The Bolivian Federal War: The Legacy of a Broken Alliance

Jailed Aymara soldiers.
Jailed Aymara soldiers.

In the course of history, alliances can dissolve into betrayal, injustice and violence. This is the case that NYU PhD. in Latin American and current Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University, Forrest Hylton detailed in his presentation “They Should Rule and Take Over Everything”: The Mohoza Insurgency, “Race War,” and State Formation in Bolivia’s Federal War, 1899-1905. In his presentation, Mr. Hylton informed CLACS guests, students and faculty of the unique alliance between Zarate Willka, Aymara leader of a pan-regional confederation and the the Liberal insurgency led by José Manuel Pando in late 19th Century Bolivia. This alliance was based on an agreement between the two groups. The Aymara confederation would join the Liberals with the understanding that once in power, they would restore communal Aymara lands seized by the Conservative leadership and a allow indigenous groups to practice self governance.

The alliance dissolved following the events of the Mohoza Insurgency. Here Mr. Hylton presented highly sensationalized and racialized archival news accounts of an event where a group of indigenous insurgents came into conflict and killed what was reported as 100 Conservative and white townspeople of Mohoza. The Mohoza “massacre” and subsequent trial enraptured the Bolivian press and populace and helped to reinforce stereotypical conceptions of Aymara barbarity. The trial resulted in the sentencing of nearly all the indigenous participants of Mohoza, although a large amount had already died in prison. The vicious language employed by both the Defense and Prosecution to describe the Aymara people provided the pretext that the now President Pando and the Liberals needed to directly expropriate Aymara lands; a complete reversion of their initial agreements.

Mr. Hylton posits that the Bolivian Federal War can reveal some of the many ways that racism was reified through the transition to liberal forms of federalism. The effects of this transition continue to be lived in the political, economic and discursive fields by millions of indigenous Bolivians today. Despite the many negative outcomes the Bolivian Federal War and the Aymara insurgency, Mr. Hylton notes that the legacy of Zarate Willka and the Aymara pan-regional confederation can be found in the the most promising elements of the pluri-national Bolivian Constitution of 2009. With this new constitution, the alliances between indigenous Bolivians and state actors now have the potential to live up to the promise that started with the Bolivian Federal War.

Forrest Hylton Bio here.

Find out about more CLACS events here.

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