Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2014, 14:18 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Bolivia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Bolivia, 1 July 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c33311fc.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to the 2001 Census, approximately 62 per cent of Bolivia's population self-identifies as indigenous (mainly Quechua or Aymara). President Evo Morales – who is of indigenous background – won his December 2009 re-election bid with over 63 per cent of the popular vote. His nearest rival, a right-wing ex-military official gained just 28 per cent.

Since taking office in 2005, the Morales government has experienced strong opposition in its efforts to re-found the state in order for it to be more responsive to indigenous community needs. Violence has flared up several times, much of it fomented by the non-indigenous landowning minority in the wealthy departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija. They have continued to oppose the Morales government and had earlier called for departmental autonomy. However, even though right-wing opposition candidates won the Santa Cruz stronghold with 53 per cent of the vote, Morales still garnered 40 per cent in that region. As reported in MRG's State of the World's Minorities in 2008 and 2009, Santa Cruz had seen some of the worst anti-Morales violence, when gangs allegedly recruited by the large landowners engaged in systematic attacks against local indigenous groups. Morales was also able to win a majority in two other eastern regions that had previously gone to the opposition.

Morales is arguably the hemisphere's only indigenous president. Together with his allied MAS Party (Movement Towards Socialism), he enjoys considerable support from the historically marginalized indigenous and Afro-Bolivian populations. The MAS now controls both the Senate and Lower House of the newly formed Pluri-National Legislative Assembly (the Congress Plurinacional or parliament, formerly the national congress). This will make it easier to institute long-desired changes, especially for Bolivia's indigenous communities. The IACHR reports that 70 per cent of the country's more than 4 million indigenous population continues to live in poverty or extreme poverty, with little access to education and minimal access to basic services.

The election was a victory not only for the presidential candidate but also for his allies and supporters. One of these is Afro-Bolivian candidate Jorge Medina of the community of Chijchipa in the Department of La Paz, who became the first person of African ancestry in the history of Bolivia to be able to participate as a fully fledged member of the Bolivian parliament, winning more that 90 per cent of the vote in his district in the December 2009 elections. Medina ran for the position of Representative for Original Indigenous and Afro-Bolivian People in the Department of La Paz, under the banner of MAS-IPSP (Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos). The majority of the estimated 35,000 Afro-Bolivians live in the Yungas region of La Paz Department and have historically remained at the low end of the socio-economic scale. Like the indigenous population, they continue to face widespread discrimination and other serious challenges in the areas of health, education, literacy, income and employment. Afro-Bolivians regard the fact that a person of African origin is finally able to participate as a full member of the Bolivian parliament as confirmation of the process being undertaken by African descendants and indigenous communities to create a new social order, namely a 'pluri-cultural' Bolivia. The result also serves to reinforce a growing notion among African descendants across Latin America that they are much more likely to find an inclusive environment for public participation in countries that have elected so-called 'indigenous-friendly' governments. So far these administrations have demonstrated a greater responsiveness to their needs and aspirations compared to others, and have taken practical affirmative steps, such as appointing African descendants to high-level official positions, both locally and as foreign representatives.

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