Bolivia doesn’t have a race problem

Okay, now I’m stretching the point a bit…

Bolivia actually has a long history of racial problems. Much of Central and South America is still reeling from Spanish colonial rule. With only a handful of exceptions, the economic and political power in these countries are held by people of Spanish descent. Bolivian President Evo Morales is one of those exceptions, and has an aggressive pro-aboriginal agenda. Some of you may know that I spent 3 weeks in Bolivia a few years ago, and even in my short time there I was aware of the serious racial divides; the lack of aboriginal language instruction except in remote areas, the simultaneous resentment/envy of light-skinned people (the hallmark of colonialization), the disparagement of black people. Bolivia has a long history and contemporary reality of racial struggle.

In his zeal to correct the racial bias against aboriginal Bolivians, President Morales has made what I think is a tragic misstep:

Several major newspapers in Bolivia have made a joint protest against a proposed anti-racism law which they say threatens press freedom. The law would give the government the power to shut down media outlets it finds guilty of racism. President Evo Morales says it will help reverse centuries of discrimination against Bolivia’s indigenous majority. [The papers] say articles which let the government punish journalists and fine or shut media that publish what it considers to be “racist and discriminatory ideas” could be misused to stifle political criticism.

It’s issues like this that give me the greatest amount of personal struggle. On the one hand, I abhor racism, and I know that preserving the status quo of systemic discrimination against a racial minority (a minority, incidentally, that is a statistical majority) will result in a deeper entrenchment of that kind of prejudice. Changing the dialogue and introducing anti-racist ideas to the population at large is the best way to make strides against racism. However, banning free speech is a mistake for so many reasons, not the least of which being that it can be abused to stifle legitimate anti-governmental speech.

This is the problem of living in a non-ideal world – our choices are not always between what is good and what is bad. Sometimes we have to choose between the greater of two ‘goods’. In this particular case, knowing that hate speech laws and government interference with press freedom are too tempting and too easy not to abuse, I am comfortable adding my voice to the opposition to the provisions. Even though I might like Evo Morales, laws do not apply only to one president, and are very rarely used only in the rosy, optimistic way that might be envisioned by those who create them. While optimism is a good thing, any law that only works properly if people are inherently good and moral is destined to fail.

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  1. says

    I’ll agree with you on this one. It definitely appears to be an action out of the best of intentions, but the potential for abuse is high, and South America has a long history of dictators eager to stifle freedoms.

    I will play the skepticism card a bit here and give some possibility that the newspapers may just be circling the wagons to protect their own bigots. Without seeing the actual text of the law, I can’t 100% condemn the action.

  2. Luke Weyland says

    Unfortunately most nations have some ethnic group victimised, vilified, discriminated against, riduculed, mocked etc. There are also similar attacks against other religions, gays, disabled, unemployed, homosexuals, migrants, refugees, the homeless etc.

    In Australia refugees who arrive fleeing war or persecution are the most victimised of all.

  3. says

    There’s definitely a scapegoating effect at play, where those who are the second-lowest on the ladder pick on the lowest. What a world it would be if we instead saw them as allies against the real oppressors.

    Thanks for your comment!

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