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In a communauty of Natives in Bolivia, inhabitants are fighting for their rights and their culture through coming back to a traditionnal type of government
12 / 2001
Quilaquila is a small 1500 inhabitants andean village in Bolivia at 2500 m above the level of sea. In the surrounding area, there are plenty of natural ressources : non metallic minerals, that stimulates the envy of huge firms, mostly those involved in the cement industry ( FANCESA for an example). Those industries decided to take little by little the control fo the all area in an illegal way, stealing the land from communauties. In 1995 they had reach a further step through deciding to create a road crossing the village, that should lead to an overexploitation of the area.
As the result of damaged caused to their communauty, inhabitants decided to react. In 1996, a non adminastrative communauty had been brought back to life. This traditionnal communauty is known as : The Native Authority (AO). Quilaquila is now split into two areas : a "low area" and a "high area" ; each area is then divided into four parts called "ayllus". This system of local government is working together with each area’s elected authorities. These authorities elect then four authorities for the communauty (the ayllus use to switch). Three or four times a year through democratic junts the most important decisions are voted after they have been approved (voting is very uncommon).
Once they have been back to this secular decision making process. The inhabitants just had to get the stolen land back. This appeared to be the first decision made by the Authorities.
Epifanio Pacheco, Assistant of the AO declared that : "this was a tough battle but we reconquested almost the whole lost territories".
Untill 1999 the Communauty met the general agreement about these concerns. But this agreement disappeared with rural emmigration to Sucre. This organized themselves and became a fierce opponant to the AO, backed in this opposition by the companies, that are achieving, given to Epifanio, a real pressure on the employment.
Quilaquila is not a single case. In a country where 80% of the land is owned by 200 families and the 20% left belong to 5 millions inhabitants. About 50 peoplesdecided to group themselves in the Ayllus National Council and Qullasuyu Brands (CONAMAQ) in 1997. They were firmly determined to create a pressure on the public authorities. Up to now, the dialog had shown very little efficiency and the situation was getting even worst. In Quilaquila, 10 landless peasant had been murdered by the militias.
To defend themselves against the protests, landlords a reminding the right to property. Their links with the juridical and administrative instittutions allow them to behave as unguilty although they were the ones that invided the territories.
Consequently, Epifanio was charged of terrorist acts because he was occupying some territories.
"We are physically and orally threatened, I have avoid being attacked four times. Last embush was on the 10th of november, on the road. In order to resist to all of this, we have to stay in group", expalins Epifanio. This is the price to pay for defending such important values like culture, identity, claim for justice and right to the land.
Pacific marches are succeding to settling actions. But this remains unsuccesful. The municpal authorities in Sucre found themselves in a subordinate position toward the landlords who owns the real power and thus have to act in the different interest of the inhabitants of the villages.
It is the total opposite of the citizen experience of Quilaquila where the AO are both encouraging collective work and property in the public and private sector. This policy had been developped in order to permit a sustainable development ; that is far impossible to realize when we don’t respect the territories.
This is definitely not allowing Quilaquila to be the owner of its own fate. This struggle appears to be difficult given that Quilaquila has very few financial ressources and most of the media are not favorable becaus they are owned by the companies (the local tv channel almost never mentions this fight).
For turning his words into concrete actions, the Communauty is sending the firms that had been not respecting the mining law through exploitng state mines without respecting their duties.
The Quilaquilan Communauty is carrying on the fight and up to now, noone managed to force it to silence...
Fight to defend their territories lead by Natives is now spreading on the whole South American continent and finds in the zapatists its most mediatic rep. Less reknowned peoples but with the same capacities, refuse the envy created by private companies who seek to take the bais of their cultures away from them. In Quilaquila it is possible to choose for the collectivity but following its own way, that is to say having the right to choose its future.
Interview with Epifanio Pacheco during the World Assembly (Lille, dec. 2001). English translation from spanish.
Interview with PACHECO, Epifanio
Autoridades Originarias de Quilaquila (Bolivia) - Bolívia - epacheco (@) correoweb.com