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Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Molly Geidel

Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 18, Number
2, Spring/Summer 2010, pp. 29-54 (Article)
Published by University of Nebraska Press
DOI: 10.1353/qui.0.0014

For additional information about this article

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The Notion of Rights and the

Paradoxes of Postcolonial Modernity
Indigenous Peoples and Women in Bolivia
silvia rivera cusicanqui
Translated by Molly Geidel

This article attempts to undertake a reading of gender as it operates in Bolivias juridical history, in order to propose some issues
of debate that I consider pertinent to any discussion of the rights
of indigenous peoples and their close ties, at least as I see them,
to the rights of women (whether indigenous, cholas, birlochas,
or refinadas).1 First I focus on the masculine and lettered aspects
of the juridical process that has produced the documents known
as the Laws of the Republic. In Europe both the law and the modern historical formation of what is known as public space are
anchored in the ideals of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment,
whereby the rebirth of the human being was implicitly imagined
as a masculine Universal Subject, who was by nature a bearer of
rights. Up to now the notion of human rights means nothing more than what were known as the rights of man (droits de
lhomme) in the eighteenth century. Jacques Derrida and Judith
Butler have noted this conflation, writing of a phallogocentric
version of the modern Subject, the enlightened heterosexual individual.2 This representation of the modern individual has been inscribed in European history and imposed on the rest of the world


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over the course of the last two centuries through multiple processes
of political, military, and cultural hegemony.
In Bolivia the initial act of colonization was gendered: the very
idea of rights arrived already tainted by the subordination (formal
and real) of women in the household, governed by the pater familias. Rossana Barragn has illustrated how, during the early Republic, the Bolivian legislators copied and adapted a Victorian model
of the family, transposing it onto a much older matrix of habitus
and representations.3 This new hegemonic ideal of family relations
prescribed that (1) men act as the sole public representatives of
the family, subordinating wife and children under their authority; (2) women dedicate themselves exclusively to reproductive and
decorative tasks, and thus become alienated, their agency denied,
their public voices silenced (thus, the idea of public women became a cruel semiotic paradox, implying that the only public
action a woman could perform was the marketing of her own sex);
and (3) adolescents and children remain subject to the hierarchical
authority of adults, principally of the father.
The liberal reforms instituted at the end of the nineteenth century only reinforced this patriarchal imaginary, reinstating it with
new laws and behavioral codes. These reforms codified a notion
of human rights based on the subjugation of women, instituting
and upholding restrictions, legal elisions, and archaisms, as well
as a myriad of daily practices that ended up in the denial of the
very notion of human rights to the female sex. For example, under the new liberal laws, the typical penalty for domestic violence
led to the punishment of the perpetrator only if the victim had
suffered at least thirty days of hospitalization or convalescence!4
Through legislative measures, the liberals further consolidated the
institutionalized inequality of property and inheritance rights that
had been imposed by the colonizers: practices like primogeniture,
unequal status between legitimate and illegitimate children, and
patrilineal inheritance were thus consolidated by the independent
state.5 Moreover, while juridical rhetoric recognized the equality of
the Indian in 1874, the structure of the republican habitus continued to function through the invisible axis of the two republics
(one of the subjects, the other of the citizens).6 As a matter of fact,

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

women and Indians only accessed a degraded and restricted form

of citizenship quite recently, with the declaration of universal voting rights after the 1952 revolution.
Historical Nexuses between Colonial
and Patriarchal Oppression in Bolivia
The latter example enables us to add a second thematic axis to our
discussion. How is it that the subjugation of women, the oppression
of indigenous peoples, and the discrimination against those who
exhibit residual traces of native identities have been historically embedded in the subjectivity of each inhabitant of the Bolivian nation?
That is to say, how was the modern universal Subject inscribed in
each subject (individual or collective) through the erasure and suppression of his or her psychic constitution and social trajectory?
In the gender system of Andean societiesat least as it has been
documented and reconstructed by ethnographic and ethnohistorical researchwomen have public and family rights more or less on
par with those of their masculine peers (though these rights have
been eroding in recent decades). The gender system is governed by
a dynamic and contentious equilibrium, normatively oriented by
the model of the Andean couple. This relation between the genders
was founded in and continues to rely on a system of bilateral affiliation and inheritance, which forms the basis of the indigenous polis. The bilateral scheme of inheritance allows daughters to receive
goods and rights along the maternal line (until very recently, this
did not mean formal property, but only rights of access to land)
while sons inherit another set goods and property rights along the
paternal line. An adult is socially recognized as a person when in
a partnered union, and his or her prestige increases in the course
of the family life cycle, with the growth and labor of children and
with the passage of a series of ritual and productive cargos (a set
of obligations known as the thaki or road to adulthood). The
Andean order of inheritance favors the younger son or daughter,
granting the youngest sibling arable and pastoral land as well as
the family house in compensation for having sacrificed migratory or educational aspirations to support his or her aging parents.



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Women just as much as men have enjoyed bilateral ceremonial

rights, according to a symbolic order that projects the male/female dichotomy onto the wider realm of nature and the time-space
cosmos. At the smallest level of the community or ayllu, women
have participated in creating and enacting symbolic and kinship
systems, using their voices to shape the communal cargo system
and protocol from within. Although since the implementation of
colonial cabildos or community and town councils, men have usually represented the family at meetings (a practice that continues
today in the assemblies and gatherings of peasant unions), women
have still managed to preserve an autonomous space of social and
politico-symbolic power by performing crucial productive tasks,
organizing the domestic cycle and division of labor, and maintaining their roles as weavers and ritual specialists. They have never
been completely segregated from the spaces of normative production and public opinion in the ayllu or in its fragmented form, the
indigenous community.7
The frustrating and contradictory nature of Bolivian modernityincluding the modern legal systemhas thrown this intricate
gender system into crisis, threatening to break the delicate balances
and mechanisms that rule its internal reproduction. Denise Arnold
and Juan de Dios Yapita, for example, have demonstrated how
modernity (which arrived in the 1970s to the ayllu Qaqachaka
by way of mothers clubs and development NGOs) contributed
to the creation of a maternal image of women that resulted in a devaluation of their pastoral, textile, and ritual abilities. As a result
the new Qaqa generations have married at a younger age, and the
women have dedicated themselves to having more children, in order to gain the social support and recognition they have lost due to
the agricultural crisis, the deterioration of textile activities, and the
migratory diasporas. Additionally, increasing emigration has had
a deep impact on gender relations, further revealing the intimate
relationship between Westernization and patriarchalization of Andean gender systems.8 Part of the patriarchal strategy of Qaqa migrants to the cities or to the coca-producing lowlands consists of
leaving their wives pregnant each year in order to maintain control
over their fertility and enhance their family land rights.9

