism and caudillismo (bossism), once its sole objective of land
redistribution in the valleys was attained.
Thus while the unions did represent the grievances of a sector of
the rural population dominated by the haciendas, they were also an
expression of the cultural hegemony of the mestizo urban elite.
Accentuating the gap between the puna and the valleys, the unions
marginalised the traditional authorities and therefore reduced the ayllus''
ability to regulate and renew vertical channels of land tenure. The unions
were actually conceived as a means of 'civilising' and modernising the
indigenous society's forms of political representation. As such, they both
inherited and reproduced a major historical burden from the colonial
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system of relations between mestizo-creole elite and indigenous ayllus.

This system did not bring whites and Indians into a clear, irreconcilable
antagonism, but rather functioned as a chain of domination with a broad
gradation of intermediate strata linking the creóle elite to the ayllu runa or
jaqis [Lehm and Rivera, 1988]. Depending on the context, the various
layers of the intermediate mestizo strata function as either oppressors
or oppressed. Vis-à-vis the ayllus, the mestizo union leaders acted as
oppressors, as unconscious bearers of the dominant culture and the
mestizo state project of the MNR. Their actions reproduced an urban-
western cultural hegemony, and reflected an internalised vision of
'civilising' the Indians which they shared with the dominant creóle
national elite. In many respects, however, the mestizo union leaders were
also discriminated against and instrumentalised by this same elite (for
example, by the national MNR leadership).
In the valleys of northern Potosí, there was, at least, a material basis for
a union movement In the puna, where there were no haciendas to
redistribute, the divorce between the union apparatus and the ayllus'
system of representation and authority was even more radical and
irreconcilable. The puna unions developed links to the local mestizo
power structures, and usurped the role of mediating state-ay//« relations
from the segundas and kurakas. But the everyday life of the communards
continued to be governed by the ethnic authorities rather than by the
artificial union structures created under state auspices, at least during the
first phase of the revolutionary period. As the relationship between the
miners and the state deteriorated, the rural unions were increasingly used
as a basis of support for the government's anti-worker policies.
In both the puna and the valleys of northern Potosí, the unions
introduced electoral participation based on universal suffrage into the
collective practices of the region's peasantry. The impact of this process
must be understood in the context of the communards' collective per-
ception of the historic equilibrium between the ayllus and the state. From
the point of view of the ayllus, any act of courtesy or acquiescence to the
state was feasible so long as two key elements were not touched: the
tributary regime and the ayllu land tenure system. Because of this
perception, as well as the limited significance of behaviours based on
'individual free will',7 the ayllus of northern Potosí adopted an attitude of

apparent docility, voting for all officially-backed candidates, always in

accordance with the 'instructions' they received from the union leaders,
chiefs of MNR commands, and urban political authorities [Platt, 1982:
Thus, until the 1970s, northern Potosí was an electoral stronghold for
the party in power, whatever it might be, as well as a source of support for
the governments' repressive actions against the radical miners' unions.
Under the Banzer dictatorship (1971-78), the entire official trade union
apparatus — which in earlier years had taken the first steps towards
autonomy - was restructured around 'peasant' leaders from northern
Potosí.8 It is easy to see why these forms of behaviour have reinforced the
perception of progressive mestizo elites that the ayllus are not just
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an obstacle, but an open threat, to the left's projects for 'popular'

democracy. However, this perception is but the fruit of a series of failures
to understand how the ayllus have historically established their relations
with an invariably foreign and colonial state. For example, the submissive
and anticommunist ayllu dwellers of the puna refused to recognise official
union leaders in 1963, upon learning of government plans to use the union
apparatus to win peasant acceptance of a liberal tax reform aimed at
further imposing the privatisation of communally-held lands [Platt, 1982:
162-4], This opposition was repeated more forcefully in 1968, when
General Barrientos (1964—69), feeling very assured of his charisma and
the political control afforded by the 'military-peasant pact', carried out a
new effort along the same lines [Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984:117-25].
Universal suffrage, like the promotion of unions, was part of a long-
standing project aimed at eliminating comunitarian forms of landowner-
ship and political behaviour. As such, the electoral project of the post-
revolutionary state served to reinforce the colonial forms of domination
exercised by the mestizo urban minority over the indigenous peasant
majority, renewing the rationale and legitimation of such domination.
Prior to the extension of universal suffrage, Indians were excluded
from political participation because the mestizo/creole elite placed them
towards the bottom of the positivist scale of human evolution. With uni-
versal suffrage, they remained second-class citizens, viewed as incapable
of exercising their own civil rights, and in need of mestizo leadership and
protection until they achieved 'maturity' (that is, assimilation).
The new electoral system remains exclusionary. Presidential elections
are 'tied' to congressional elections through single slates of candidates
proposed by the recognised political parties and coalitions. Such decisions
are controlled by the political parties' mestizo-creole leadership circles
which designate the people's 'representatives' from above, using
clientelist and caste criteria which further exclude Indians. At the same
time, the mestizo-creole leaders have developed a far-reaching clientelist
network, made up of the lower-ranking state authorities, the political
party organisations, and the trade union apparatus, through which
they manipulate peasant political participation, taking advantage of the
scarcity of resources and services in rural areas.
Clientelism, the dominant political style, thus synthesises the dia-

