SANCKAJAWIRA, BOLIVIA (AP) - Evo Morales’ opponents have figured out one thing as they look ahead to presidential elections this year: To beat Bolivia’s first Indian leader, you need to run an Indian.
Morales’ supporters have come to the same conclusion _ and shown no reluctance in attacking an indigenous politician for suggesting he might challenge their champion in elections expected in December.
When Victor Hugo Cardenas, a native Aymara like Morales and a former vice president, hinted he would run, the response was brutal: A mob of Aymaras violently evicted Cardenas’ family from their house here on Lake Titicaca’s shore, beating his wife and 24-year-old son with whips and sticks so badly they were hospitalized for two days.
Then, on Friday, the community ceremoniously banished the Cardenas family. A man and a woman in red ponchos bullwhipped the politician’s effigy, then symbolically buried it.
“We don’t pardon those who betray our brother Morales,” a leader of the 400-strong mob, Alfredo Huaynapaco, told The Associated Press. Reporters found the house garbage-strewn, nearly all the furniture gone. “Taken over by the people,” someone painted on a wall of the two-story brick home.
Neither police nor prosecutors have acted against the aggressors. While Morales condemned the violence, he also said: “The Bolivian people have no tolerance for traitors, nor do they forgive them.”
Cardenas, who wasn’t with his family at the time, brought his injured wife and children to the relative safety of their apartment in La Paz, the capital. He told the AP in an interview Monday that his sons still wake up jumpy at night, but a flood of telephoned insults has diminished.
The 58-year-old university professor and linguist has had a long career of representing Bolivia’s oppressed Indian majority. Like Morales, he grew up poor on Bolivia’s barren high plains. He made his name as a social agitator during military rule that ended in 1982.
Rising to vice president under President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada from 1993-97, he did much to enshrine in Bolivia’s legal code greater equality for its natives _ particularly in bilingual education _ in a society where Indians only won the right to vote in 1952 and still face discrimination.
“The political fight is part of my personal history. They jailed and tortured me during the dictatorships but never did anyone take action against my wife and children. And if (former dictator Hugo) Banzer couldn’t shut me up, neither can Morales,” Cardenas told the AP.
Until Morales’ 2005 election, no other Indian had attained a higher political post. But many Morales supporters resent Cardenas’ association with Sanchez de Losada, a mining industry executive who fled into U.S. exile during his second term after troops in 2003 fired on Morales-affiliated protesters, killing 63 people.
Cardenas says Morales’ ruling Movement Toward Socialism has turned Bolivian discrimination inside out, exploiting age-old resentments.
“The indigenous peoples are used as shock troops,” Cardenas told the AP in August. The Bolivian Indian “had a lot of respect in the world (but) is now seen as a symbol of the discrimination of revenge, of confrontation and racism.”
Two days later, Morales won a recall election by a 2-1 margin.
Cardenas later campaigned against the centerpiece of Morales’ “anti-colonialist agenda,” the new constitution, saying that instead of truly empowering the Indians, it will concentrate power in an undemocratic leftist regime.
In January, the new charter was endorsed by 61 percent of voters.
Until Cardenas’ family was attacked, he didn’t appear to be a big concern for Morales. But now even the president’s supporters think the sacking and banishment will become a touchstone in this year’s campaign. Pro-Morales congressman Jorge Silva predicts it will encourage the opposition to “use known indigenous figures to divide and weaken Morales.”
The banishment came under a centuries-old community justice system still practiced in highland settlements once ruled by the Incas, where old methods often trump the modern democratic state.
But Cardenas claims his neighbors were put up to it by a pro-Morales activist in the National Federation of Peasant Women, Beatriz Quispe. He’s filed a formal complaint against Quispe, Huaynapaco and two others. The chief prosecutor’s office said it would interview them this week.
Meanwhile, Cardenas says he is working on uniting Morales’ foes in the highlands as well as the pro-autonomy eastern lowlands, where wealthy landowners resent the president’s attempts to expropriate land for redistribution to the poor.
Cardenas and Morales have not yet formally declared they’ll run in elections expected in December, and the opposition is badly splintered, with nobody approaching a national leader.
Already, another indigenous politician has announced his presidential campaign _ Mayor Rene Joaquino of the highlands mining city of Potosi _ but he hasn’t used anti-Morales rhetoric.
Joaquino, 42, is Quechua, from Bolivia’s largest ethnic group, the Incas’ direct descendants. The Aymara are No. 2 and dominate La Paz.
The two ethnic groups meld in Bolivia’s new political elite, which is copper-colored and proud, Indian and mestizo. It runs the ministries, the military and police, Congress, the state-run energy company YPFB and more than three in five city halls.
Some analysts say Morales can no longer control this new elite, some of whom show little regard for civil liberties while others have ignored his anti-corruption agenda.
“Morales’ greatest adversary these days isn’t the opposition, it’s MAS itself, due to the great corruption scheme involving a good part of the executive branch,” said Carlos Toranzo, an academic who consults for the U.N. and European governments.
Valdez reported from La Paz, Bolivia. Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak contributed from Lima, Peru.