Monday, October 18, 2010

New Bolivian Law Guarentees Equality

By Donna Lazarus
Published Oct 15, 2010 10:07 PM

On Oct. 8 Evo Morales, president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, signed into law a new bill that prohibits racism and all forms of discrimination. This is a significant step forward for Bolivia’s majority Indigenous population and for the Afro-Bolivian community as well, both of which have suffered 500 years of oppression.

As Vice President Álvaro García Linera explained, “The bill protects and guarantees equal treatment for all people.” The law provides penalties for any form of racism and discrimination based on sex, color, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, origin, culture, nationality, citizenship, language, religion, ideology, political affiliation or philosophy, civil status, social or economic class, occupation, education, disability, pregnancy or other condition.

The law provides for the creation of a new government institution called the National Council Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, the head of which will be chosen by the Senate for a five-year term. This council will replace the present government office, which has been systematically recording and investigating racist incidents for several years.

The law prohibits racism and discrimination by any government agency, in any public sphere, or by any private group or individual.

In a country with 34 separate Indigenous groups, a provision calling for interpreters for any judicial or administrative proceeding is a gain in the struggle for those groups’ rights. Other guarantees are access to public or private education, equal job opportunities and work conditions, access to professional or traditional medical care and the participation of the patient in all medical decisions, among many other basic human rights that are now protected by this law.

Right-wing opponents immediately objected to the law, saying it infringes on the rights of newspapers to free expression. García Linera noted, “This bill simply states that the media cannot disseminate or allow dissemination of messages with racist and discriminatory content.” He went on to say that “we have to combat a culture of racism. ... Do not forget that until four years ago the indigenous were discriminated against and abused, handicapped in their social and economic presence with racist epithets and attacks.”

Racism permeated Bolivian society beginning in the 1500s, when Spanish conquistadores enslaved Indigenous men, forcing them to work in silver mines, where most of them died. Later wealthy landowners instituted the system of “pongueaje,” in which Indigenous people were forced to labor as serfs, their lands stolen and their rights destroyed. Even the urban working class had to fight for the right to ride public transportation in the 1940s. This struggle was won by the Federación Obrera Femenina (Women Workers Federation), which was founded by organized women market vendors who were all Indigenous.

This new anti-racism law is another triumph for the working class and oppressed of Bolivia.
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