chronic contradictions left unresolved in a succession of liberal reforms

imposed by various governments on the indigenous population since the
late nineteenth century. In its specifically Bolivian variant, clientelism
is the contemporary basis of support for a centuries-old mode of patri-
monialist domination,9 in which a seigniorial hereditary caste, bearer of a
long-standing mission civilatrice, has succeeded in reconstituting itself
throughout successive phases and forms of the state, so as to continue
monopolising ideological and political power. As we have seen in the case
of northern Potosí, this process has influenced every corner of Bolivia,
constituting a chain whose intermediate links, the provincial and cantonal
elites, have stayed in power because they have effectively combined the
oligarchic forms of domination with the paternalistic forms that arose
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during the populist cycle, to manipulate the collective practices of the

ayllus. In this way, the liberal spirit of the republican laws - from the Law
of Expropriation to the agrarian reform - has been placed at the service of
a logic of reproduction in which it is neither possible nor admissible to
respect the Andean cultural 'otherness', and where the same 'freedom',
'equality', and other civil rights are disregarded until the Indians deny
their own identity, or become 'equal' to the mestizo/creole minority.


The military-peasant pact of 1966-77 increased the internal contra-
dictions of the parastatal trade union structure inherited from the MNR,
leading to the formation of several rural opposition movements in the
1970s. The most important of these was the katarista trade union move-
ment of the Aymara altiplano. The kataristas developed a programme
based on economic grievances particular to the peasantry as a class, the
defence of ethnic identities, and opposition to the military-peasant pact.
In linking class and ethnic identities, they brought together vast sectors of
the country's indigenous peasantry, and challenged the political and
ideological bases of the post-1952 state. This process culminated in
1979 with the founding of the Trade Union Confederation of Bolivian
Peasant Workers (CSUTCB), organised around the new Aymara trade
unionism.10 Having developed a trade union programme, the kataristas
divided into political currents, based on different views on the relation-
ship between ethnicity and class in the peasant-indigenous struggle.
The most representative of these currents was the Tupaq Katari Revo-
lutionary Movement (MRTK), which led the CSUTCB from 1979 to 1988
[Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984,1985].
The kataristas opposed state intervention in rural unions and clientelism
more generally, the latter identified as 'political serfdom'. However, they
fully accepted the trade union structure, once freed of state tutelage. The
kataristas believed that unions could be authentic organs of peasant
power, because they assumed that union structures could be articulated
with the organisational traditions of the ayllus.11 In effect, this was the case
in the altiplano. Locally, the Aymara unions of the altiplano creatively

combined the direct democracy particular to the ayllus with the repre-
sentative democracy of the union, thus forming powerful federations
capable of acting in unity while respecting a certain organisational and
cultural diversity.
In northern Potosí, in contrast, historical barriers impeded the process
of union démocratisation that began elsewhere with the katarista move-
ment. By the late 1970s, when the katarista movement began to have an
impact in northern Potosí, there already existed considerable opposition
to state intervention in rural unions and to the military-peasant pact more
generally.12 Together with other factors, including a shared experience of
repression under the Banzer dictatorship, this opposition led to a cautious
rapprochement between miners and peasants, on the basis of a shared
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anti-military outlook. In this context, a new leadership headed by former

miner Florencio Gabriel took the reins of the regional union movement,
encouraging a total break with the military-peasant pact and closer
relations between the peasant and miners' movements. The new themes
of unity and cultural revindication were expressed in the choice of a new
name at the 1979 Chayanta congress, the Union Federation of Peasant
Workers of Northern Potosí (FSUTCNP), and in the choice of the
organisation's official logo, which included the image of Tomás Katari,
the eighteenth-century Kuraka rebel.
Nevertheless, there was considerable continuity between the new
leadership and past patterns of manipulation by the MNR and military
governments.13 The disarticulation between the union movement and the
ayllus was somewhat obscured in the brief democratic period of 1978-
80, given the military threat to the democratic process and the initially
bewildering effect of the coalition between peasants and miners after
many decades of mutual isolation. The contradictory nature of the unions
became much more evident after 1982, when popular protest brought the
leftist Democratic and Popular Unity (UDP) coalition to power after two
years of bloody and unpopular military dictatorship. The UDP initiated
a convulsive period of government marked by internal differences among
its three member parties: the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement of the
Left (MNRI), the Bolivian Communist Party (PCB), and the Movement
of the Revolutionary Left (MIR).
The 1983 Second Congress of the FSUTCNP, held in Chayanta in
February 1983, was particularly revealing in terms of the relationships
between the ayllus, the unions, and the parties.14 The UDP viewed such
trade union congresses as important vehicles for consolidating its base of
support; its member parties all tried to control the autonomous tendencies
within the CSUTCB and the MRTK,15 thus continuing the clientelist
political style typical of the creóle political class.16 The left's failure to
develop alternative forms of political recruitment and socialisation was
particularly evident in northern Potosí: its main interest was to control the
powerful mine workers union, and, at a fundamental level, the left shared
the mestizo/creole elite's contemptuous refusal to recognise the cultural
and organisational practices of the ayllus.
The federation's congress was thus the scene of an open confrontation

for the clientelist control of the regional union movement Local

authorities and notable figures from the region's urban areas participated
in the congress, as did a large delegation of rural teachers whose leader-
ship positions were based on their affiliations with one or another of the
UDP's political parties.17 Most of the executive posts were occupied by the
urban mestizos, whose language and behavior revealed a "radical social
and cultural distance from the runa and jaqi of the ayllus.
In an environment charged by bureaucratic struggles to control the top-
level regional directorate, it was impossible to raise any of the ayllus'
cultural and social demands.18 Nor did the communards receive support
from the katarista leadership, whose national reputation was based on the
defence of Aymara-Qhichwa identity and opposition to mestizo/creole
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party manipulation of the peasant union movement. The kataristas, in