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

These changes in Andean practices indicate the slow incorporation of a hegemonic family model into the fabric of indigenous
community life, as well as the rapid change of behaviorsdemographic, social, and culturalthat these communities have experienced in the latter half of the twentieth century as a result of their
incomplete and illusory participation in Bolivian modernity. The
modernization process as a whole has meant a deepened patriarchalization of indigenous societies, as they live out the widening
gap between state law and a motley communal law constructed
through successive negotiations and tensions between the sacred
realm of rights and the legal norms imposed by the colonial and
republican regimes. This situation constantly degrades the economic conditions for the majority of the population (a process expressed in post-adjustment reformist jargon as the feminization
or indianization of poverty), so that precarious labor conditions
and market inequalities go hand in hand with political dispossession and human rights violations. These historic and continuing
dislocations, along with the attempts to reassert indigenous and
communal rights, provide a framework for articulating the present
condition of women and Indians.
A Male and Lettered Society: The Struggles
for Land and Territory
I have elaborated elsewhere that the model of citizenship that became hegemonic in Bolivia from the 1950s onward was in fact
a cultural package of behavioral prescriptions designed to turn
the unruly but passive Indian into an active mestizo citizen:
property-owning, integrated into the capitalist market, and castilianized (speaking Spanish). Invariably, this citizen was an urban
young male, dressed in a tailored suit, imitating the behavior of the
Westernized elite.10 The initial version of this modernization project
was expressed in the Law of Expropriation (Ley de Exvinculacin),
which held that the only citizen right vested in adult Indian men
was the right to sell their families access to communal lands. After
the laws approval by the government of Toms Fras in October
1874, old and new hacendados (estate owners) proceeded to ex-



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pand their haciendas (large estates with servile labor) with the help
of the army and mercenary forces recruited in rural towns, using
the letter of the law to hide the brutal nature of their forced confiscation of Indian land. The section of the law that most severely
impacted the ayllus internal authority system was the declaration
that communities or ayllos (sic) were to be extinguished and
that caciques, kuraqas, or other ethnic authorities were prohibited
from representing their communities in court.11 Instead, a power
of attorney (poder general) was to be given to literate apoderados, middlemen empowered to voice the complaints and demands
of the affected communities. Craftily combining translation and
betrayal, the early apoderados facilitated the expropriation of almost two-thirds of the land possessed by the Andean communities
in western Bolivia. In the province of Pacajes alone, more than seventy thousand hectares were illegally transferred from the ayllus to
the haciendas between 1881 and 1920.12
The study of the indigenous legal struggles during the liberal
period reveals the traces of an ancestral system of rights and notions of justice that legitimated the indigenous leaderships tenacious questioning of the liberal lawslaws that superimposed the
notion of human rights onto the colonial legal horizon and the
pre-Hispanic normative and religious orderat local and national
courts.13 The colonial legislation recognized a certain degree of ayllu autonomy and self-government, based in the Spanish notion of
separate fueros or jurisdictions, whereby the overall relations between Indians and Spaniards were regulated. In the Leyes de Indias
these norms were expressed through the notion of the two republics.14 According to this legal frame, which continued in practice
if not in name after the liberal reforms, the indigenous society was
a separate but subordinate republic. As constructed collectively in
the legal discourse, Indians were the inhabitants of a conquered
space, the subjects of a colonial state that deprived them of rights
and overburdened them with obligations. However, during the liberal period, the lettered elite of the communities and ayllus also
used the notion of the two republics as a strategy for land defense
and political autonomy. They defended the organizational autonomy of the ayllus, markas, and indigenous communities by using

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

the colonial legislation of the two republics as a legal instrument

in their confrontations with the (formally) liberal Bolivian State.15
For example, to argue against the forced land expropriations perpetrated by republican hacendados, the cacique-apoderado movement in the 1920s and 1930s drew upon the terms of the sixteenthcentury colonial tributary pact with Viceroy Toledo: in what they
saw as sort of truce with colonial hacendados, ayllus had agreed to
pay tribute and labor in the Potosi mines in exchange for the protection of the Spanish Crown to their rights over land and other resources, against the encroachment of hacendados and the abuses of
colonial authorities. This pact also involved the recognition of
a certain measure of political autonomy and self-government. The
movements use of the terms of this pact to enact their resistance to
the liberal reforms of the late nineteenth century was an assertion
of juridical memory, reminding the Bolivian state that the equality
proclaimed in the law was fictional and that it actually served to
disguise and perpetuate a colonial habitus of brutality and abuse.
The land expropriations played out as a protracted and uneven
confrontation between hacendadosfavored by the Ley de Exvinculacinand the Indian communities of five departments in Andean Bolivia. The latter were tightly organized under the leadership
of Santos Marka Tula, Feliciano Inka Marasa, Faustino Llanki,
Mateo Alfaro, and many others, who jointly producedwith the
help of their own literate advisersa coherent juridical discourse
aimed at uncovering the true nature of the liberal reforms, pointing
out that even as members of Parliament made flowery proclamations on equality and citizenship, the army and the private forces
recruited by the hacendados were carrying out a colonial campaign
of expropriation and deprivation of land and political rights. From
the point of view of the caciques-apoderados, Bolivia was not a
liberal state, but a colonial state.
The cacique-apoderado movement evolved on the eve of the
Chaco War (19321935) to form the Repblica del Kollasuyo, a
movement led by Eduardo L. Nina Qhispe and many other local
leaders representing their communities in a vast territory covering at least six departments of Bolivia. According to the research
by Mamani, Nina Qhispe was an Aymara intellectual with urban



