Native Latins Are Astir and Thirsty for Power

March 22, 2003

LA PAZ, Bolivia, March 21 - Isabel Ortega, a full-blooded Aymara-Quechua Indian who dresses in the black bowler and heavily layered 19th-century dress common to her people, is one of Bolivia's newest members of Congress.

But that has not kept guards from trying to bar her from the ornate building where the halls of power have long been the exclusive domain of buttoned-down descendants of Europeans.

"The guards would say, `How can you come in?' And then they pushed me out," said Ms. Ortega, 49. "They would say, `AnIndian is coming into the palace.' "

Such racism and resistance have not stopped Ms. Ortega, who is part of a new Congress with three times as manyindigenous lawmakers as the last one. Nor have they deterred a growing number of other leaders from forgotten classes across Latin America who are promising a political and economic upheaval.

They and their supporters are organizing as never before and using new, more open democracies to take on the traditional, light-skinned ruling classes they blame for
keeping their countries mired in poverty and their people on the sidelines of power for 500 years.
Whether filled with Indians in the Andes, blacks and
mixed-race "caboclos" and "mulatos" in Brazil or the poor of Argentina's outlying provinces, the ranks of these new political movements are united by the dark color of their skin and their low economic station.

With popular protests and new political parties, they are challenging the orthodoxy of market reforms as the region faces its worst economic crisis in decades. In the process, Latin America's political landscape is being redrawn. Parties that have been the pillars of governments from Caracas to Quito to Buenos Aires are collapsing or fast losing influence.

"Latin America is undergoing a fundamental redefinition of identity," said Elisa Carrio, the leading antiestablishment candidate in the presidential election scheduled in Argentina in April. "That identity is being tinkered with in different ways in
each country," she said, "because we are all different and not a single package, but there is one thing in common: we are finally electing leaders who look like the people they represent."

In Bolivia and Peru, this change has been accompanied by violent protests. Elsewhere, it has meant the rise of new leaders like President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, a former labor leader born a peasant, and Lucio Gutiérrez
in Ecuador, a former army colonel who led the coup that overthrew President Jamil Mahuad, a Harvard-educated favorite of the International Monetary Fund, in January 2000.

Mr. Gutiérrez was elected president in November after railing against traditional politicians and promising to cut poverty and scale back market reforms. He was supported by a powerful indigenous movement, Pachakutik, and inspired
in part by another former army colonel and coup plotter, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.
In Mr. Chávez, the many dark-skinned people of Caracas's
poor barrios believe they have found a powerful spokesman - and the nation's traditional political and business class, a reviled antagonist. In the last year, Chávez supporters have defended his four-year-old presidency against weeks of
strikes by an opposition whose leaders are mostly of European descent.

These new Latin American leaders do not offer a uniform solution to region's problems. But their political base is decidedly anchored on the left, and all have toyed with the populism that has been a staple of Latin American politics
since the 1930's.
What they have in common is the promise to replace the
policies pushed by the International Monetary Fund with a return to a system of state-owned companies and protected markets.

"It is not very well thought out, but it is the opposite of the status quo," said Amy Chua, author of a new book, "The World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." "The problem with
these policies is they are more anti- than affirmative anything."

Mr. Chávez, who introduced a new Constitution in Venezuela
and is redirecting oil profits toward social programs, has taken the most aggressive tack. Others, like Evo Morales, the head of Bolivia's main opposition movement, emphasize the traditions of indigenous people who have organized
their communities collectively for generations.
More moderate leaders have begun groping for a middle ground between appeasing the powerful financial and capital
markets of a global economy and addressing the complaints of those who feel excluded from the benefits of more than a decade of market-driven economic reforms.
But the path is proving treacherous.