fact, said nothing about the problem of cultural oppression, which the
union movement itself helped to maintain and produce, and thus partici-
pated in the political manipulation orchestrated by the urban notables,
the real winners of the congress. The very formalisms of union activity and
discourse worked against the ayllus, blocking the autonomous expression
of their interests. The wording of resolutions, drafting of minutes, and
even the vote count all involved the Western knowledge of educated
urban mestizos, who were accustomed to managing the rituals of union
In summary, the dynamics of the federation congress indicate that
the long-standing domination of mestizo urban elites over the ayllu
communards in northern Potosí unions persists in spite of significant
political transformations at the national level. Even the new left leader-
ship has attempted to control the union from the mine or the town, and the
'worker-peasant alliance' serves to subordinate communard interests to
proletarian interests. The profound disjunction between the union struc-
ture and the ayllu endures: union leadership representation is shallow,
formal, and far removed from the norms of community life. The articu-
lation between direct and representative democracy, which has been
achieved in some regions and unions, and which makes it possible to see
the seeds of a new type of democracy in unionism, simply does not exist in
northern Potosí. There unions are foreign, imposed structures which
prolong and reproduce colonial forms of domination over the ayllus. They
incorporate the communards into the 'civilised' logic of liberal democracy
through the customary clientelist methods, with a revolutionary discourse
that conceals the thick layer of prejudices and cultural gaps separating the
dominant society from the dominated Indian society.


Since the drought of the early 1980s, non-governmental development
organisations (NGOs) have become important political actors in northern
Potosí, channelling large sums of emergency relief funds, and, in the
process, promoting the formation of unions on an unprecedented scale.19

This section explores how unions, NGOs, and political parties interact in a
clientelist system which actively undermines Bolivia's 'other democracy'
in the name of progressive politics.
The ideology of trade unionism and development promotion is based
on a radical lack of familiarity with the complex internal structure of the
ayllu and its workings. Development institutions distinguish only two
levels: the ayllu (corresponding to the maximal ayllu, or the major ayllu,
in Plait's classification), and the 'community' (corresponding to the
principal or subordinate hamlet). To the extent that the intermediate
levels (minor ayllus) are not recognised, and the cabildos are confused
with their subordinate ranchos, their promotion work profoundly distorts
the organisation of land tenure at the various levels, as it fails to recognise
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the interlocking land distribution among cabildos and ayllus, both in

the communal highland plots and in the 'islands' shared by various
ayllus in the distant valleys of other provinces.20 In promoting greater
commercialisation of communal production, the NGOs fail to take into
account the ayllus1 long historic experience of confrontation with the
market, as well as the forms in which products and labour circulate in the
'ethnic economy'.21
The division of the ayllu population into different tributary categories
is another source of misunderstanding. At first glance, this division
appears to express profound inequality, since it is associated with very
clear differences in access to land and other resources. However, as
demonstrated by several ethnographic studies, the internal stratification
determined by the tributary categories is a flexible system of adapting
family life cycles to the availability of resources [Platt, 1982:55-7; Harris,
1982: 6\. Changes in tributary status, whether through negotiations with
the ethnic authorities over vacant lands, or through inter-family agree-
ments or marriage strategies, are quite common. In this way an originario
may become an agregado, or vice versa, or a kantu runa may accede to a
higher tributary status, so long as the number of available family members
is sufficient for cultivating the total lands allocated, and for fulfilling the
duties that accompany the new tributary status. These duties not only
imply the payment of tribute, the ultimate symbolic manifestation of a
network of internal social relations, but also carrying out duties such as
serving in positions of authority, sponsoring festivals, etc. In addition, the
ayllus have strong moral sanctions against individual accumulation. For
example, families with more land have an obligation to lend it to families
without enough land [Harris, 1982: 6]. Thus the apparent stratification
implicit in the tributary categories is but a mechanism for balancing the
rights and duties of each family vis-à-vis the collectivity.
The unionists and development workers consider payment of tribute to
the state to be a barbaric form of submission incompatible with the
communards' dignity as citizens and to their revolutionary 'duty'. The
ethnic authority system, on the whole, is seen as nothing but an appendix
of the state at the local level, serving to 'domesticate' the ayllus and
guarantee their subordination to the government.22 The enormous impor-
tance attributed to the fulfillment of a cycle linked to a ritual calendar, and

to solving the community's problems in its relations with nature and

the supernatural, is also disdained, in accordance with urban mestizo
prejudices. The ritual practices associated with 'custom' and the 'natural'
(that is, pre-social) character of authority are viewed as contradicting the
'consensus' and secularised democracy that prevails in the unions.
Trade union and NGO ideology fails to consider the defensive function
of both the tribute and the 'theatrically courteous' relations [Thompson,
1973:396-400] that the ayllu authorities have historically maintained vis-
à-vis the state. It is this 'theatrical courtesy', practiced at certain moments
in the ritual calendar, that obliges the state to admit the existence of an
autonomous territorial and social space over which it does not exercise
sovereignty. Unfortunately, the liberal logic of citizenship implicit in
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the practice of revolutionary unionists and progressive NGOs appears