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experience and lettered skills who envisioned the Renovation of

Bolivia (see TM). The Repblica del Kollasuyu had also a collective and pluralistic leadership, with representatives not only from
the altiplano and valleys of the Andean region but also from the
Guarani communities of the Izozog region in Santa Cruz. From the
1950s through the 1970s, the Antiguos Caminantes, the Apoderados Espiritualistas, and the Alcaldes Mayores Particulares were Indian movements that inherited the networks and the legal skills
of their predecessors. All these Indian organizations had a rural
and an urban constituency. They struggled for economic, political, and cultural rights. They demanded full rights and equality as
citizens and at the same time emphasized their right to cultural difference, political autonomy, and freedom from labor exploitation
and from the expropriation of their ancestral lands.16 Because of
the dual nature of their demands, the indigenous representatives
undertook a legal struggle appealing simultaneously to the colonial legislation of the two republics and to the notion of equal
citizenship formally consecrated by the new laws. Through the use
of these legal and rhetorical strategies, which have left abundant
documentary traces, the resistance of the male and lettered elite
of the communities eclipsed the quieter daily practices of women.
The Indian and the state versions of communal land rights were
both masculine and emphasized territoriality, advocating the act
of mapping and cataloging of the Indian universe. They created a
modern stereotype of the Indian as a rural and backward subject, passive and stagnant, enclosed in an isolated community that
was therefore feminized as the object of (male) lettered reform and
progressive action.
The caciques-apoderados faced the tensions and challenges of
embodying a social space of mediation between two opposing juridical systems. They had to perform the exegesis of the new laws
in order to understand their logic and defend themselves against
their effects. At the same time, they had to translate the demands of
their communities into terms that could be understood by all. They
had to plan their legal strategy using the arguments of the colonial
pact of land and autonomy in exchange for tribute and labor and at
the same time shape in liberal terms the communal perceptions of

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

territorial rights and political autonomy. In other words, they were

charged not only with translating for both sides but also with discovering the contradictions in the republican legislation on which
to base their juridical challenges to the usurpation of their lands.
In 1883 the community members of Paria, in the Oruro high
plains, had discovered just such a contradiction, realizing it would
be advantageous to present to the legislators their Ttulos de Composicin y Venta with the Spanish Crown, acquired from the Visitadores from the sixteenth century onward and kept in communal
archives under the custody of ayllu authorities. Since both hacendados and ayllus had these colonial titles to land, the legislators
had to recognize them as valid and register them within the liberal
frame of the Ley de Exvinculacin. To accomplish this act of juridical translation, they were eventually forced to approve the Law
of November 23rd 1883, by which those communities that had
bought their land from the Spanish Crown and could present their
Ttulos de Composicin y Venta were exonerated from the division of communal property enforced by the liberal Law.17 The legal
figure of private property was a translation of the communal purchase of land titles, done by colonial ayllu representatives (mallkus
and kuraqas) of the Andean altiplano and valleys, who had acquired such titles as a settlement with colonial authorities. Thanks
to the 1883 law, the ayllus were able to claim that they actually
had private ownership rights over their communal lands. In face of
the land expropriations, intensified in the early twentieth century,
these colonial titles were used to claim the legitimate inheritance
rights held by the caciques de sangre as descendants of the colonial
ethnic authorities. The leadership of the cacique-apoderado movement thus found a powerful legal argument to challenge the 1881
1882 official commissions (Mesas Revisitarias) that granted individual land titles to community members, without their consent
and using false apoderados. As a result, communities were forced
to sell vast tracts of land all over the Andes. We dont know how
much more land the communities would have lost if it was not
for this fierce and persistent legal struggle by the cacique-apoderado movement, which eventually grouped more than four hundred
markas or Indian towns, with thousands of affiliated ayllus and



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communities, mostly inhabited by Aymara- or Qhichwa-speaking

peasants. Nor do we know if the 1953 agrarian reform would have
been produced as it wasas a broad movement to recover land
and autonomy for peasant and indigenous communitiesif not for
the social imprint of the cacique-apoderado movement. What we
do know, however, is that the memory of the indigenous leaders
strategies to resist the conversion of the Indians into degraded citizens played an important role in the formation of the modern ethnic movement in the Aymara region in the 1970s and 1980s.
This long memory of anticolonial and antiliberal resistance
and juridical debate has shaped the Indian resurgence of today.
The present reorganization of the country along ethnic and territorial lines is rooted in these processes of resistance and political
action, facing the various successive reformist attempts by the Bolivian elites. The juridical memory of the ayllus struggles and the
image of Tupaq Katari (1781), Pablo Zrate Willka (1899), and
the caciques-apoderados of the 1920s have reemerged in the process that led to the fall of the neoliberal regimes and the election
of Evo Morales as the first indigenous president in the history of
South America. The weight of the territorial demands of the Indian
movement, and the granting of territorial and political autonomy to
thirty-six Indian peoples of the highlands and the lowlands in the
new constitution approved in February 2009, bear witness to the issues and conflicts aired in a long process of confrontation with the
colonial and republican regimes. The territorial and male-led Indian movements of today have had a partial though important success, through the appeal to memory in their challenge to the liberal
and populist State, forcing the recognition of plural ethnicities and
plural forms of exercise of citizenship and personhood. They have
thus put forward a new model of citizenship that, far from erasing
cultural differences, has reinforced and multiplied them.
Indigenous Peoples and Neoliberal Reforms:
A Majority with a Minority Consciousness
But looking at the other side of the preceding argument, one can
see that the practice of liberal law in Bolivia, even in its modern-

