Indianist movements in the Andes have attacked government officials and protested international companies–and have even used lynching– with the dream of recreating the Inca Empire. The Aymara movement wants to bring together natives in order to recreate (what they see) as an idyllic Andean system and culture that existed before the conquest. The movement (different groups against different states) see themselves as separatists: leaving behind the hybrid European governments behind and creating their own. However, they are in many ways nationalists, seeking a revolution against the state, separatism being only a strategy as part of their larger goal of nation-building.

The Aymara is an Indianist movement that advocates the revival of the Inca Empire. Obviously, the pre-conquest empire is a driving myth to inspire unity among indigenous populations throughout the Andes. However, the Inca Empire informs the Aymara program in a number of areas, according to Juliana Stroebele-Gregor (Free University of Berlin):

  • First, the movement wants to reconstruct the Andean system–the empire beyond Bolivia.
  • Second, to use Andean traditions to reform the state and create a new political culture. Most importantly, they look to older concepts of communal rights and ownership (ayllu).
  • Finally, they want to create a multicultural state.

Aymara emerged in Bolivia from the disappointment of the Katarista, a peasant movement that was motivated by Marxist ideology. The Katarista attempted to appeal to the peasants, most of whom were Indians, on the basis of ethnicity, but the movement never developed an identity capable of motivating people who did not see themselves belonging to a single ethnic group. Weakened by the 1980s, the movement fragmented.

The Aymara took Indian identity as a means to polarize the ethnic groups against the forces that represent assimilation. Latin American states promote hybrid identies (campesino or ladino) as a means of integrating and assimilating Indians into the broader society. To the Aymara, the government still looks very “European” or “white.” The name itself is taken from the people who continued to speak the indigenous language after the conquest.

Within Bolivia itself, the political interests of Aymara aim less at separation than extreme autonomy, if not outright takeover of the state:

The organizations demand … territorial ownership rights for ethnic groups, the promotion of independant development projects, autonomy, within the nation-state, cultural self-determination, and a new legal order recognizing traditional Indian legal forms and norms.

The movement gained notoriety for its “anti-globalization stance”, opposing the exporting of gas resources in Bolivia, and the violent suppression that followed. In other countries, there has been confrontation between Indians and agents of the state, the latter being driven out of remote areas of the Andes and existing autonomously and autochthonously. On the broader scale, they have taken over local political and administrative posts as a means of creating a political base, according to Felipe Quispe:

What we’ve been doing is taking out the government representatives, the police, the transit force, the judges, the subprefects, even the mayors … Like a drop of grease that expands, if this movement keeps growing, we will reach all of Bolivia.

Lynching is a more nefarious manifestation of resistance. Two mayors, one Peruvian, the other Bolivian, were summarily hung because of corruption this year. Indianist supporters claim that lynching is a native form of justice, and should be accepted. The governments of both countries have been apologetic, claiming that the incidents are not typical. In truth, both governments cannot guarantee security and safety of officials.

Not all Indians are interested in separatism and building of an Indian nation. Many people within Bolivia could be considered Aymara, but there are groups of lowland peasants who are not included and who do not share the political ambitions of the Aymara. They prefer decentralization and the introduction of Indian law as means of increasing democracy. They are not interested in creating a greater Indian state.

Similarly, Indianist groups in Peru do not necessarily identify with the Inca Empire. According to Frank Salomon (see his website on Andean provincial culture in Peru at University of Wisconson), the important historical era for self-definition is not the pre-conquest, but the colonial period in which indigenous peoples struggle against traditions as well as colonialism, creating a new culture:

[C]olonialism was the time when the pre-Hispanic way of life was left behind and the culture recognized as “ours”–the culture of village self-management-emerged.

Villages that force the agents of the state to leave may belong to this latter group as well.