- Rhythms of the Pachakuti: Indigenous Uprising and State Power in Bolivia by Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar
As the historian Sinclair Thomson writes in his Foreword to this book, Mexican sociologist Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar has “acquired a quasi-legendary status” (p. ix) for her role as an intellectual activist during the series of popular revolts that roiled Bolivia during the first few years of the twenty-first century. Her decision to write Ritmos de la Pachakuti, originally published in 2008 and translated ably here by Stacey Alba D. Skar, represents a kind of postmortem. Why, Gutiérrez asks, did collective social movements with such enormous emancipatory potential eventually run out of steam by 2005, thus paving the way for the reconstruction of state power in the hands of Evo Morales Ayma’s Movimiento al Socialismo (mas; Movement toward Socialism)? Her ultimate goal in Ritmos is to develop a “theoretical strategy” (p. xxi) that will encourage participants in future emancipatory convulsions to recognize their capacity to move “beyond capital and the state” (p. xxxv, emphasis in original) by establishing non-liberal forms of economic self-management and political self-rule.
After trudging through forty-five pages of front matter, including a dense, twenty-six page theoretical preface, the reader is rewarded with a gripping narrative of Bolivia’s recent revolutionary upheavals, which the author calls Pachakuti, a cosmic Quechua concept representing the periodic and rhythmic inversion of the political and social order, of time and space. Part I includes three chapters, each of which narrates the initial struggles of one of the principle collective protagonists in the coming revolt: Cochabamba’s water-defending Coordinadora (2000), El Alto’s Aymara insurgents (2000–2001), and Chapare’s coca growers union (2000–2003). True to what Gutiérrez calls her “theoretical strategy,” each social movement is evaluated [End Page 568] not just in terms of its success in obtaining material goals, but also on the basis of how its “interior horizon” reflects an alternative form of collective political, social, and economic organization, standing against and beyond the hierarchical nature of the Western state and private capital relations.
Gutiérrez reserves her strongest praise for Cochabamba’s “elastic, independent, nimble” Coordinadora, which not only forced the expulsion of Bechtel subsidiary Aguas del Tunari, but also succeeded in placing water management into collective hands. Coordinadora’s “autonomous noninstitutional politicization” (p. 19) stands in contrast to the dual track followed by the Aymara Indianist movement in the suburbs of La Paz. On the one hand, neighbourhood associations in El Alto replicated the insurgent strategies of the Coordinadora, successfully inverting the “chain of command and the dynamic between rulers and ruled subjects” (p. 63). On the other hand, charismatic leaders like peasant union leader Felipe Quispe sought to mobilize Indianism toward institutionalized party politics, frequently allowing statist terminology such as “taking power” to crowd out more horizontal concepts of “self-governance” (p. 53). Rounding out these three social movements, the coca growers union was simultaneously the most repressed and the most institutionalized. Having adopted a dose of political “pragmatism” as a strategy of survival in the face of “the systemic nature of… police-enforced aggression” (p. 82), the cocaleros increasingly relied on “electoral insurgency” (p. 90) under the mas party banner in 2002, paving the way for the 2005 election of President Morales.
Gutiérrez hits her stride in Part II, producing perhaps the best existing account of Bolivia’s dramatic uprisings of 2003–2005, which she calls “the most radical in the wave of anti-neoliberal struggles” that have recently swept over Latin America (p. 186). Aside from presenting a brilliant exegesis on urban Aymara life in El Alto (pp. 113–121), Gutiérrez also pinpoints the moment at which the Pachakuti stalled as a result of fundamental differences between Cochabamba’s 2000 Water War and El Alto’s 2003 Gas War: the former called for collective self-management of natural resources while...