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

ized and pluralistic version, has led to subtle exclusionary practices

that affect indigenous populations and women most intensely. The
exclusion began as Indians and women were made invisible in statistical data. It then continued as their demands were marginalized
to remote peripheral territories fragmented and controlled by
local powers, thus cutting off their potential impact on municipal
reform or the overall redesign of state policy and legal frame. This
process culminated in the mestizos enlightened hope that the Indian portion of the population would finally extinguish, condemned
to an inevitable mestizaje inscribed in a long-term project of modernization and progress.18 At the end of the nineteenth century the
renowned liberal historian Gabriel Ren Moreno already celebrated this fate, imagining the Andean Indians pushed toward dissolution by the progressive impulse embodied in the elite entrepreneurs
and landlords. Rough versions of the same fantasies cloud the vision of todays elites and prevent them from seeing that Bolivia will
be a colonial country as long as the dominant classes continue to
be colonized, and as long as the mestizo, educated sectors do not
proudly reaffirm their own cultural difference and establish equal
and dialogic relations with the Indian cultures that inhabit the national territory.
In contrast, we see what the mestizo political middle classes have
done during the neoliberal 1990s. Since the 1976 and the 1992
census, as was the case in the elaboration of the Indigenous Census
of the Low Lands (19931995), ethnicity has been consistently restricted and made invisible. From 1988 onward the dismantling of
the Katarista ideological current within the CSUTCB (Single Bolivian Confederation of Peasant Workers) led to a deep internal crisis
and loss of autonomy, a process that quietly continues up to the
present day.19 On the other hand, since the liberal reforms of the
1990s, the eastern lowlands have been turned into a showcase of a
pure and clean ethnicity, sponsored by the state and international organisms such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Program,
whose universalizing approach to Latin America contributed to the
stereotype that Bolivian Indians had little demographic relevance
and were a marginalized minority located in remote and inaccessible tropical forest areas.20



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During the 1990s the neoliberal state perfectly interwove such

visions of marginality with its own desire to modernize and to rid
itself of the cumbersome dead weight of ethnicity. This is verified
by even a superficial analysis of the censuses, which clearly shows
the evolving notions of indianity that permeate the elites legal
and social policy reforms. According to data analyzed by Xavier Alb, out of 4,613,486 people living in the country in 1976,
36.3% were monolingual Spanish speakers. By 1992 those who
declared themselves monolingual Spanish speakers had ascended to
41.7%. Speakers of native languages continued to be the majority,
but among them monolingualism had proportionately decreased:
from 20.4% in 1976 to 11.5% in 1992. On the other hand, the bilingual speakers (Spanish plus one or two native languages) had increased, from 42.5% of the population in 1976 to 45.7% in 1992.
The data also confirm a peculiar reproduction of urban ethnicity
in the cities of Bolivia. According to the 1992 census, the percentage of speakers of an indigenous language in the main cities of the
Andean region was as follows: Aymara speakers made up 40% of
the population in La Paz and 60% in El Alto; Qhichwa speakers
made up 50% of the population in Cochabamba, 60% in Sucre,
and 69% in Potos. In the case of Oruro, the speakers of Qhichwa
(22%) and Aymara (40%) added up to about 51% of the population.21 Monolingualism in a native language as well as bilingualism
continued to be more frequent in women, showing the gendered
impact of universal castellanizacin since the Educational Reform
of 1955.
However, for both rural and urban areas, significant sources of
error in the census reveal persistent attempts by the state to make
indigenous people invisible. The census data show that in the period between 1976 and 1992, there was a net decrease in the native-speaking population and a proportional increase in declared
Spanish monolingualism. However, despite authoritative opinions
to the contrary, the 1992 census excluded children under six years
of age from questions about language. Moreover, materials distributed by the census ignore data (thoroughly examined by Alb) that
indicate the net growth of the bilingual population, data that also
imply the growth of urban bilingualism through migration and the

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reproduction of urban ethnicity in new generations. The fact that

in the same period the urban population shed its minority status,
growing to encompass a clear majority of 58% of the total population, also contributed to a progressive imaginary that breathes life
into the states readings of the censuses. Based on this census data,
specialists made calculations and projections that tended to deny
the difficulty of assessing the percentage of the rural population
who maintain a double residence and live straddling two worlds,
officiating as peasants in the city and as mercantilist and urban
cultural brokers in the countryside. They also underestimate those
who, in the cities, because they exhibit visible symbols of their cultural identity, are discriminated against as indios, despite their
fierce denial of being speakers of Aymara when responding to the
census and their equally stubborn declaration of being mestizos
when answering public opinion polls.
The Censo Indgena de Tierras Bajas (Indigenous Census of the
Lowlands), carried out by the United Nations Development Programme, through the Instituto Indigenista Boliviano (Indigenist Institute of Bolivia) and the Secretara Nacional de Asuntos tnicos,
de Gnero y Generacionales (National Secretariat of Ethnic, Generational and Gender Affairs), similarly contributed to indigenous
invisibility. Influenced by the Latin American experiencein the
majority of countries, indigenous people are effective minorities
the authors of this census project a very strange image of the indigenous populations of the Amazon, the eastern lowlands, and the
Chaco. The Confederation of Eastern Lowland Indigenous Peoples
(CIDOB), which emerged in the heat of the Indigenous March of
1990, participated in the organization of the event (although not
in its design), with the goal of measuring the forces that could mobilize their communities around land and political demands articulated in relation to ethnicity, especially after the initial successes
on the legislative level gained by the Marcha Indgena por el Territorio y la Dignidad (Indigenous March for Territory and Dignity)
in 1990. The architects of the census rejected the use of linguistic indicators in the 19761992 census and instead adopted the
criterion of self-identification (most probably taken from Barth),
which claims to be more appropriate in regions like the Amazon



