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Sunday, October 10, 2010

"What is the Goal: Democracy or Control?" - a commentary on Bolivia's new anti-racism law

Racism and discrimination are not acceptable. For that reason, societies around the globe have passed laws in the past century to make them illegal. Making them illegal is not a guarantee that racist and discriminatory attitudes and actions will end, but it is a good beginning and a clear indication that people find such attitudes and actions deplorable.

The law entitled “Lucha Contra el Racismo y Toda Forma de Discriminación” will not guarantee that racism and discrimination disappear from Bolivia. But the government of President Evo Morales is correct in saying that banks that refuse to take deposits from cholitas or five-star hotels that refuse to serve people of indigenous origins should not be allowed to do so. 

But the law goes too far, and is a danger to Bolivia society. The government’s inclusion of articles that allow authorities to jail journalists and editors, and to close media outlets, is an attempt to control and intimidate the the media under the guise of fighting racism. That is why the press in Bolivia is opposed to the law, and that is why the law is a danger to Bolivian society.

Already, even before the law was passed, Bolivia’s media had grown accustomed to being intimidated and threatened by this president and his followers. More and more, the media in Bolivia begins to appear as it did during the dark days of the Garcia Meza-Arce Gomez dictatorship: afraid, cautious, self-censoring and timid. It is likely that that is what Morales and his closest followers desire. If you want to control the minds of a people, control their press. With that control, you can guarantee that dissident views, complaints against the system, and protests against tyrannical behavior by governors and bureaucrats never see the light of day. And you remove the most significant tool for organizing people’s protests: a free and viable press.

It is clear that Evo Morales has as little respect for the press as he does for the testicles of some of his futbol opponents. I assume that the “zona testicular” of Daniel Gustavo Cartagena has now returned to full health. However, the media in Bolivia may be faced with more threatening health challenges.

The government has said its mission is to destroy racism and discrimination. That is a laudable, worthy goal. But laws do not change attitudes. Does Evo Morales really believe that racism began in the Americas in 1492? That human rights abuses and discrimination against women and indigenous people were a creation of the Spanish conquerors? In fact, slavery, racism and sexism existed well before Colon arrived in the Caribe, Hernan Cortes defeated the Aztecs and Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro arrived in the Andes. The Inca was a god, most people were miserably poor and powerless, women were chattel and human rights were non-existent.

It is an irony that on the day that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing human rights abuses in China, Bolivia passed a law that is itself an abuse of human rights, the rights of people to know what is happening in their communities. Most articles of the law may be justified. But the articles dealing with the media should be repealed.

Racism exists, and it is wrong. A free press may violate some norms that the government believes it should not. That is the risk of having a free press. But if you do not believe in a free press, you do not believe in democracy. Democracy is a messy and imperfect system. But after many hundreds of years of trying, mankind has not found anything better. There are socialists and there are socialists. Some believe in democracy, and some do not. Those who do not, know that controlling the press is the only way they can maintain themselves in power. That is the real goal.

“Without freedom of expression, there is no democracy.”


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