destined to block the enormous potential for contestation inherent in this
situation. Similarly, the cohesive and legitimating functions of ritual are
simply ignored, if not denigrated and treated as shameful idolatrous
holdovers that cast doubt on the communards' civilised status. The
implicit association between civilisation and Christianity, which denies
the freedom of religion enshrined in Bolivia's liberal constitution, is an
example of the colonial nature of the civilising ideology embodied in trade
unionism and preached by the non-governmental organisations, many of
which are either Catholic or Protestant.
Similarly, the unionist/NGO position exalts the democratic nature of
trade unions, in spite of concrete historic evidence to the contrary, and
considers the methods used for electing ethnic authorities to be anti-
democratic and archaic, given the apparent rigidity of the rotation system
and the rituals for confirming elections. The fact that not all community
families may accede to the highest positions of authority would seem
to confirm this point of view. Nonetheless, as already indicated, the
flexibility inherent in the tributary stratification and its levelling-out
function are not taken into account. Nor is there any understanding
of the radical difference between the cultural basis of Andean ethnic
authority, conceived as a 'service' rendered to the collective within
networks of reciprocity and redistribution, and the individual accumu-
lation of power implied in the functioning of the union model.
From the beginning, food assistance and donations of productive inputs
were deliberately used by several progressive organisations as a means of
promoting the formation of unions in the ayllus, at the cost of explicitly
marginalising the communal systems for distributing and allocating
resources, and their norms of social control. Desperation and famine in
the communities made it possible for this type of blackmail to work
effectively, and a lofty revolutionary rhetoric served as a concealing and
legitimating discourse. The union, it was argued, is more 'modern',
'democratic', and 'revolutionary' than the system of ethnic authorities, a
holdover of the pre-capitalist barbarism that must be overcome.
The overall impact of linking food assistance to the formation of trade
unions has been tragic: a dependent mentality has become accentuated in
the communities which has eroded their capacity for self-government.

The ayllus view the NGOs as sources of resources parallel to the state to
which partial concessions must be made, such as accepting instructions to
vote for one or another candidate in union, municipal, or national
elections. There is a great deal of evidence confirming the politically
contingent nature of NGO services and resources. The 'electoral geo-
graphy' of the 1985 national elections and the 1987 municipal elections
points to the decisive influence of NGOs on the left parties' electoral
results. Far from the sovereign exercise of individual free will, there-
fore, voting is the product of clientelist transactions in which access to
resources, whether of the state or the NGOs, depends on pacts entered
into with the communities, and in which the communities vote collectively
in the expectation of obtaining the best possible negotiating terms with the
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creole-mestizo sectors that hold political power.

NGO-promoted unions, in so far as they involved only one sector of the
families in each minimal ayllu and only some minimal ayllus in each major
ayllu, have become a parallel and competitive organisational form that
erodes the ethnic authorities' regulatory function in the areas of resource
distribution and dispute settlement. Tensions have grown between the
older and younger generations: the latter have seen the NGOs as a way to
escape collective social controls and to seek individual subsistence alter-
natives, such as migration, which have a direct, negative impact on
communities' productive potential.
The distribution of food assistance through the unions promotes corrup-
tion, distrust, and divisiveness, because the communards of northern
Potosí have no way to hold the externally-imposed union leadership
accountable. The distribution system does not reach all families, but
instead is limited to those registered in the assistance programme and
affiliated with the unions. Since several institutions operate simul-
taneously in the region, and unionisation is not the precondition for
providing 'assistance' in all cases, an intense internal factionalism has
arisen within the ayllus among ranchos and among groups of families
affiliated with one or another organisation, thus leading to a profound
crisis whose implications for the very survival of the communal organisa-
tions are difficult to predict.
In addition to this organisational crisis, an ideological crisis has shaken
collective mental structures to the point of provoking a loss of self-
confidence and self-respect, above all in the younger generation. Because
of the activities of the NGOs and urban mestizo elites, the communards
have internalised a denigrating view of their own culture and ancestral
customs. Thus the young unionists have acted as the spearhead of the
creóle nation-state project, as unconscious bearers of a dominant culture
based on negating the Andean cultural 'otherness* to the point where even
the human condition of the ayllu people is negated. Because of their
proximity to nature, their 'idolatrous' religious practices, and a series of
physical and cultural traits, the indigenous people are pressured to
abandon their moral and psycho-social frames of reference in order to
achieve a minimum of respect and treatment as 'equals'.
All these factors weakened the communal systems of land tenure, crop

rotation, and forms of authority and representation, without encouraging

alternative organisational forms or political practices. The organisational
and ideological crises of the ayllus arise from a paradoxical 'stalemate' of
rationales: while the democratic practices of the ayllus have not been
totally struck down to make way for liberal and individualistic political
behavior based on the 'citizen' image, the communards do not enjoy the
benefits of a democratic society. In spite of their good intentions, the
unconscious practices and habits of many development workers have
contributed to this result, revealing a serious inability to understand how
the ayllu society and economy functions, its particular forms of self-
government, and its sui generis democratic system.
The ayllus have not been passive in the face of these new attacks from
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the dominant creole-mestizo society. They have developed several forms

