This is the text of a speech given on December 24 at the "In Defense of Humanity" conference.
What happened these past days in Bolivia was a great revolt by those who have been oppressed for more than 500 years. The will of the people was imposed this September and October, and has begun to overcome the empire’s cannons. We have lived for so many years through the confrontation of two cultures: the culture of life represented by the indigenous people, and the culture of death represented by West. When we the indigenous people — together with the workers and even the businessmen of our country — fight for life and justice, the State responds with its "democratic rule of law."
What does the "rule of law" mean for indigenous people? For the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the "rule of law" means the targeted assassinations and collective massacres that we have endured. Not just this September and October, but for many years, in which they have tried to impose policies of hunger and poverty on the Bolivian people. Above all, the "rule of law" means the accusations that we, the Quechuas, Aymaras and Guaranties of Bolivia keep hearing from our governments: that we are narcos, that we are anarchists. This uprising of the Bolivian people has been not only about gas and hydrocarbons, but an intersection of many issues: discrimination, marginalization , and jost importantly, the failure of neoliberalism.
The cause of all these acts of bloodshed, and for the uprising of the Bolivian people, has a name: neoliberalism. With courage and defiance, we brought down Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada–the symbol of neoliberalism in our country — on October 17, the Bolivians’ day of dignity and identity. We began to bring down the symbol of corruption and the political mafia.
And I want to tell you, companeras and companeros, how we have built the consciousness of the Bolivian people from the bottom up. How quickly the Bolivian people have reacted, have said — as Subcomandate Marcos says — ya basta!, enough policies of hunger and misery.
For us, October 17th is the beginning of a new phase of construction. jost importantly, we face the task of ending selfishness and individualism, and creating — from the rural campesino and indigenous communities to the urban slums — other forms of living, based on solidarity and mutual aid. We must think about how to redistribute the wealth that is concentrated among few hands. This is the great task we Bolivian people face after this great uprising.
It has been very important to organize and mobilize ourselves in a way based on transparency, honesty, and control over our own organizations. And it has been important not only to organize but also to unite. Here we are now, united intellectuals in defense of humanity — I think we must have not only unity among the social movements, but also that we must coordinate with the intellectual movements. Every gathering, every event of this nature for we labor leaders who come from the social struggle, is a great lesson that allows us to exchange experiences and to keep strengthening our people and our grassroots organizations.
Thus, in Bolivia, our social movements, our intellectuals, our workers — even those political parties which support the popular struggle — joined together to drive out Gonzalo Sánchez Lozada. Sadly, we paid the price with many of our lives, because the empire’s arrogance and tyranny continue humiliating the Bolivian people.
It must be said, compañeras and compañeros, that we must serve the social and popular movements rather than the transnational corporations. I am new to politics; I had hated it and had been afraid of becoming a career politician. But I realized that politics had once been the science of serving the people, and that getting involved in politics is important if you want to help your people. By getting involved, I mean living for politics, rather than living off of politics. We have coordinated our struggles between the social movements and political parties, with the support of our academic institutions, in a way that has created a greater national consciousness. That is what made it possible for the people to rise up in these recent days.
When we speak of the "defense of humanity," as we do at this event, I think that this only happens by eliminating neoliberalism and imperialism. But I think that in this we are not so alone, because we see, every day that anti-imperialist thinking is spreading, especially after Bush’s bloody "intervention" policy in Iraq. Our way of organizing and uniting against the system, against the empire’s aggression towards our people, is spreading, as are the strategies for creating and strengthening the power of the people.
I believe only in the power of the people. That was my experience in my own region, a single province — the importance of local power. And now, with all that has happened in Bolivia, I have seen the importance of the power of a whole people, of a whole nation. For those of us who believe it important to defend humanity, the best contribution we can make is to help create that popular power. This happens when we check our personal interests with those of the group. Sometimes, we commit to the social movements in order to win power. We need to be led by the people, not use or manipulate them.
We may have differences among our popular leaders — and it’s true that we have them in Bolivia. But when the people are conscious, when the people know what needs to be done, any difference among the different local leaders ends. We’ve been making progress in this for a long time, so that our people are finally able to rise up, together.
What I want to tell you, compañeras and compañeros — what I dream of and what we as leaders from Bolivia dream of is that our task at this moment should be to strengthen anti-imperialist thinking. Some leaders are now talking about how we — the intellectuals, the social and political movements — can organize a great summit of people like Fidel, Chávez. and Lula to say to everyone: "We are here, taking a stand against the aggression of the US imperialism."
A summit at which we are joined by compañera Rigoberta Menchú, by other social and labor leaders, great personalities like Pérez Ezquivel. A great summit to say to our people that we are together, united, and defending humanity. We have no other choice, compañeros and compañeras — if we want to defend humanity we must change systems and this means overthrowing US imperialism.