Argentine feminist criticizes morales and machismo

The feminist Rita Segato has criticized the ousted Bolivian president Evo Morales. For this, she is declared a racist in many places.

Has bragged about wanting to retire with his "15-year-old mistress." Evo Morales Photo: edgard garrido/reuters

Rita Segato was careful. It was not easy for her to publish this opinion about the terrible situation in Bolivia, the Argentine feminist and anthropologist explained in a piece published recently by a Bolivian radio station. Segato does not live in the Andean country. Consequently, she views the situation from a different vantage point than indigenous feminists who suffer under the racist, clerical rule of Bolivia’s old elites. She therefore anticipated, "I’m afraid that they don’t think I have the right to tell you this."

Nevertheless, Segato expressed herself unequivocally. She accused the previous – indigenous – president Evo Morales of being himself to blame for being overthrown in November and having to flee into exile: "For me, he was not the victim of a coup d’etat, but of his general discredit."

For example, she compared Morales’ indifference in the face of a forest fire to that of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. And she criticized Evo’s ingnorance in light of a referendum in which the majority rejected his renewed bid for the presidency. She discredited Morales as macho, quoting his own words, "When I retire, it will be with my charango (plucked instrument), my coca leaves and my 15-year-old mistress."

The caution had done her no good. Twitter was abuzz with excited comments, and indigenous Bolivian women made serious accusations. With its "intellectual claptrap," it obscured the fact that a coup had taken place, commented a group that identified itself as "Warmis, Zomo, women from the South, women from our ancestral lands."

The bitter taste of colonial conquest

They highlighted the advances that Morales has brought to indigenous women and found it excessive to portray the ex-president as a "patriarch-in-chief." Although they did not explicitly deny the white feminist the right to judge the situation in Bolivia, they left no doubt in their classification. Unlike her, they have experienced the bitter taste of colonial conquest, they emphasize. They are concerned that Segato’s argumentation provides a "beautiful camouflage, a euphemism for the racist discourse of those who listen to her."

The wording hardly wants to cover up the accusation: Anyone who, like Segato, questions "bipolar thinking," names his or her own mistakes and blames not only imperialist powers for the failure of a leftist government, is declared a racist. At least if she or he is not indigenous and did not suffer the consequences of colonial regimes in biologically imagined continuity. Consistently taken further, this makes any critical debate between indigenous and non-indigenous people impossible.

The discussion is not new and could also take place in a Berlin pub with a different background. What is frightening, however, is how identity-political approaches meet clumsy anti-imperialist theses here. Instead of grasping Morales’ autocratic actions as part of the problem, only the "white class enemy" is held responsible for the failure.

Support for Segato

There is no question, as the publicist Raúl Zibechi analyzed, that the ultra-right benefited from the previous uprising of Bolivian social movements. "If we Latin American leftists still have ethics and dignity left, we have to think about power and about its abuse," writes the Uruguayan.

Segato is not alone in her criticism in Bolivia itself, either. "Indigenous, whores, lesbians, madwomen, mestizos, misses and anti-mistizos" from numerous organizations contradict the "women from the South": "Today it is more important than ever to analyze, discuss and put together the pieces of the puzzle."

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