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where, despite the populations continued practice of ethnicity and

the prevalence of ethnic forms of political representation, linguistic loss is notorious.22 However, by ignoring the fact that the entire history of the urban population of the Amazon, the Oriente,
and the Chaco is rooted in the colonial Jesuit missions and that,
in addition, the asentamientos caucheros (rubber plantations) had
a large population categorized as indigenous, the census designers
inexplicably excluded populations of two thousand or more inhabitants from the census. An error of such magnitude produced a fatal miscounting of the indigenous population in the lowlands, a situation that resulted in the discrediting of this instrument as official
data for the purposes of municipal reform. In an attempt to correct
this error, the creators of the census based their recalculation of the
indigenous population in these three lowland regions on linguistic indicators. They determined that in departments such as Beni,
where the degree of linguistic loss reaches more than 50% (this
average would surely be higher if it had included the urban component), the level of underestimation could not be corrected. These
problems of method and interpretation had profound implications
for defining the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, the
results of the census are not compatible with the territorial scheme
enforced by municipalities that articulate urban and rural constituencies, and in which indigenous populations, above all in the areas
associated with historical Catholic missions, have been an integral
part of the urban structure for centuries. The census also does not
allow an accurate calculation of the impact of the migration process on rural indigenous populations, which, in particular, affects
women (through the migration of indigenous women workers as
urban domestics, the feminine leadership of the household in areas
of majority masculine labor immigration, etc.). Indigenous women
are also problematically made invisible by the skewed definitions
in the census of the head of the household, definitions that fail
to recognize womens contributions to the complex productive and
reproductive activities of indigenous households. Perhaps the only
(albeit dubious) benefit that we can ascribe to Censo Indgena de
Tierras Bajas is the gift of a meticulous inventory of the lumber
and forest resources in regions of tropical forest that fall under

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

indigenous control. We can only hope that those interested in understanding these results will not solely be the loggers and corporations that swarm these forests.
We are now able to elaborate fully the idea that informs this
section. The Censos de Poblacin y Vivienda (Cenuses of Population and Housing) of 1976 and 1992, and the Censo Indgena de
Tierras Bajas, the two principal political state instruments in the
area of population and development, subtly influenced the formation of the literate public opinion in Bolivia in the very definition
of the nature and scope of the notion of indigenous rights. In
this way, though the censuses have documented the well-known
growth in bilingual urban and rural populations, the Educational
Reform focuses principally on monolingual communities that are
isolated in rural areas and is able to ignore the demands for linguistic recuperation that support intercultural and bilingual education
for all. In the same way, the Popular Participation Act (1994) did
not recognize indigenous territories consolidated at the beginning
of 1990 and indirectly excluded those ethnic organizations from
participating in urban municipal reforms (monopolized by the Juntas Vecinales, or urban neighborhood councils). In the traditional
Andean zones, the demands of federations of ayllus and of other
groups organized around ethnicity were blocked by political parties and development nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).23
Finally, indigenous women are further alienated by this space of
mediation in which literate culture, Western notions of development, and patron-client politics impose a patriarchal political culture in which they figure solely as symbolic elements of transaction
within dominant (male) strategies of power.
Thus the states narrative of indigeneity, via the census information and through the unconscious desires of the dominant minority, represents the Indians as a diminishing entity, with indigenous
languages in blatant and quick deterioration and with the rural
world persistently depopulating. All of these factors contributed to
narrow the consciousness as a majority that informed the political
consolidation of the Kataristas and Indianistas, who in the 1990s
began to acquire a minority consciousness.24 During the last two
decades of the twentieth century, the diminishing representation of



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the demographic potential and autonomous politicization of indigenous communities was translated into a loss of historical memory,
an erosion of cultural self-esteem, and a series of subaltern characteristics that led them to occupy a subordinated role in the public
sphere, thus perpetuating their discrimination and exclusion.
The New Indianity and the Plurinational State Reforms
Intense mobilizations of indigenous and popular sectors began in
2000 and continued with varying intensity until the overthrow of
interim president Carlos Mesa G. and the call for new elections
for December 2005. This complex and convulsive process revealed
the collapse of neoliberal promises of equity and market democracy, and the emerge of a new style of ethnicity politics, represented
by the powerful coca producers movement in the Chapare and
the leadership of Aymara union leader Evo Morales. These processes also bear the imprint of deeper trends in population movements and ideological identifications. As we can see in the 2001
census, the linguistic indicators of ethnicity were supplemented by
self-identification, a trend thatcontrary to the expectations of the
census designersconfirmed and expanded the recuperation of a
majority status. Speakers of a native languagewhether monolingual or bilingualhad slightly increased to become 49% of the
total population, but in spite of an accelerated urbanization process, the self-identification with one or other native people rose to
62% of the population. Ethnicity, no doubt, had become a contentious political arena, and its state effect was to reverse the trend of
marginalization that was so blatant during the neoliberal reforms
of the 1980s and 1990s. But on the other hand the predominance
of partisan politics, including the MAS (Movement toward Socialism, led by Evo Morales) has narrowed and subordinated Indian
demands and turned them into cultural inputs to the new mestizo
elite revolutionary project, which partially incorporated them into
the new laws, in the restricted form of Indigenous Autonomies,
enclosed in thirty-six TCOs (Original Community Lands) recognized by the new Agrarian Reform Act (Ley INRA) and the new
Political Constitution of the Plurinational State (February 2009).

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

The localization of ethnicity in bounded rural territories leaves

aside the political imprint of urban ethnicity and multiethnic lowland settlements. Even the coca-growers movement is deprived of
ethnic identity, since the lowland areas where it was born and expanded to become a fundamental political force are not part of
the Indigenous Autonomous Territories recognized by the new
constitution. In spite of the radical discourses around decolonization and a process of change that is being put forth by the new
government, fundamental aspects of the neoliberal reforms (particularly the Agrarian Reform and the Popular Participation Acts)
have largely remained untouched.
Womens Rights or the Limits of Territoriality
Up to this point, by way of an exegesis of the normative production and political discourse of the movements denominated as indigenous, both modern and historical, I have produced a reading
of how gender in the lettered masculine world is translated into
the laws and state practices of Bolivia. I end this article with some
ideas about the implications of all of these processes for women, be
they indigenous, cholas, or birlochas, or even for those who belong
to the lettered world of the mestizo elite.
The situation of women in Bolivia is shaped by a broader colonial situation: the Western cultural and ideological matrix is
installed within the state, guiding its philosophy and policy. This
matrix names, enumerates, and oppresses the diverse peoples and
native cultures of Bolivia, inserting them into a hierarchy based
on the Western assessment of their relative humanity. Western colonial ideology deems racial and cultural others semi-human,
marginalizing them for their differences and constructing them as
subservient subjects, originally bequeathed to the republic as spoils
of the conquest from which it was born. Even the most advanced
spaces of enlightened modernity and the new mechanisms of populist mediation grafted onto the state from the 1950s onward have
reproduced these structures of colonial oppression. Yet, despite
more than a half century of homogenization through a constantly
renovated pact of citizenship with the state, Bolivia contains a pan-



