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Bolivia's vice president on indigenous rights, coca crops, and relations with the US

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Staff writer Sara Miller Llana's interview with Bolivia's Vice President Álvaro García Linera of the Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS).

What has been your personal motivation for supporting indigenous causes?

When I was in high school in the 1970s, Latin Americans were taking back democracy from military dictatorships. Practically everyone in my high school was on the left. I was a participant in the political awakening of those times. Back then, you couldn't excite people if you didn't talk about Lenin, Trotsky, Hegel, or Gramsci.

In 1979 I witnessed the first siege of the city of La Paz by Aymaras. It was eye-opening how the siege aroused, among the upper and middle classes, the fear of rebellious Indians. But I was most interested in how this peasant – indigenous – blockade didn't answer to the trade unions. It was a very different thing. Its social impact here in the city, and the power of its language, of its symbols, left a very deep mark on my intellect and on my commitments. That's when I took it upon myself to find out who [the Indians] were, where they came from, what was going on here.

Three things have fascinated me about the indigenous world ever since: first, the history of their struggle for equality, for Indians and non-Indians to be equals before the state and society; second, the question of how to create mechanisms for correcting mistakes in the management of our state and society that have done injustice to the indigenous world; and third, the communal component of indigenous social structures, which I consider to be a vein of a future postcapitalist society, a tiny, almost invisible vein that is nonetheless present.

I don't have a romanticized idea of the indigenous world: in the indigenous world there are social classes, personal appetites, personal interests, divisions and injustices, but deep down there is also a small, communal nucleus that could be strengthened.

A goal of Evo Morales's government is to improve the lives of Bolivia's indigenous people. In the year since the MAS took power, has this been achieved?

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