of resistance and self-defence, ranging from selective and conditional
acceptance of the unions, in order to negotiate access to the productive
and reproductive resources distributed by the NGOs and the state, to
open hostility manifested in multiple testimonies and defiant attitudes.
The revival of an anti-colonial myth in the context of the 1983 drought was
an example of this resistance, as well as a poignant illustration of the
diachronic contradictions left unresolved by the liberal union model in
this contemporary phase of the history of northern Potosí.
In early 1983, the full impact of the drought was being felt.24 The NGOs
were launching a massive food assistance plan through the imposed
unions. In this context of crisis, an ancient anti-colonial myth was revived
throughout northern Potosí. This myth tells the story of the lik'ichiri
or kharisiri,25 a character who in the original version appeared dressed
as a priest, carrying a small bell and a lantern, with which he would
hypnotise his victims, lulling them into a deep sleep so as to cut out
their fat (lik'i), which in Andean culture is considered to be a bodily
fluid as vital as blood. Throughout the Andean area there are certain
places where the lik'ichiris may be found travelling at night, especially at
certain times of the year. Their victims are young and strong, and
gradually weaken as they lose their fat, until they succumb to death. The
lik'ichiri is not a person, even though he adopts a human appearance to
deceive his victims.
According to Aguiló [1983], the revival of the myth in northern Potosí
involved certain changes in the content and messages of the traditional
myth. The UK ichiris were no longer dressed as priests, nor did they carry a
small bell and lantern. Rather, they assumed the appearance of 'gringos',
that is, foreigners or creóles - engineers, physicians, or agronomists who
work in the region's NGOs - or they were visitors from the European
agencies that finance NGOs. Their methods were also more modem: they
no longer extracted fat with knives, but with special 'machines' that could
be operated at a distance. They travelled about the region in jeeps and had
modern laboratories and facilities where they would process the fat
into commercial ointments such as petroleum jelly. Their victims were
no longer individuals who, due to their own neglect, fell under their
influence, but rather entire communities. The IPTK, one of the NGOs

most involved in the problem, was accused of 'raising' lik'ichiris at its

facilities, and processing the fat at its hospital laboratories for export.
The alarm created in the region, the speed with which the rumour
spread, and the mobilisation it sparked suggest that this was an authentic
social movement of resistance to the work of the NGOs and the imposi-
tion of organisational models foreign to the ayllus. From January to
March 1983, the communities' defensive actions were intense, and at
times violent. The denunciations by radio and throughout the com-
munities' informal communication networks spread the mythical move-
ment throughout southern Bolivia, to the departments of Chuquisaca and
Potosí and to parts of Cochabamba and Oruro. Jeeps with NGO personnel
were frequently halted, trucks blocked with boulders and stones, and
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their occupants frightened by deliberate dynamite blasts. There was a

massive attack by communards on IPTK's experimental farm in Peaña;
they threatened to set the institution ablaze and expel the lik'ichiris. In the
Taqupampa region, where the ACLO exercised influence, an imposed
union leader was also accused of being a lik'ichiri. The JPTK had to
suspend operations for several weeks, and the work of NGOs in general
was hindered, despite their humanitarian effort to distribute food and
offer famine relief.
This revival of the lik'ichiri myth is cause for reflection on the problems
provoked by the NGOs' imposition of the union model on the ayllus. In
effect, they continued the long series of efforts by the dominant creole-
mestizo society to civilise the 'barbaric' and uncivilised world of the ayllus,
whose religious practices, organisational forms, and internal function-
ing are considered archaic remnants which limit progress and rational
economic development based on the capitalist market and liberal notions
of individualism and citizenship. This apocalyptic defence of the ayllus'
society arose in the face of the clientelist degradation implicit in the
NGOs' practices. The communards considered 'the other', that which is
foreign to oneself, to be the 'non-human' (lik'ichiri), as they did centuries
earlier in times of major crisis, and as did anti-colonial Andean rebels
when they opposed Spanish domination. Indeed, according to a sugges-
tive study by Szeminiski [1983:196], this dynamic of mutual exclusion was
evident both in the rebellion of Tupac Amaru in Cuzco and in that of the
Katari brothers in Chayanta: 'the rebel masses believed that the Spaniards
were not people'. But the Spaniards also 'considered that the indigenous,
not the rebels, but the indigenous generally, were not people'. Such was
the profound colonial substratum beneath the movement of mythical
revival in northern Potosí. The perception of mestizo/creole institutions
as a non-human space is but the mirror image of the centuries-old threat
that has been closing in on the ayllus, the threat of being excluded from
society, confined to the dark and amorphous world of nature, a threat
implicit in all of the 'civilising' work carried out by the dominant society,
which considers the Indians to be sub-human so long as they adhere to
their distinct outlook, their cultural and religious practices, and their own
forms of organisation and collective life.
Amidst the crisis and desperation provoked by the drought, the

defensive mobilisation of the ayllus against the NGOs took the apoca-
lyptic form of mythical revival. The circumstances that sparked this
movement have passed, and the agitation has subsided. Nonetheless, the
latent problem of incompatibility between the NGO and union model, on
the one hand, and the psychic and organisational universe of the ayllus, on
the other, persists. The cultural gap that has existed for centuries does not
appear to have found a harmonious and viable solution in this new phase
of modernisation. On the contrary, each modernising step appears to
generate defence mechanisms in the communards, at the deepest sub-
stratum of the collective memory, where the oldest wounds still bleed,
where the memory of the invader who altered the invaded society is still
painful. This memory is set off by the continued destructuring work of the
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invaders' modem heirs.


