Many outside Bolivia have attributed the opposition to MAS and the new Bolivian constitution as problems with, as I read recently, “a U.S.-backed upper class in revolt” or racism, saying that the whites in eastern Bolivia are offended at having an indigenous-lead government.
I think that is over simplifying the situation. Like any situation, the more you know about it, the more complex it appears once the subtleties are understood.
It is true that the “whites” or mestizos (those of mixed racial heritage) think themselves superior to the campesinos and “indians” — terms used to describe the indigenous peoples. Bolivia, however, has a majority indigenous population which has been oppressed for 350 years by the Spanish and for 150 years by the Spanish descendants and mestizos. Their struggle for independence after 500 years of oppression is, in my opinion, the reason for the rise of MAS.
Unfortunately, MAS’s rise seems ultimately doomed to failure, not because of “a U.S.-backed upper class in revolt” or because of inherent white/indigenous racism but because MAS has adequately represented the k’ollas (the Aymaras and Quechuas) but has little or no support among the cambas (the Amazonian indigenous groups).
The cambas are a proud people who were never conquered by either the Incas (who preferred anyway to stay in the higher altitudes nearer their god, the sun, and avoided the disease-infested jungles) nor the Spanish (who found nothing of value in the jungles and so just avoided the fiercely warlike tribes found there). They were “converted” late by the Jesuits, but their oppression has come mainly at the hands of the mestizos and the k’ollas. See this article for a good summary of the k’olla/camba divide.
These divisions are somewhat fluid. A person born in Santa Cruz may consider themselves camba, even if their parents were born in Oruro and moved to Santa Cruz. To the descendent of the original Amazonian tribes, however, these people remain k’olla.
A friend of mine from western Bolivia recently married a very nice woman from eastern Bolivia. They are a wonderful couple, but people think the marriage is doomed. They shake their heads and say, “Cambas and k’ollas don’t mix.”
For 150 years after the revolt against Spanish control, the mestizos controlled the government. They oppressed the indigenous majority, but people understood how things stood. Now, the k’ollas are in control of the government and the cambas don’t like it. That seems to be a much bigger divide than a simple white/indigenous divide described by most commentators.