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Voice in the Village: Indigenous Peoples Contest Globalization in Bolivia

Indigenous Political Actors
Alison Brysk
Natasha Bennett

The close of the twentieth century saw the unexpected rise of an indigenous peoples' rights movement in Latin America and worldwide, contesting 500 years of oppression and the emerging challenges of globalization. By the turn of the millennium, indigenous rights campaigns had gained a voice in local, national, and international political arenas. Yet the legacies of oppression and the pressures of globalization continue, and inclusion has translated only partially into empowerment. Now we must ask when and how indigenous peoples gain influence over the development processes that threaten their lands, cultures, and livelihoods. Bolivia provides a good case study in indigenous empowerment, since it is an indigenous majority country whose marginalized population has been struggling for rights in waves since the 1952 Revolution. In the 1990s, Bolivia's indigenous peoples made vast strides in legal recognition, political representa- tion, and local autonomy, and began to contest globalization projects such as internationally sponsored dams and roads. But recently, development crises, internal political divisions, and lack of leverage in key transnational venues have limited the gains achieved by indigenous communities throughout the continent. Thus, the outcome of current indigenous struggles in Bolivia can help us to assess the prospects, potential, and limitations of the critical move from inclusion to empowerment in the era of twenty-first century globalization. After examining an overview of trends in indigenous rights struggles, we will focus on the Bolivian experience.