qui parle spring/summer 2010 vol.18, no.2

orama of ethnicity whereby entire populations have, despite their

insistence in the fierce negation of their ethnicity, paradoxically
transformed this same act of negation into a new mark of ethnicity.
This is the case of the Andean cholaje. Despite their adoption of
the three-piece suit, private property, and many other Western cultural characteristics, the cholo remains subaltern precisely because
he practices such strategies of cultural mimesis and social climbing
that end up reinforcingby way of caricaturethe dominant cultural world and its appearance of equality.
The cholajes adoption of and containment by their own mimetic practices illuminates the situation of women in Bolivia. One
of the clearest examples of the stigmatization of cultural mimesis
has been the evolution, from the eighteenth century, of the fashion of the chola pacea as studied by Rossana Barragn.25 Initially
conceived as a strategy that would allow indigenous migrants to
gain social mobility and access the mercantile dominant culture,
the practice of wearing the pollera (wide skirt), the Manila shawl,
and the Borsalino hat (adopted in the nineteenth century) has been
converted into a form a resistance against cultural assimilation,
as the clothing items have come to be seen as emblems of an oppressed and subaltern ethnicity. However, this attempt to re-appropriate the markers of the dominant culture, to don them with a
difference, remains ambiguous: it both highlights and negates differences of gesture and conduct, but it also masks the assimilationist aspirations and self-perceptions as mestizas or middle-class
women, which are projected onto the working classes as a whole.
I have studied these processes elsewhere in an attempt to trace the
colonial construction of identities, particularly the identities of the
cholas and mestizas of contemporary Bolivia.26 What interests
me here is this question from the perspective of rights, understood through historical examples, to which I prefer to adhere. The
following analysis draws on many ideas that have previously been
expressed in different forms.
Migrant womens (cholas or birlochas) construction as a degraded space of mestizaje within the structure of the urban labor market constitutes a prime example of the phenomenon I have
been discussing: propelled by their desire to mirror the Westernized

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

dominant elite, they end up representing the characteristics of urban

modernity in an archaic and caricatured form. No doubt the segregation and exclusion imposed upon these intermediate classes contribute to the new fixity of borders surrounding the cholas, stranding them halfway along the path to Westernization and citizenship.
Paradoxically, the most visible trace of this process appears in the
cholas attempts to render their own culture invisible and clandestine. As a study by Elizabeth Peredo on market women in La Paz
shows, they pass on to their children this negation of their ancestry, estranging the next generation from their rural cultures of origin.27 Historians have suggested that these spaces associated with
mestizaje,of scaled contempt or linked exclusions,have
been constituted through the ethnic uprooting, the shift in category
of origin, marriage to men of higher status, and many other practices.28 However, none of the indigenous rights discussed above
actually addresses the specific problems these women face: labor
discrimination, the lack of educational opportunities, and the frustrations of citizenship that affects precisely these emergent and upward-climbing middle rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
The experience of ethnicity as it is lived daily in the highlands,
valleys, and lowlands (as well as in the cities) undoubtedly has
much to do with the structural forces that shape the labor, marriage strategies, and cultural perceptions of hundreds of thousands
of women. The already discussed study of four different ethnic settings in Bolivia (three rural and one urban), which I compiled in
1996, has shown how the invisible work of women contributes to
the reproduction of ethnicity, even in urban and mercantile contexts where they occupy the center of a wide social network that
enables the survival of the households and the family businesses of
migrant families. In this third labor shift, women complete aynis
(reciprocity arrangements), nourish social and fictive kinship relations of compadrazgo, and organize businesses or workshops on
the basis of circuits of nonmonetary labor and produce exchange.
The work time devoted to these practices permits not only economic survival but also cultural reproduction and the prosperity
of their businesses and families, despite the barrier of discrimination that weighs against them. In all of these contexts, womens



qui parle spring/summer 2010 vol.18, no.2

productive labor and enterprise does not enjoy social respect and
recognition, eclipsed by the avatars of the migration adventure of
men, as the classic study by Alb et al. showed some three decades
ago.29 As Lucila Criales has documented, women resist this patriarchal model by returning to the countryside, where they convert
the patron saint celebration and its mark of origin into a fleeting
scenario of feminine empowerment, extravagantly spending money and accumulating symbolic prestige. These acts both legitimate
and compensate for the profound inequalities of everyday life,
where the shortcomings and sufferings they experience as cholas
earn them the cultural contempt of the dominant urban society.30
Until now, no indigenous organization has reclaimed these settings
as terrains of struggle, and there is no notion of indigenous rights
that applies to these women, who in the state imaginary exist only
as mestizas.
It is possible to observe the same phenomenon from a different angle by reviewing the history of labor union formation in the
valleys of Cochabamba in the decades following the revolution of
1952 and the agrarian reform of 1953.31 This history confirms the
systematic exclusion of women from the new public spaces constructed in the heat of unionization and the political mobilization
of the peasantry (sindicatos campesinos). Both in Mizque and in
Tiraque, the political process unleashed by agrarian mobilization
ended up blocking the entrance of women to the public sphere and
converting the labor unions, armed militias, and other organisms
into spaces of state patron-client relations and masculine mediation. Paradoxically, it was the secular mercantile and social activity of the women of Cochambambaselling chicha, engaging in
long-distance trade and other activitiesthat permitted the men
to dedicate the majority of their time to union organization and
party politics.32 The exaltation of the chichera (chicha bar) and
of the maternal virtues of the women (across the urban-rural continuum of mestizaje) as well as the popular myth of matriarchy
prevalent in the valleys, demonstrates the perversity of the lettered
image of the citizen and its real consequences for women: when it
came to the relentless exploitation of mothers and grandmothers,
the unionist and itinerant workers of the valleys consented to a

