A unexpected call came in on Monday from Desaguadero, Peru while I Skyped my wife Eva in Montreal.
The miracle of modern communications linked us all up via a couple of geostationary satellites somewhere over the equator. My son, Liam, had found himself stuck in this border town at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. It seems those mining protests I mentioned in this column a couple of weeks ago had flared again.
The protesters discontent was sparked by the perceived environmental threat from a proposed silver mine. As well, there’s been a marked lack of consultation with local, mainly Aymara, communities by Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining Corporation. Liam reported soldiers from the Bolivian army had marshaled on their side of the boundary, facing the protesters on the other. This martial display hoped, I suppose, to keep tempers cool and the demonstrations from becoming an international incident.
Regrettably, Peruvian customs officials my son needed to see to get a required exit stamp on his passport had made themselves scarce. Liam got to cool his heels in the Desaguadero. The wait will be worthwhile, I am sure. Bolivia beckons.
Bolivia, the landlocked South American country straddling the Andes, offers him, and the world, a new perspective on the concept of the nation-state.
With the ratification of its new constitution in 2009, Bolivia officially became a plurinational state. This allows the Aymara and Quechua, the two major indigenous populations, along with Guarani and others, which together constitute more than 50 per cent of the national population, to establish self-government on their own traditional lands via referendums.
Our own self-government process has similarities to this one.
Bolivia, under a government headed by President Evo Morales, an Aymara himself and this country’s first indigenous leader, has sought to regain significant control of its resource base. Morales moved early in his first mandate to bring the energy sector under national control by nationalizing much of the nation’s oil and gas production.
Poverty reduction lies at the core of this and other efforts, such as basic land reform in this country of over 11 million.
Bolivia is poor – dirt poor, with the lowest gross domestic product per person in all the continent and at only about 4.3 per cent of our own here in Canada.
A reassertion of indigenous identities also offers a fundamental rethinking of goal of the state.
The Chancellor of Bolivia, our equivalent of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Choquehuanca, who is also an Aymara, builds his vision for the future on his people’s concept of Suma Qamana.
Suma Qamana, Choquehuanca writes in an article I’m translating for the 2012 Latin American Agenda, is Aymara for ‘to live well’ or the ‘good life.’ His good life is based the traditions of his people and “means to live in community, in brotherhood and especially in complementarity that is to say to share and not compete, to live in harmony with others and as a part of nature.”
To live better is a concept he rejects. “Suma Qamana is at odds with luxury, opulence and waste, it is at odds with consumerism.
“The responsibility of the community is to take care of its members and its surroundings in a manner that each one cares for the health and wellbeing of all and everything leaving no one out.”
This ethic challenges us to re-examine our own community and national goals.
The Athabaskan leaders and scholars gathering here next week hopefully will continue this process.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.