We have briefly reviewed the history of northern Potosí, showing that
there is a long-term historic constant which has been reproduced by the
successive phases of reform and modernisation put forth by the dominant
creole-mestizo society. The original colonial clash between two cultures
and two world views in mutual confrontation became particularly acute
during mobilisations to protest the late nineteenth century tributary
reform, the revolution and agrarian reform of 1953, and, most recently,
the promotion of trade unions by NGOs engaged in emergency relief and
development work.
In the course of this history, the exclusionary mechanisms have varied.
In colonial times, the negation of the human condition of the colonised
found support in the Thomist ideas of soul and reason. Christianisation
was thus the 'humanisation' of the Indian, and the Indian's way of winning
recognition as a rational being. In the republican period, this religious
rationalisation was replaced by the social Darwinist ideas in vogue at the
time, according to which the Indians occupied a lower rung in the scale of
human evolution; through selective adaptation, they would either be
subjugated or would perish, giving way to the more developed white race.
This was the ideological underpinning of the liberal reforms of the 1870s,
and the basis for creóle society's 'double standard', which recognised the
Indians' formal citizenship, but did not consider them sufficiently human
to live in equal conditions with the creóle minority. They therefore set out
to impose 'civilisation by the club', depriving the Indians of their lands and
transforming them into colonos.
The 1952 revolution and 1953 agrarian reform put the partially imple-
mented liberal programme into practice. The revolutionaries confiscated
the land of the large estates rather than that of the indigenous peasantry,
but like the liberal reforms of 1874, they denied the communards the right
to preserve their ayllus and communities, imposing smallholding for
commodity production as the only option in the redistributive process. In
both the political and economic spheres, the revolution imposed the
liberal ideal of citizenship on the indigenous peoples, based on the

privatisation of communal lands, forced learning of Spanish, and the

disappearance of all vestiges of ethnic identity. To the extent that this
process remained incomplete, clientelism served as an intermediate
structure which gave the appearance of modernity to the new political
system, while reproducing the tenacious structural patterns inherited
from the colonial past. Citizenship, this time much more real than formal,
remained based in the same exclusionary logic of the Christianisation
imposed by the original colonisers: in order to be recognised as rational
beings worthy of the human condition, the Indians had to deny their own
identities, and adopt the ways of the dominant minority. The more recent
promotion of unions is based on identical principles and reasoning, and on
a similar process of clientelist cooptation, however sweetened by the
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revolutionary rhetoric of 'popular education' and 'conscientisation*.

The theoretical and practical implications of this history for the con-
temporary process of rural démocratisation cannot be underestimated.
First, there is a latent tension between the forms of direct democracy
exercised by the ayllus, and the representative democracy implied both in
the union model and in the parliamentary and municipal democracy that
have been re-established in recent years. The ayllus' territoriality is
denied as a jurisdictional space for exercising municipal and political
representation, which is limited to the mestizo urban areas. The single-
slate electoral system centralises the power to select 'representatives' in
urban and mestizo/creole leadership circles, thus denying autonomous
and varied local realities. The citizenship ideal of the unions and the
electoral system undermines the autonomy of the ayllus and submits them
to the clientelist networks of the state, the political parties and, more
recently, the non-governmental organisations. Practices that do not fit
within this homogenising model, or that question it, are condemned to
marginality and a clandestine existence, under the same exclusionary
logic that characterised the original colonial relationship between the
Spaniards and the indigenous people.
Second, the tension between the communal model and the liberal
citizenship model has a corollary in the economic sphere and in the modes
of production. In effect, the citizenship model is the political expression of
the petty-commodity regime based on individual landholding, while
the 'ethnic economy' is oriented to the social and economic repro-
duction of the collectivity, including through sui generis forms of agrarian
mercantilism. While formulated in terms of reducing rural povery, the
model of development promoted by the NGOs and the state is, in practice,
designed to increase peasant production for cheap urban consumption
through the market. Since the nineteenth century, this commercial
project has eroded the productive capacity of the ayllus, accentuating the
very ills it claimed to combat. In large part this is because the communities
and ayllus have no recognised legal status, do not receive credit, and are
not considered basic units for institutional action. All state and NGO
programmes are directed at families, parcels, and individual economic
management, even when formulated in terms of 'fostering cooperative
production', thus becoming the most effective means of completing the

process of individuation and cultural homogenisation that is implicit in the

citizenship project.
Finally, the notion of civil rights theoretically associated with the
principle of equality among citizens is also, paradoxically, transformed
into conditional recognition by the dominant society of the indigenous
peasantry's rights: the latent threat of exclusion combines this false liberty
with the inability to recognise the indigenous society's cultural and social
right to be different. No human right will be fully recognised so long as the
indigenous peoples are denied the right to autonomy in their decisions to
continue or transform, by themselves, their forms of organisation and
collective life and their conceptions of the world.
All this obliges us to reconsider the ideological basis of our democratic
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institutions. If the ideal of equality continues to be based on the western

model of citizenship as modem, 'rational', and proprietary capable of
entering into transactions in the market and of embracing the fetishistic
logic of commodities, then it must likewise continue to prolong and
reproduce this process of exclusion which, ultimately, is at the crux of the
colonial experience. Therefore, an authentically democratic reform will
necessarily have to imply some form of articulation between direct and
representative democracy, at the initiative of the interested parties them-
At the centre of this issue also lies the need to bring about demo-
cratic forms and practices based on recognition of the right to be different
as a fundamental human right. Therefore, citizenship must be recon-
ceptualised in accordance with out multicultural reality. This goal implies
a process of organisational and institutional reforms, as well as profound
changes in outlook, in order to guarantee the broadening and consoli-
dation of democracy in the rural areas, while at the same time ensuring
fulfillment of a necessary condition for the effective development of
democracy: the radical decolonisation of the social and political structures
on which our social coexistence has historically been based.

