Afro-Bolivians - Sociopolitical Organization

The Afro-Bolivian community of Tocaña has a democratic syndicate political system similar to those found in rural communities throughout Bolivia. In 1952, when agrarian reform was instituted in Bolivia, the government authorized these local political organizations as a replacement for the outlawed hacienda (plantation) administrations (W. Léons 1977, 31). Syndicates are hierarchic boards of political secretaries elected by adult community members. The secretary general holds the position of leadership in the community and may retain it for consecutive one-year terms, provided the community is content with his or her performance and the individual is willing to continue to hold office. Local syndicates are intended to give agricultural communities political representation at regional and national levels.

Another form of political organization pertains to social activities, such as sports and music. These organizations form the basis for community solidarity. The officers of these groups—presidents, vice presidents, secretaries of conflicts, and treasurers—are called dirigentes (directors). Although there are local and national governmental organizations in place in La Paz, migrants have recourse only to these social organizations; hence for migrants these serve as the central political organizations. In 1992 women held most of these offices through which they both organized social life and addressed economic concerns.

In Sud Yungas, Blacks rejected the syndicate political system. The small sizes of their settlements were not conducive to the syndicate organization, and, additionally, Blacks viewed the syndicate as an Indian institution. In Chicaloma, Afro-Bolivians replaced the local hacienda administration with a junta, a cooperative work group. This allowed them political autonomy such as the Aymara have through syndicates and was commensurate with the dispersed nature of Afro-Bolivian settlements. Juntas draw their membership from a cross section of age groups (W. Lions 1977, 32).

Conflict. There is competition and racial tension between the Aymara and Afro-Bolivian migrants in La Paz and, to a lesser degree, between the Aymara and rural Afro-Bolivians. In the city of La Paz, Afro-Bolivians face heightened forms of racism and discrimination in their daily lives. Afro-Bolivians are in direct competition for jobs with Aymara Indians, who are the largest ethnic group in La Paz. As early as the days of colonial slavery in the highland mines of Potosí, the Aymara mocked Black cultural traditions, especially in a dance (performed in blackface while drumming and singing) called saya or tundiki. These Aymara dance practices continue in the 1990s and are one source of racial tension between Afro-Bolivians and Aymara in La Paz. Migrants attend informal public forums that they call debates, where they openly address their grievances with the Aymara and express their experiences of being a small Black minority in a country dominated by Indians. Among their complaints are the superstitious beliefs some Bolivians have regarding Blacks (e.g., that seeing a Black person or offering one a glass of milk can bring good luck). The saya or tundiki occasions much resentment. At debates held in 1992, Afro-Bolivians said they felt marginalized and that they believed that Aymara migrants had better job opportunities than did Blacks.

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