In Peru, a host of independent movements, several with strong indigenous representation, swept recent regional elections and are eroding the standing of the market-friendly government of President Alejandro Toledo. In Brazil and Ecuador, the new governments have leaned toward fiscal prudence rather than following through immediately on promises to redistribute wealth. Disappointed followers are already criticizing both Mr. Gutiérrez and Mr. da Silva, who assumed Brazil's presidency on Jan. 1.

But even absent clear answers, these new leaders have been helped by the disintegration of traditional political parties, whose ranks have been thinned by the defection of those who feel past reforms have not helped them.

Venezuela's two main established parties are in disarray. Peru's long-dominant parties have lost ground to an amalgam of independent parties. The two parties that have ruled Colombia for more than a century suddenly face new
challengers, as is also the case in Uruguay.
In Argentina, the Peronists, long the country's dominant party, have split into three warring factions, and their
rivals in the Radical Party have been equally discredited by the worst economic crisis in the country's history.
None of the five leading candidates in the presidential
election on April 27 have been able to win the support of more than 19 percent of voters. But a recent poll showed that if Brazil's president, Mr. da Silva, were allowed to run, more than 50 percent of Argentines would vote for him.

In no other country is the gap between the traditional ruling classes and the majority of the population as wide as in Bolivia. One Western diplomat described the country
as Latin America's South Africa - a land of virtual apartheid - dominated for centuries by the descendants of Spanish colonists, while most of its eight million people,
indigenous and desperately poor, remained disenfranchised.

Here, the experiment with market reforms has come full circle. President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was the architect of the government's free-market reforms in the
1980's. For a while they tamed inflation and restored growth. But today Bolivia - much like the rest of the region - is mired in recession, unable to create enough
jobs for the 100,000 people who join the work force each year.
In February Mr. Sánchez de Lozada was forced to escape from a bullet-riddled presidential palace in a heavily armed motorcade. At the time, nearly 30 people died during a
protest against his plans for a payroll tax to close government deficits and meet I.M.F. demands.
His government, just seven months old, is now badly hobbled
and its indigenous opponents are energized, foreshadowing what some political analysts say will be the eventual rise to power of an Indian government, Latin America's first in centuries. "After 500 years, the Quechua and Aymara are
preparing to recover political power," said Mr. Morales, the leader of the opposition Movement Toward Socialism.

Many of Bolivia's indigenous people see hope in the populist message of Mr. Morales and that of Felipe Quispe, a former rebel who is known here as El Mallku, or the
Mr. Morales, who finished second in presidential elections last year, leads a congressional delegation with 22 Indians among its 35 members. Those allied with him do not control Congress, but they are nearly half of its 157 members and
have demonstrated that they can organize potent, economically disastrous street protests.
In their view, Bolivia must take back state companies sold
into private hands, end food imports, and reject Washington's efforts for a hemisphere-wide free-trade treaty.

In essence, the idea is to end the vestiges of a modern, free-market-oriented state and return to an agricultural society, with a smattering of mining, that would "regain
the philosophy of the Andean soul," as Hernán Vargas, a member of Mr. Morales's congressional delegation, put it.
"The indigenous are looking to take political power, to
govern ourselves, not to be governed by whites who have robbed and stolen our natural resources," said Mr. Quispe, who leads a confederation of rural workers.

The idea that Latin America must make a sharp break from American-inspired market orthodoxy percolates among several indigenous movements in the Andes. Mr. Chávez in Venezuela has used similar appeals recently, as have all but one of
the five main presidential aspirants in Argentina.
The message is poison to the region's elites, and to the United States, since the indigenous movements oppose
Washington's policies to try to end coca growing in Bolivia. Mr. Morales, in fact, began his political career as head of the coca growers' union.

Critics say the nontraditional leaders fail to take note of Bolivia's dependence on foreign loans and trade, as well as the importance of foreign investment in developing the country's most important industry, mining. "Taking power is fine," Bolivia's president, Mr. Sánchez de Lozada, said in an interview. "But what do you do when you are in power? I do not know how long the economic engine will last exporting just dried potatoes."