1. We think of the one million victims of the Mexican revolution, the approximately
250,000 killed during la Violencia in Colombia, and the untold massacres and popular
revolts of contemporary Bolivian history, to cite only a few examples.
2. Platt proposes the idea of a 'reciprocity pact' between ayllus and the state, to interpret
the communards' defence of the old tributary regime and their opposition to the Law of
Expropriation [1982: 100]. We radically disagree with that interpretation, because it
suggests a continuity between the Inca state and the colonial state, failing to recognise
the profoundly traumatic and destructuring impact of the European invasion, and
minimising the impact of colonialism. The notion of an 'understood truce', on the other
hand, is more in line with the communard perception of an as yet inconclusive battle
between colonised and colonisers, with partial and temporary agreements - among
them the payment of tributes - as a means of defending a status quo of territorial
occupation by part of Andean society [Rivera and THOA team, 1989: 15; Lehm, nd.].
3. According to a rural survey done in 1978, the results of which were presented and
analysed by Tristan Platt, only 25 per cent of the families surveyed in 18 cantones of

northern Potosí had direct access to puna and valley lands, but many other families had
access to the valley's products through ties of kinship, reciprocity, barter, and other
means [1986: 49-76].
4. This movement, which took place between 1957 and 1959, is studied in detail by Harris
and Albó [1986: 73-90].
5. Runa and jaqi are the terms for 'people' in Qhichwa and Aymara, respectively.
6. This was particularly evident from 1962 to 1964, when, in the context of a traditional
ritual fight or tinku (Qhichwa for 'encounter' or 'meeting'), violent confrontations
between two ayllus worsened. With the support of pseudo-peasant leaders, the
government used the tinku as a pretext for a military intervention aimed at tightening
the circle around the 'communist' mines in the region. This situation endured until the
late 1970s [Harris and Albó. 1986: 90-99].
7. It is essential to bear in mind that apparently universal and neutral concepts such as 'free
will' and 'citizenship' are deeply tied to a specific cultural historical configuration of
ideas and beliefs, in this case liberalism, and are therefore neither universal nor neutral.
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8. Oscar Céspedes, a resident of Toracarí and former policeman of the mining locale
of Uncía, was 'elected' executive secretary of the National Federation of Peasant
Workers, and kept that post throughout the Banzer period [Harris and Albo, 1986: 95-
9. This Weberian conceptualisation of the Bolivian state system was suggested to me in a
recent work by Malloy and Gamarra which describes the form of domination estab-
lished during the Banzer government as 'neopatrimonialist' [1988: Ch. 3]. In addition
to removing the prefix, I believe that the patrimonialist nature of the state, in its caste-
like or estamental form [Weber, 1964: 11-773], is precisely one of the manifestations of
colonial continuity in the contemporary political system, and that it has been reinforced
by the 1952 revolution.
10. The CSUTCB's mobilising capacity was revealed in its successful opposition to a 1979
coup attempt, which was followed by a mass mobilisation seeking more favourable crop
prices. The road blocks of November-December 1979 were one of the most impressive
mobilisations in recent history. Tens of thousands of indigenous peasants mobilised
nationwide, cutting off supply channels to the cities and establishing an iron 'fence'
around the urban areas. No doubt the logic of siege was also present in this mobilisa-
tion, both in the tactics of the indigenous peasantry and in the collective perception of
the urban creole sectors, who viewed it as a revived version of 'racist' practices (that is,
aimed at eliminating the ' whites' from the scene) of indigenous leaders of the past, from
Tupak Katari in the eighteenth century to Zárate Willka in 1899, including the rural
militia of the 1950s [Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984: 157-60; Hurtado, 1986: 159-86; Albó,
1987: 379].
11. This explains the kataristas' emphasis on the liberation of colonially oppressed nations,
based on multiple forms of indigenous self-rule operating in the countryside, which
were to be 'combined' without dissolving the unity of the state, but radically trans-
forming its centralist and colonial character [CSUTCB, 1983].
12. The ayllus' continued rejection of the liberal tax reforms attempted since the early
1960s revealed clear limits to trade union manipulation: the ayllus were willing to make
certain concessions to the new forms of social and political control in the countryside as
long as these did not imply a radical change in their forms of collective landholding,
which were guaranteed by the continuation of the symbolic payment of the ancient
tribute. Today this yearly tribute is equivalent to the value of approximately 12.5
pounds (half an arroba) of potatoes, at urban prices.
13. Florencio Gabriel was a former miner of rural origins who was politicised in the
increasingly radicalised miners' movement. As was the case with the leadership of the
1957-59 valley mobilisations, Gabriel's ties with the mines led him to adopt radical
language and methods of struggle. He did not, however, attempt to articulate the union
structure with the forms of authority and representation particular to the ayllus.
Disdain for the ethnic authorities, however, did not prevent Gabriel from succeeding in
mobilising the population. His personal charisma and ability to communicate with the
communards sparked massive indigenous participation, together with the miners, in
the mobilisations of 1979 and 1980.

