Indigenous contributions are essential for intercultural state-building

Indigenous contributions are essential for intercultural state-building
-Bolivia is at the forefront in terms of its constitutional framework, the presence of indigenous professionals in public administration and the successful projection of a pro-Mother Earth rhetoric in international fora-, thus Cletus Gregor Barié, cultural anthropologist. -In terms of implementation, however, the plurinational transformation is still at a very early stage".

Barié studied the achievements and limitations of indigenous-inspired state transformation towards a more participatory democracy, focusing on the plurinational state Bolivia, which has been driven by a broad popular mobilization since the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Early stages

The study showed that the path to the adoption, application and implementation of the initial proposal for a plurinational state has been difficult and fraught with conflict. According to Barié the steps taken to bridge the perceived gap between a fictitious state and a diverse and multifaceted social reality remained incipient and contradictory. "The treatment of new indigenous-inspired concepts in political practice has fluctuated between the indigenism of the 1980s, the multiculturalism of the 1990s and an incipient plurinationalism. Bolivia’s plurinational transformation is thus still in its early stages". Nevertheless, it remains one of the most advanced countries in the region in terms of legal innovation. This points to a pending task in Latin America of rethinking the state from an indigenous perspective and exploring it in practice.

Structural changes

The Movement for Socialism (MAS, Movimiento al Socialismo) party initiated a political project, which has been led by the successive administrations of presidents Evo Morales (2006-2019) and Luis Arce (since 2020), to bring about structural changes by reorganizing the relationship between the state, communities and individuals in a society characterized by social exclusion and discrimination. At the heart of these transformations stands the idea of the plurinational state, a political project of decolonization that integrates historical claims to territorial rights, self-government and the rights of nature (’Pachamama’).

Key moments in Bolivia’s transformation

Barié focused on four key moments of the transformation that Bolivia has gone through in the recent years: The constitutionalization of some indigenous proposals in Bolivia (2009) and Ecuador (2008), the struggle for direct representation (2011), the codification and application of the rights of Mother Earth (2010; 2012) and the awakening of an ecological conscience during the forest fire crisis in the Chiquitanía region of eastern Bolivia (2019). Taken together, these cases capture the different perspectives and expectations of the relevant actors in this conflictive transformation of the state, and examine their participation in the process of implementation and transformation into public policy.

Indigenous involvement is essential

Barié emphasizes that in the Bolivian case, four factors appear to have influenced the depth and scope of these transformations. "First, researchers and policymakers have not yet sufficiently considered indigenous peoples as collective authors and creators of state innovation. Second, the decision-making mechanisms within the ruling party are another determinant of reform outcomes. Thirdly, the interaction between indigenous leaders and decision-makers plays a crucial role in the political process. Finally, the low level of incorporation of indigenous proposals in the Constitution and their weak implementation is a result of the absence of a roadmap for change that would allow for a transition from a developmentalist to a more ecocentric model. Given the persistence and entrenchment of narratives of development and modernity, there is a need to strengthen knowledge of successful practices in natural resource governance."