Events of 2015

While indigenous peoples now comprise only a fraction of the total population in most of the region, Bolivia is notable for its indigenous majority, with 62 per cent of Bolivians self-identifying as indigenous in the country's most recent census in 2012. Bolivia also has one of the most progressive legislative systems to support indigenous peoples and the first indigenous president in the region, Aymara leader Evo Morales. Following his inauguration in 2006, his government passed a number of major reforms, including in 2009 a new Constitution that recognizes that indigenous territories comprise 'areas of production, use and conservation of natural resources, and spaces of social, spiritual and cultural expansion'. The following year, Bolivia passed Law 061: the André Ibañez Framing Law of Autonomy and Decentralization, an ambitious piece of legislation that aims to provide some degree of autonomy to local institutions and recognizes the pre-existence of native communities. These and other measures all reflected the promises Morales made to end the marginalization of the country's indigenous population, a strategy that brought him two further campaign victories in 2009 and 2014, making him the longest-serving president in Bolivia's history. However, his attempts to negotiate a constitutional amendment to allow him to serve an additional term beyond his third term, set to expire in 2020, was rejected by popular referendum amid concerns about extending his authority further beyond the limits set out by the 2009 Constitution. According to its provisions, any president cannot exceed a maximum of two terms in office. Morales was only able to run for his third term after a 2013 ruling by the Bolivian Constitutional Court that his first term, which began before the approval of the new Constitution, did not apply.

In addition, despite Bolivia's relatively progressive legal framework, many indigenous communities face similar challenges to those elsewhere in the region. As many as 15 of the country's 36 indigenous communities are at risk of extinction due to systematic neglect, social exclusion and their geographic isolation. A number of these communities are very small, with fewer than 200 members, and their disappearance would significantly reduce Bolivia's unique cultural diversity. This points to the complexity of the indigenous political movement in Bolivia and the reality that, even with relatively strong protections in place, the cultural survival and even the very existence of many smaller indigenous communities is by no means guaranteed in a context in which they themselves are marginalized by more dominant indigenous groups.

Afro-Bolivians, as a minority population in a largely indigenous country, also continue to be marginalized. Besides having some of the highest levels of poverty in the country, the community also lacks political representation and remains largely invisible in Bolivia's public life. Nevertheless, Afro-Bolivians have recently been able to use their cultural activities as a platform to highlight their presence and communicate their identity to wider society. In September 2015, the Afro-Bolivian community held a national event to celebrate their legacy in Bolivia with a festival of music, literature, food and dance. The aim of the event was to showcase the important contribution of Afro-Bolivians in the struggle for independence and Bolivian culture today, such as the Saya – a traditional dance based on African traditions but now an integral part of Afro-Bolivian culture. Juan Carlos Ballivián, President of the National Afro-Bolivian Council (CONAFRO), explained at the time of the event that, 'The Afro-Bolivian people do not want to be made visible for the stigma of the slavery of the past' but only want others to appreciate the contribution that African culture has made to the country as a whole, and that the community 'therefore deserves the same respect and opportunities as other Bolivians'.

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