TIPNIS: Religion in Bolivian Politics

Bolivian Newspaper Cambio, July 4,2012

Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti


It’s not strange to find in history innumerable examples of peoples totally hypnotized by religious beliefs who attack other peoples, murdering and establishing bloody dictatorships, all in the name of God. Religious fundamentalism seems to be the most efficient mechanism to create armies of automatons out of human beings who would otherwise be rational individuals with full use of their free will. But the words “armies” and “automatons” are too harsh to be used openly in a method of mass control that is based on obedience, and religions prefer to use terms such as sheep, flocks, and pastors.

Religion, invented and manipulated by human beings, has become the perfect mechanism to deprive human beings of rationality, and to keep them from seeing, for example, scientific evidence of their origin and of that of the universe, in order to force them to blindly follow commandments, rites, and mysteries, all of them represented by powerful symbols capable of causing terror in the most valiant of mortals.

The Cross is, for Catholics, the most powerful of those symbols, because it represents an instrument of torture than no human being can resist. It is morbid because it represents not the resurrection of Jesus but his torture, his agony, and his slow death. Neither was it invented exclusively to execute Jesus, but rather it was the method in common use by the Romans of that era. To continue to utilize that symbol in the 21st Century is a purposeful decision to tie us to the atrocities of the past, a psychological torture perpetrated by the Catholic Church against all of us, its faithful. It is very harmful and should be illegal, as are all other psychological abuses, the more so as it is against humanity.

To understand how perverse and retrograde is the use of that symbol, one must understand that, if Jesus had died, for example, in what is now Chile, during the Spanish conquest, the symbol of the Catholic churches would be, instead of crucifixion, impalement: the use of a huge stake set into the ground, leaving a pointed end on which was made to sit, among others, the Mapuche leader Caupolicán, traversing him from end to end, then leaving him exposed to the public in order to create terror.

The merchants of religious symbols would have become millionaires had Jesus died during the Holy Inquisition, because its methods of torture and murder were innumerable. It is hair-raising today to simply see the photos of instruments such as the Judas Cradle, the Head Crusher, or the Vaginal Pear, the latter of which was introduced into men and women and forced open by a screw mechanism; but, to judge by the morbidity demonstrated by Catholics, the most popular was perhaps the Iron Maiden, the sarcophagus with iron spikes inside the cover, into which the priests forced live “infidels” and closed the door under pressure.

Had Jesus died in the Andes during the Spanish conquest, the symbol would be perhaps the garrote, the chair with a rope at the neck and a tourniquet behind it, with which indigenous people were strangled as the tourniquet was turned. Or perhaps they would adore the four horses with which they dismembered Tupac Katari, also in public so as to generate terror and obedience to the sign of the Cross.

I ask the reader’s pardon for having to mention such cruelty, but that is the historic truth of the meaning of the methods of execution that have been used by empires with the complicity of religion. The problem is complicated when conservative politicians, desperate over their loss of power and influence, turn to religion as the last resort to intimidate the indigenous peoples who were tortured and subjected by the sword and the Cross. Such was the terror that the conquistadors created among the indigenous peoples by means of the Cross as a symbol, that today it should be a crime against humanity to continue to use this ancient programming from which the Bolivian indigenous peoples have not been able to free themselves.

Around 2003, when the Cruzan oligarchy still defended Sanchez de Lozada, and a group of indigenous people from the highlands marched on Santa Cruz(Holy Cross), to peacefully protest. The sugar-cane industrialists were preparing for a confrontation when some “brilliant mind” remembered the trauma of the Spanish conquest. ”Don’t forget that the Indian fears the Cross,” he said, and they solved the problem very simply. They made a large Cross and set it in the middle of the road. As it was at night, and darkness is good for exacerbating mysteries, they placed two torches beside the Cross and painted in front of it a white line of lime across the road. As predicted, the western indigenous were so shocked that they did not dare cross into “the land of the Holy Cross.” The anecdote is remembered clearly by Cruzan politicians, and they apply it constantly, shamelessly abusing the generalized fear of God and the power of the Church.

When Governor Ruben Costas visited President Evo Morales at the Palace of Government and saw the famous photograph of Che Guevara at the entrance of the office, he decided to return the President’s gesture, and invited him to the Governor’s office to have him sit down and photograph him in front of an enormous portrait of Jesus. What Governor Costas forgot was that Che was an anti-imperialist political figure, and therefore the political identification of Morales with his ideology made sense. Apparently, the Bolivian Right is so devoid of economic or political arguments, that it gets its hands on even the old religious programming of the Catholics to manipulate the will of the people, whom it considers, apparently, little more than a flock of sheep.

The same thing happened during the IX March of the CIDOB, because there, too, the adverse circumstances of acceptance coincide. In this case, it has been found that its leaders no longer represent anyone, and that they have been disowned by nine out of twelve communities of the TIPNIS: some as traitors, for having made political agreements with the Right that historically has abused them, and others for doing business with timber industrialists, exporters of exotic hides, foreign adventure-travel agencies, and even with gambling casinos. Now, when they lack rational arguments with popular support, they need for the contrary of rationality to be imposed, something like faith, so that the people will follow them out of obedience. It’s then that the Catholic Church conveniently appears, introducing God into partisan politics and, among other things, blessing for the IX March the symbols of the Cross and the Virgin to be carried as banners, or, rather, as shields, that they might not be resisted along the way.

So it is that once again the Cross defends the political interests of imperialism, which tries to keep isolated all of those communities for the simple reason that indigenous people are by nature anti-imperialist. The skillful media maneuver of making political use of religious symbols worked for the IX March, because despite its obviously sham character, it was respected throughout the whole national territory. The Bolivian indigenous people still suffer from the mental conditioning implanted by the torture of the conquest, by the theft of their free and warrior-like identity, and by the aberrant acculturation that they underwent, to be inserted into a society that enslaved them and forced then to submit and obey by mandate of the Cross.

I believe that the ecclesiastic authorities have committed a historic crime against the Bolivian indigenous people; that they owe, at the least, a public apology for what happened in the past. But I also believe that, still today, they continue to commit a crime by using that traumatic programming in order to manipulate the will of the indigenous in favor of the international Right and the interests of looting, which means subjecting the indigenous anew to foreign interests contrary to their own.

Apart from whether God exists as the Bible says, or there is no evidence of it, or whether that existence is no longer necessary to explain life according to science, something that we can all agree upon is that religion as created by humans has been bloody, inhuman, and cruel. Its complicity with totalitarian regimes has been shameful and can no longer be tolerated. Religion, if it wishes to find its bearings to continue to exist in these times of the liberation of knowledge, must cease to corrupt itself with political interventions, limiting itself to spiritual matters, leaving “to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”


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