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

degraded form of citizenship that was grafted onto the masculine

and patron-client networks of the dominant party. Shame and selfloathing are in this way transferred onto women, who represent
rural backwardness, a pre-mercantile economy, and the familys
barbarity of the past.
But perhaps there is an even more vivid example of ethnic segregation and discrimination in the Andean region of Boliviaalthough this exists as well in other regionsand this is the remunerated domestic service, which characterizes the structure of urban
employment in our country. According to a study published by the
Center for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA),
the contribution of this population to the urban EAP (economically active population) has grown, from 5.0% in 1985 to 6.2%
in 1991, reaching 47,909 domestic workers. Of them, 90% were
women and 70% were migrants, that is, indigenous women who
were born in rural communities and speak native languages. Aside
from domestic work, which provides a salary that usually does not
reach 50% of the normal minimum wage, the urban economy provides few spaces for indigenous migrant womens labor.33 Certainly
a situation like this exacerbates gender segregation in the society
as a whole and alludes to the profound inequalities that have up
to now been ignored by radical feminist thinking in Bolivia. One
of these inequalities, in my opinion, is the postponement of the
debate over paternal and male domestic co-responsibilities made
possible by the existence of these other women at home, who carry
the burden of the womens second labor shift. What remains outside of the discussion regarding this transaction between women
in distinct positions of economic power and cultural origin is the
representation of domestic labor as naturally belonging to the
feminine sex. Although this naturalization is something that feminist theory has contested for many decades, in Bolivia it continues
to be nearly a taboo subject due to the invisible labor of domestic
women workers, who work in the households of even the most
radical feminist activists and ideologues.
In the context of the debate about indigenous rights, the examples given in this section point to a situation in which even the
most basic human rights are denied to people on the grounds of



qui parle spring/summer 2010 vol.18, no.2

their gender and ethnicity. While situations like the low level of
salaries for domestic work, the duplication of the burden of labor
by women who are heads of households, and selective emigration
affect indigenous communities in diverse regions of the country as
much as their migratory flow to the cities, these populations have
yet to find a space for their demands within ethnic organizations.
These organizations have confined their demands to a definition
of collective rights based on territory, which, paradoxically, limits the very demands of indigenous populations that live outside
these narrowly defined spaces. While salutary in the moment in
which it emerged, the indigenous struggle for territory has been
an important site of interpellation to the Bolivian state. Nevertheless we continue to believe that the issue of dignity has not been
addressed in full, as it is expressed in a plurality of contexts, both
urban and rural, in which ethnicity is associated with the loss of
prestige and lack of fulfillment of human rights. The territorialization of indigenous rights has prevented indigenous women and
their communities from escaping the ethnic straightjacket embedded in the liberal conception of rights, a discourse that produced
a narrow literate and masculine space that erases numerous questions of human and citizenship rights implicit in the practices of
indigenous mobilizations.
Perhaps it is because neither the state nor indigenous organizations have taken up a politics of ethnicity capable of presenting
alternatives for women that they have been unable to sufficiently
advance the gains achieved by the recognition of the multiethnic
character of the nation in the new Constitucin Poltica del Estado
and other similar measures.34 In the same way, as long as indigenous
organizations do not recognize female migrantswho work in the
degraded conditions of middle-class urban homesas members of
their people and communities, their own notion of rights will remain limited and fragmented. As long as ethnic organizations are
not capable of facing the phenomena of gendered oppression that
is unleashed by the emigration of male labor force to the city or
to the zafra, and the increasingly extended problem of indigenous
households led by women, the notion of human rights will remain
empty rhetoric.35 If this is the case, we will have contributed to the

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity

prolongation of the states aspiration to transform the consciousness of a Bolivian indigenous majority held in the 1980s into a
consciousness of a minority that lives only off the crumbs of development and the unequal ecological and economic transactions
within the mestizo-dominated power structure, which has not substantially changed with the recent electoral events leading to the
ascent of the first indigenous president. The implicit corollary to
this entire argument points to the need for a simultaneous decolonization of both gender and indigeneity, of the quotidian and the
political, by way of a theory and a practice that links alternative
and pluralist notions of citizenship rights with rights inhering in
traditional indigenous laws and customs, as much in legislation as
in the everyday and private practices of the people.
1. The term cholo/a is used in Bolivia, generally, to refer to indigenous
people who have emigrated to urban areas and live somewhere between the cultural spaces of mestizo and indigenous identity. The term
birlocha refers specifically to chola women who adopt the dress style
and customs of what Rivera refers to in jest as the refinadas, the upperclass and formally educated women associated with urban spaces.
2. See the preface to Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the
Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990).
3. Rossana Barragn, El espritu de la modernidad boliviana: Ciudadana, infamia y jerarqua patriarcal, paper given at the Seminar on
Nation, Ethnicity and Citizenship, organized by Sephis (South-South
Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development),
New Delhi, February 68, 1996. Hereafter cited as EM.
4. It is hard to believe that this law remained in force until the 1995
5. Juridical norms like the patria potestad are the living incarnation of
an even more archaic and patriarchal law, implicit in the multiple
normative products of colonial Catholicism, as has been shown by
Barragn in EM.
6. The notion of habitus has been used here in the sense proposed by
Pierre Bourdieu in El Sentido Prctico, trans. lvaro Pazos (Barcelona: Taurus, 1991). Published in English as The Logic of Practice,
trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).



