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28th April- The Campesino Congress

April 29, 2010

We arrived into Sucre early this morning and checked into our hostal. Over breakfast a woman from the Bolivian Solidarity Campaign in London told us that she wouldn’t have come to Sucre if it wasn’t for the congress as this is
the capital of racism in Bolivia.

We headed down to the march of the CSUTCB, (Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia- or Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia.)  It is evident that the congress happening here in Sucre is a political decision.  As Anna Rodas Cuellar, the local MP told us today in an interview, they are reclaiming the right of the campesino movements to organise in this city, Bolivia’s official capital.

In May 2008 there was a gross act against indigenous peoples here, a manifestation of the racism that many Bolivians had hoped was over.  At least 18 campesinos were beaten, taken hostage and later humiliated, semi- naked, in the middle of Plaza 25 de Mayo, the main square in Sucre. At the same time right-wing groups acted to prevent the arrival of President Evo Morales to the city, where he was supposed to be taking part in an ceremony in which some new ambulances were to be delivered.

A mob of young people raided several homes in the city, where campesinos here to attend the event were staying. Villagers suffered physical and racist verbal abuse and were then taken hostage. They were led to the Plaza 25 de Mayo where,  half-naked and on their knees, they were forced to “apologize” and insult the Morales administration. The Wiphala, the pan-indigenous flag, was burned. There is a short video available here.

This morning we marched defiantly, 2000 strong through the streets of Sucre. There were loud chants, “Notice, we are here!” while fire crackers sounded above a bright sea of flags and banners. We bumped into a friend we had made in the Climate and Migration working group who quickly passed us the banner to hold while she had a rest.

There were some shocked faces and a palpable tension as we marched through the busy, colonial style streets to the opening ceremony of the 13th Congress.  This was very different from all of our experiences in Cochabamba and was a reminder that we should not read the MAS government and its supporters too simplistically. While the climate conference exposed some of the criticisms and contradictions in the current electoral politics, today we recognised that the very existence of Morales in all of his roles is a challenge to what has gone before and what remains throughout the region. The undertones of racism and elitism still present here help to explain why even his Bolivian critics are very careful so as not to align themselves with the right.

In the covered sports complex there were delegations from all over the country, as well as Mapuche people from Chile, MST, (Landless People´s Movement) from Brazil and representatives from other ALBA countries. One of the aims is to elect a new leadership, which happens every 5 years.

The opening ceremony included a speech from Evo, yes our 3rd Evo speech in 2 weeks! It was really interesting to compare what he said here with the other ones during the conference. He talked about how he saw this union as one of the major instigators of the process of change that is now underway. He called this process “unstoppable” and called for unity within the confedaration, saying that there are internal problems, but they should be dealt with in house and not let them become a public affair. He said that the work done in the union was an example to the world.

More reports and pics will follow tomorrow.

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