14. The base of data for analysing this congress is found in various tapes in the author's
personal files, as well as her participatory observations throughout the event The tapes
have been translated by the author in collaboration with Filomena Nina and Franklin
Maquera of the Andean Oral History Workshop.
15. In the 1978 elections the MRTK supported the UDP, but was treated in a discrimina-
tory and offensive manner in the negotiations to determine parliamentary slates. Since
then tensions have heightened, especially with the MIR [Rivera Cusicanqui, 1984:151—
2; Hurtado, 1986:125-30].
16. The governing UDP parties controlled all routes of access to these structures of
traditional clientelist mediation, through the lower-ranking political authorities, the
local administrative posts, and even the miners' unions and rural teachers. Even the
MIR, which at that time was splitting from the UDP, had its own clientelist networks in
the countryside, through non-govemmental organisations operating throughout the
country. In the town of Ocuri (province of Chayanta) the MIR directed a powerful
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institution, the Tomás Katari Polytechnical Institute (IPTK), which since 1976 had
been offering educational and health services to the region's rural residents, with the
clear intent of recruiting more rural militants.
17. The electoral outcome of the Congress was also defined beforehand: two union
candidates had been proposed, and the distribution of provincial representatives was
determined by the desired electoral outcome. Thus, of the 490 delegates to the
Congress, 204 represented the province of Bustillos, site of the region's main mining
centres and a stronghold of the UDP cantonal and provincial authorities. These
delegates would invariably vote for the MNRI candidate as a counterweight to the
delegates from Chayanta province, who had been massively instructed by the MIR to
attempt to impose their candidate. In this context, the MRTK intervened as part of the
stronger electoral 'machine' and, drawing support from the MNRI and the PCB,
committed itself to supporting the candidate backed by these parties, in exchange for
having one of its militants receive the second-ranking union post.
18. When a delegate from the grassroots raised the need for bilingual education in their
native language in the school system, he was harshly criticised. A former deputy prefect
of Chayanta, who was a member of the presidium, responded: 'For how much longer
will you refuse to become civilised? How long will you continue to dress in ojotas and
lluch'us, continuing with your customs, like animals? You must join civilisation, and
that is why Spanish must be taught in the schools.'
An ojota is a leather sandal that is part of the traditional peasant attire in the Andean
zone; a lluch'u is a multicolor woven cap, the design of which is distinct in each ayUu in
northern Potosí.
19. During the serious drought that affected vast stretches of Bolivia in the 1982-83
agricultural season, the impact of development organisations such as IPTK of Ocuri,
Pío XII of Siglo XX, and Acción Cultural Loyola (ACLO) of Potosí and Chuquiasca
grew enormously. A partial list of the institutions that operate in the province of
Bustillos alone indicates that in addition to Pío XII and the IPTK, beginning with the
1983 drought the following projects began to work in the region: European Economic
Community, Ayni Ruway, USAID, CARITAS, Fundación contra el Hambre, World
Vision, and Plan de Padrinos, in addition to the aid programmes managed by various
evangelical churches. Of all of them, the IPTK and Pío XII are unquestionably the most
important, both because of the amount of funds they administer and the spatial and
demographic coverage of their activities. They are also the mainstays of the union
organisational model in the region.
From May to October 1986, the Andean Oral History Workshop evaluated the
Peasant Agricultural Recovery Programme (PRACA), which was being carried out by
the religious institution Pío XII, based in the mining town of Siglo XX. The data for this
section are from that study, to be published under the title Ayllus y proyectos de
desarrollo en el norte de Potosí [Rivera and THOA, nd.].
20. In addition, the jurisdiction of the trade union leaders does not cover the families at
other ecological levels, since they belong to other provinces, as well as to a level of trade
union organisation autonomous and distinct from that of the highlands.
21. Harris [1982:15] has described the ethnic economy as a complex of activities based 'on

kinship and on the cultural expressions common to the entire ethnic group'.
22. In the 1987 Departmental Federation of Potosí Peasant Workers, the union congress
adopted this view of the ethnic authorities as part of the organisational platform: 'The
political authorities such as corregidores, curacas, and alcaldes, shall be directed by the
union people and elected democratically by the union organisations. The authorities
should not practice bad customs that are harmful.'
23. This is shown in the testimony of a union leader from Bustillos province:
The natural authorities are elected in accordance with the customs that our ancestors
have left us; those customs are always ck'allas, they are not elected by a majority
consensus of all the people; since they assume their position by those customs alone,
they are natural authorities. (Translation by Ramón Conde.)
24. The data on which this description is based were taken from the work of Federico
Aguiló, a Jesuit who worked with ACLO-Sucre [Aguiló, 1983]. The author was also
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able to obtain additional information through field work carried out in 1986, as well as
from Carmen Avila (personal communication).
25. From the Qhichwa and Aymara, respectively: lik'i=fat; khariña=to cut. Both
expressions mean 'he who cuts (or extracts) the fat'.
26. Such tendencies undoubtedly exist, but have not fully developed. In several ayllus of
Bustillos and Chayan ta, processes of coordination of functions between ethnic and
trade union authorities have emerged which could offer an alternative. At the higher
levels of the CSTUCB, there is also a growing consciousness of the need to put in
practice its principle of 'unity in diversity', developing organisational forms which are
appropriate to the indigenous peasantry.

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