qui parle spring/summer 2010 vol.18, no.2

7. The ayllu was the basic political and social unit since precolonial
times. It refers to a (sometimes discontinuous) territory where people
are tied together through kinship and symbolic networks. It encompasses religious, symbolic, and inheritance practices peculiar to the
people who belong to it. It loosely could translate as community in
English but goes well beyond the meaning of this term.
8. See Denise Arnold and Juan de Dios Yapita, Aspectos de gnereo en
Qaqachaka: Maternidad, textiles y prcticas textuales alternativas en
los Andes, in Ser mujer indgena, chola o birlocha en la Bolivia postcolonial de los 90, ed. Silvia Rivera (La Paz: Subsecretara de Asuntos
de Gnero, Ministerio de Desarrollo Humano, 1996). This edited volume is cited hereafter as SM.
9. Compare with Denise Arnold, Hacer al hombre a imagen de ella:
Aspectos de gnero en los textiles de Qaqachaka, Chungar: Revista
de Antropologa Chilena 26.1 (1994): 79115.
10. See, for example, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Mestizaje colonial andino: Una hiptesis de trabajo, in Violencias encubiertas en Bolivia,
vol. 1: Cultura y poltica, ed. Xavier Alb and Ral Barrios (La Paz:
CIPCA, 1993) and Zulema Lehm and Silvia Rivera, Los artesanos libertarios y la tica del trabajo (La Paz: Ediciones del THOA, 1988).
11. Caciques and kuraqas refer to leaders of indigenous ayllus who held
local political power in the time of the Inka. Though this power was
severely eroded in the colonial period, it remained substantially strong
until the liberal reforms of the late nineteenth century.
12. See, for example, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, La expansin del latifundio en el Altiplano boliviano: Elementos para la caracterizacin
de una oligarqua regional, Avances 2 (1978).
13. Taller de Historia Oral Andina (THOA), El indio Santos Marka
Tula, cacique principal de los ayllus de Qallapa y apoderado general
de las comunidades originarias de la Repblica (La Paz, Ediciones
del THOA, 1988), hereafter cited as IS; Carlos Mamani, Taraqu
18661935: Masacre, guerra y renovacin en la biografa de Eduardo L. Nina Qhispi (La Paz: Aruwiyiri, 1991), hereafter cited as
TM; Leandro Condori and Esteban Ticona, El escribano de los caciques apoderados, Karikinakan Purirarunakan Qillqiripa (La Paz:
14. See Frank Salomon, Ancestor Cults and Resistance to the State in
Arequipa, 17481754, in Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness
in the Andean Peasant World, 16th to 20th Centuries, ed. Steve Stern
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987); see also Juan Flix

Rivera Cusicanqui: Postcolonial Modernity








Arias, Historia de una esperanza: Los apoderados espiritualistas de

Chuquisaca, 19361964 (La Paz: Aruwiyiri, 1994), hereafter cited
as HE.
Markas were rural towns or pueblos de reduccin where the Indian
population was resettled in early colonial times. They loosely corresponded to the precolonial federation of ayllus gathered around ritual
and political centers.
See HE and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Pedimos la revisin de lmites:
Un episodio de incomunicacin de castas en el movimiento de caciques-apoderados, 19191921 (hereafter cited as PR), Reproduccin
y transformacin en las sociedades andinas, siglos XVIXX, ed. Segundo Moreno and Frank Salomon (Quito: Abya Yala, 1992).
See, for example, IS and PR.
Mestizaje is defined as the notion of racial and cultural mixing, which
consists of the complex ideas surrounding race, nation, and multiculturalism and their role in nation building.
The Katarista political movement, named after Tupac Katari, who
led the 1781 indigenous rebellions in and around La Paz, has been
a militant indigenous movement born in the late 1960s and largely
made up of Aymara nationalists who seek to revitalize Indian autonomy, culture, and religion. See Rivera Cusicanqui, Oppressed but
Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles among the Aymara and Qhichwa
in Bolivia, 19001980 (Geneva: UNRISD, 1986).
Mexico and Colombia, for instance, come closer to this model of indigenous marginality.
Xavier Alb, Bolivia plurilinge: Gua para planificadores y educadores (La Paz: UNICEF and CIPCA, 1995), vol. 11:69.
Los grupos tnicos y sus fronteras: La organizacin social de las
diferencias culturales, ed. Fredrik Barth (Mxico: Fondo de Cultura
Econmica, 1976). Published in English as Ethnic Groups and Their
Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, ed. Fredrik Barth (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969).
Silvia Rivera and THOA, Ayllus y proyectos de desarrollo en el norte
de Potos (La Paz: Aruwiyiri, 1992).
A counterpart to the Katarista movement, the Indianista movement
developed a more radical vision based on Indian autonomy and the
right to self-government.
The chola from La Paz, an emblematic icon of subaltern female ethnicity in Bolivia. See Rossana Barragn, Entre polleras, llicllas y
aacas: Los mestizos y la emergencia de la tercera repblica, in



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Etnicidad, economa y simbolismo en los Andes: II Congreso Internacional de Etnohistoria, Coroico, ed. Silvia Arze, Rossana Barragn,
Laura Escobari, and Ximena Medinacelli (La Paz: HISBOL/IFEA/
SBH-ASUR, 1992).
See SM and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Diferencia complementariedad y lucha anticolonial: Enseanzas de la historia andina (hereafter
cited as DC) in 500 aos de patriarcado en el Nuevo Mundo, Clara
Leyla Alfonso (Santo Domingo: CIPAF/Red Entre Mujeres, 1992).
Elizabeth Peredo, Recoveras de los Andes: La identidad de la chola
del mercado: una aproximacin psicosocial (La Paz: ILDI-TAHIPAMU, 1992).
These terms (desprecio escalonado and exclusiones escalonadas in
Spanish) come from Tierry Saignes, Los Andes Orientales: Historia
de un olvido (Cochabamba: CERES, 1985) and SM, respectively.
Xavier Alb, Toms Greaves, and Godofredo Sandval, Chukiyawu,
la cara ayamra de La Paz, vol. 1: El paso a la ciudad (La Paz: CIPCA,
Lucila Criales, Mujer y conflictos socio-culturales: El caso de las
migrantes de Caquiaviri en la ciudad de La Paz (La Paz: Aruwiyiri,
Mara Laura Lagos, Autonoma y poder: Dinmica de Clase y Cultura en Cochabamba (La Paz: Plural, 1997), as well as Susan Paulson,
Familias que no conyugan e identidades que no conjugan: La vida
en Mizque desafa nuestras categoras, in SM.
Chicha is an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn or other
grains, used for ritual purposes by the Incas, and consumed ritually
and socially throughout the Andean region today.
ILDIS-CEDLA, Informe Social Bolivia: Balance de indicadores sociales (La Paz: ILDIS-CEDLA, 1994).
The notion of Indigenous Rights was first introduced in the 1994 Political Constitution of the Bolivian State and was further expanded in
the recent constitutional text approved in early 2009.
The zafra is the sugar cane harvest. In the last decades this migratory process is increasingly oriented toward other countries, such as
Argentina, Brazil, and Spain.