Constructing alternatives to western modernity : CONAMAQ's struggle for indigenous autonomy in the Bolivian Altiplano

Footit, Bridget Kelsey
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How are indigenous peoples negotiating their cultural, political, and economic autonomy in twenty-first century Bolivia? This thesis explores one iteration of that struggle, through a case study of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, CONAMAQ). I provide a historical overview of how highland indigenous peoples have resisted centuries of exclusion and forced assimilation through state and non-state avenues in order to create spaces for their autonomy to flourish. In particular, I emphasize CONAMAQ's efforts to revalorize traditional political, juridical, economic, agricultural, and spiritual practices. I frame these efforts within a larger epistemological challenge to hegemonic notions of Western modernity and liberal citizenship. The Plurinational State of Bolivia under president Evo Morales has accomplished profound institutional shifts in an effort to respect indigenous rights. However, I argue that the (neo)liberal understanding of a homogenous indigenous subject continues to drive this Proceso de Cambio (Process of Change). In order to realize the goals of a plurinational state (in practice, not just in title), the Bolivian government, and non-state actors, will need to acknowledge and respect the distinct identities and goals of different subjectivities throughout the country (indigenous/non-indigenous, urban/rural etc.). I demonstrate complex relationships amongst members of CONAMAQ, the Morales government, and transnational companies, through a series of land and mining conflicts that ultimately led to CONAMAQ's decision to break away from a historical Unity Pact of civil society organizations in 2012. This discussion helps us understand the complex struggle for indigenous rights in Bolivia, why an indigenous movement has retracted their support of a supposedly pro-indigenous government, and how these struggles are tied to a larger effort to harvest alternatives to Western modernity.