EDITORIAL. Ash Narain Roy. VII. XIX. X
SAVOR LATINO FLAVOR
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by Dr. Ash Narain Roy
In tie, Venezuelan Prez Chavez with Bolivian Prez Evo Morales and
Rebel Bartolina Sisa.
A Latin American beach man: Perfect way for sunbathing?
Latin America is quite a laboratory for social and political change. At a time when China and India are the flavour of the Western world, many developments in the region have failed to attract attention. The empowerment of women and the indigenous people, deepening of democracy and inclusive politics have begun to change the political face of the region that was for long considered the backwater of the US. Latin America is no more under the shadow of the US and it no more suffers from a sense of geographic fatalism.
The understanding of the Latin American situation in many parts of the world including India is lopsided. The emergence of nationalist regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay and certain other countries has been explained in ideological terms. It is not so much the leftist forces that have swept power; it is the deepening of democracy which has seen for the first time the indigenous and other marginalized groups occupying levers of power.
Bolivia, with a predominant indigenous population, has created a new paradigm. President Evo Morales has reserved 50 % Cabinet posts in his government for women. Nothing of that sort and of that scale has happened anywhere in the world. His new cabinet has 10 men and 10 women, three of them indigenous.
About two centuries ago, Bolivian women fought alongside men for the country's independence from colonial Spain. They stormed into battle on horseback, seized cities and were first on the front line. And yet, women were kept in the shadows: they were sidelined by a patriarchal state, which limited their education, their job opportunities and political rights until now.
And that change seems to have arrived. Today, posters proclaiming the slogans of female Bolivian heroes such as indigenous rebel Bartolina Sisa and independence icon Juana Azurduy plaster the walls of several ministries. That shows the fervour felt in the Bolivia of President Evo Morales, who seems to be changing things not only for the country's indigenous majority, but also for its women who have won a political voice.
The women are involved in running the country as never before. For Morales, this is something historic as it is the first time the Andean nation has women forming half of the cabinet to fulfil gender equality. Morales said about this change: ".This is a homage to my mother, my sister and my daughter."
But another sign that women's political influence is on the rise in a country with a strong patriarchal culture is that now women occupy an unprecedented 30% of seats in Bolivia's new legislative branch.
The awakening of women has been brewing for a while. Women have been a key element in the consolidation of this process of change led by President Morales, from the rallies, the protests, the fights. Now, they will be a key element in affairs of national interest. However, while change for women is under way, for some there is still a long way to go until full equality is achieved.
Latin America’s unsavoury reputation for machismo has undergone a dramatic change. Former Chilean president Michele Bachelet’s slogan “more women, more democracy, more justice” is no more an empty slogan. Women’s presence in provincial assemblies and local councils has gone up dramatically. About a quarter of all local council members are women, more than double percentage from a decade ago.
Another major change in Bolivia and neighbouring Ecuador has been with respect of indigenous rights. The past few years have witnessed significant efforts to make democracies more inclusive. Morales has approved a new constitution that says: “The indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
Ecuador adopted its new constitution in 2008 by granting substantial rights to the indigenous populations at local, provincial and national levels. These included right to “non-forfeitable ownership of communal lands.”
Democratization has opened up new spaces for the marginalized sections including the indigenous. However, what has galvanized the various indigenous groups is the embrace of neoliberal reforms by some governments in Latin America. With the traditional left in decline, indigenous groups have stepped into the breach, becoming protagonists in the struggle against the neoliberal onslaught. Constitutional rights have also become a focal point of indigenous mobilization.
For Latin America’s indigenous peoples, economic issues, land rights in particular, are inextricably linked to their cultural survival. While indigenous movements in Latin America have grown from Mexico in north to Chile in south, the agendas and successes of these movements are deeply affected by the historical legacies and political contexts of each country. India can ignore the lessons from Latin America at its own peril.