Beyond Extraction: An Interview With Rafael Quispe

September 2, 2010

Rafael Quispe, 41, is the leader of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Cullasuyu (CONAMAQ), a body of traditional leaders (mallkus) representing collective land-holdings (ayllus) and regions (markas) from throughout the Aymara realm (Cullasuyu). The organization is based among several villages in the Aymara heartland of La Paz department. Quispe says it was founded 1997 “to reconstitute Collasuyu, to work for the restitution of its authorities.” CONAMAQ has been working to reinstate traditional indigenous government—known as usos y costumbres—in the hamlets or ayllus of Pacajes province in La Paz department. Using its original indigenous name, Quispe calls the province Suyu Pacajaqi—the suyu being a region made of markas, or clusters of autonomous ayllus. Suyu Pacajaqi, in CONAMAQ’s vision, is in turn part of Cullasuyu, which covers most of the Altiplano.

Quispe hopes one day that this system will cross national borders, uniting ayllus and markas in Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. “Collasuyu was one state within Tawantinsuyu, a great federation made up of four federations of nationalities,” he said, referring to the Inca empire. “This is the system that we are in the process of reconstituting.” This interview took place during a break at the Cochabamba climate conference, where he took part in an unauthorized working group known as Mesa 18, in April.

To speak of the rights of Mother Earth isn’t just a discourse. To speak of protecting Mother Earth is to speak of extractive industries like petroleum and mining. These are the industries that are harming Mother Earth. And it cannot be outside the working groups to speak of socio-environmental conflicts related to these industries. Today in Bolivia, 80% of state revenues are derived from extractive industries like petroleum and mining—as in much of the rest of Latin America. What is causing global warming are the greenhouse gases that come from these same fossils such as petroleum. How can we not speak of social conflicts related to their extraction?

But Morales’s project is to use these resources to lift Bolivia out of poverty. What is the alternative?

Capitalism or socialism is extractive, consumerist, developmentalist. In this sense, they are the same. We have to speak of a new model of development, an alternative to this system. Because both capitalism and socialism will go on changing the planet. And the development model of the indigenous peoples is the allyu, the communitarian development model. We original indigenous peoples for thousands and thousands and thousands of years have been living in equilibrium and respect for our Pachamama (Mother Earth), from whom we emerged.

But the nation needs electricity, transportation, roads, education. How can you have this without resource exploitation?

Wind energy is clean technology. This electricity can power transportation too. But petroleum exploitation and projects like the inter-oceanic corridor do not correspond to the needs of indigenous peoples.

What is your attitude toward Morales?

We support the process of change, and CONAMAQ is a protagonist, but we do not participate in the government. We don’t make deals, we don’t support candidates—absolutely nothing. And this systematic violation of the rights of the peoples and of the Pachamama shows that there is something wrong with the process. In these last elections, I had to say, “Evo, you are wrong. What you are saying is pure talk. You are not complying with your own discourse.” And therefore, I didn’t vote.

And when Morales first won the presidency in 2005?

We thought that he represented hope, we identified with him. He won, we gave him all the power. But the process has given us nothing. It has been all discourse, no application. He speaks of Mother Earth, and he is the foremost violator of Mother Earth.

What is your response to the charge that you are aiding the right-wing opposition?

When he doesn’t have responses, his only response is ‘you are a rightist, you are a capitalist.’ It is his only response—to stigmatize. But we in CONAMAQ have the moral authority to say, “You are wrong, Brother Evo Morales.”

Bill Weinberg is the editor of World War 4 Report and author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000). He is working on a new book titled Pachamama Returns: The New Indigenous Struggles in the Andes. Elements of this article originally appeared in April on


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