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Bolivian vice president keeps the faith with Karl Marx

Marxism still offers viable ideas to advance such poor countries as Bolivia, said that country's vice president in a Labor Day talk, "Marxism and Indigenism," at Cornell's Goldwin Smith Hall. The lecture was delivered in Spanish with translation to an overflow crowd.

The sharp stratification of Bolivian society lends itself to class analysis, said Vice President Álvaro García Linera, who insisted that Marx remains relevant even to the discussion of indigenous movements (although he conceded Marx did not always champion oppressed native people). His talk is the first event in connection with the "Marx and Marxisms in Latin America" conference, Sept. 14-15, sponsored by Cornell's Diacritics magazine.

García Linera was elected with a large majority in 2005 as running mate and idea man to President Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism party. Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest. The majority Amerindian population is effectively excluded from participation in the ailing Bolivian economy.

García Linera's background is the stuff of modern legend in Latin American and leftist politics. A dashing upper-class academic intellectual, in 1992 he was jailed, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for terrorist acts committed as a founding member of an insurgent guerrilla army.

Citing the "tense dynamic" of haves and have-nots, García Linera noted that indigenous Bolivian economies are neither communist nor capitalist. The left, he said, has failed to understand indigenous groups' demands to express their identity and failed "to take into account internal colonial domination."

Indigenous Bolivians constitute about 60 percent of the population. Before native intellectual leadership emerged in the 1960s and '70s, there had been no dialogue between Amerindians and leftist intellectuals throughout the 20th century. A revived and updated Marxist theory, applied with historical and cultural sensitivity, García Linera suggested, will move Bolivia forward.

The García Linera talk was sponsored by the Department of Romance Studies, Diacritics magazine, the Latin American Studies Program and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

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