Castro's Prophecy Fulfilled as Bolivia Joins Latin America's "Axis
One of the most significant events in 500 years of Latin American history will
take place in Bolivia on Sunday when Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, is inducted
as president. People of indigenous origin have, on occasion, risen to the top
in Latin America. But Morales's overwhelming election victory took place on a
tide of indigenous mobilisation that is especially powerful in Andean countries;
elections in Peru and Ecuador this year might also bring success to indigenous
of the Hanged is one of B Traven's novels of the Mexican jungle, written
in 1936. In these stories the Indians turn slowly from rebellion to revolution,
and something of that spirit infuses the new mood in Latin America. The heirs
to pre-Columbian civilisations have conquered their distrust of white "democracy"
and are again moving to the front of the historical stage. They do so as one
of Kondratiev's long economic waves has been sweeping through the continent
like a tsunami. The terrible impact of neoliberal economics is reminiscent of
the slump of the 30s that brought revolution to many countries of Latin America.
Morales's victory is not just a symptom of economic breakdown and age-old repression.
It also fulfils a prophecy made by Fidel Castro, who claimed the Andes would
become the Americas' Sierra Maestra - the Cuban mountains that harboured black
and Indian rebels over the centuries, as well as Castro's guerrilla band in
the 50s. His prophecy exercised US governments in the 60s. Radical elected governments
were destroyed by the armed forces - guardians of the white settler states -
supported by Washington. Countries such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia
were prevented from following anything that might have resembled the Cuban road.
Today the rules have changed. The cold war no longer provides an excuse for
intervention, and the US is stretched in other parts of the world. The ballot
box, for the first time in Latin America, has become the strategy of choice
for revolutionaries and the poor majority. The result in Bolivia is a president
who invokes the memory of the silver miners of Potosi and Che Guevara, who dreamed
of a socialist commonwealth of Latin America. Castro's prophecy looks close
to fulfilment, and, in his 80th year, he will go to Bolivia to savour the moment.
Another historic presence will be the shadow of Simón Bolívar,
the independence leader of the 19th century who also had faith in the ability
of the Andean provinces to change Latin America. He drove the Spanish from the
mountains, and finished his battles in the country that was given his name.
Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, mentor of Morales and largely responsible for
channelling the new mood into revolutionary paths, will also be present this
The "axis of good" - as Morales terms it - of Cuba, Venezuela and
Bolivia, is a huge threat to US political, economic and cultural hegemony. It
is also a challenge for Latin America's traditional left, which has never had
much success in coping with indigenous populations. Now the representative of
Bolivia's farmers, tin miners and coca growers of indigenous ancestry is to
wear the presidential sash and seek their incorporation into political life.
They will be joined by more overtly socialist groups that derive their legitimacy
from half a century of union work - an alliance that will be at least as problematic
for the president as US hostility and international companies seeking to exploit
Bolivia's oil and gas. These won't be nationalised but will certainly have to
pay higher royalties.
False dawns are common in Latin American history, but the strength
of the radical tide suggests that this time it will not be dammed, still less
Richard Gott is the author of Hugo
Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution and Cuba:
a New History. He can be reached at: Rwgott@aol.com