The Túpac Katari Guerrilla Army was dismantled by the Bolivian authorities in August 1992, a few months after two of its members died after incorrectly synchronizing the explosives tied to high voltage towers. The press assured that the attack was directed at the embassies of the United States and Spain in La Paz. The police arrested one of its members, some of the ex-guerrillas say it was Raúl García Linera – Álvaro’s brother, who years after he got out of jail he was Evo Morales’ vice president – who, according to the account of his companions, was tortured and forced to expose names, safe houses and the armed training plan. 35 guerrillas fell and one of the leaders was encouraged to speak. Felipe Quispe, a peasant leader from the highlands, looked questioningly at the journalists, raising his eyebrows under a colorful woolen hat. One of them asked him:
– Why did they do it?
– Because I would not like my daughter to be your servant.
Felipe Quispe Huanca, alias El Mallku, “condor of the heights”, in Aymara, the nickname with which the indigenous communities of the highlands recognize their leader, died this Tuesday at the age of 78 in La Paz. A community leader, union leader, Marxist guerrilla and university professor, Quispe lived through a tireless political struggle that led him to be a deputy at the beginning of the century and twice a presidential candidate, in 2002 and 2005. He died of a cardiac arrest, according to a statement from his family, while preparing his candidacy for the governor of La Paz for the regional elections on March 7. The phrase that he spat out in 1992 to a famous national journalist, Amalia Pando, will continue to reverberate in Bolivian conscience as testimony to its racism and social inequality.
El Mallku was born in 1944 in the town of Achacachi, the cradle of the Aymara militias of the Ponchos Rojos, in the arid north of the department of La Paz. The son of a peasant couple who lived on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Quispe followed the path that the majority of Bolivian peasant children have chosen until now: joining the Army was his escape from poverty. Until 1964, according to his own story, when he left a fervently anti-communist headquarters for the Cold War, and came across the Karl Marx Manifesto.
Ideologically formed in Katarism, which explains the discrimination of the Bolivian highland peoples from both ethnic and economic oppression, of class, Quispe was part of the movement that led the trade union organization to become indissolubly committed to indigenous struggles. He was born politically as the leader of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), in the organization of the protests of the seventies that adopted the whipala as the flag of their demands. Katarism lost strength in the eighties and was divided in two. One reformist side ended up aligning itself with the multiculturalist hopes of the first neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and its main figure, Víctor Hugo Cárdenas, reached the vice presidency in 1993. The other –the radical one, led by Mallku– played with the idea of the underground and the armed struggle since a decade earlier.
The Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army was founded in 1986 through a pact between Aymara and Quechua leaders, workers, and middle-class young people educated in Marxism, such as Álvaro García Linera. Quispe, who lived in exile during the succession of military governments that began in 1981, had received guerrilla training during the civil war in El Salvador and in Guatemala. At that time, García Linera was studying Mathematics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and returned to Bolivia convinced that Marxism and Katarism could generate a “community revolution.” “The armed party was an element along with others,” defended the former vice president years later. Both served five years in prison and were released without a sentence.
“We needed them, not to be our bosses or to teach us. They were novices despite having read all the volumes of Lenin. They served us because they got money and they were white, so they were going to take us seriously ”, admitted Mallku in a television interview about the involvement of the García Linera brothers in the guerrilla. At the end of the nineties, both free men educated in prison, devoted themselves to institutional politics in ways that often confronted them. García Linera, already a public figure, was seduced by the nationalist left movement embodied in the coca grower leader Evo Morales, as the historian and journalist Pablo Stefanoni recounts in an essay. Quispe graduated from History at the public university of La Paz and formed his own Aymara identity movement, which grew up with a secessionist tone many times against what he always called “colonial Bolivia”.
However, Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe fought together at the beginning of the century. The first from the Cochabamba tropics and the second from the altiplano, put different governments on the ropes from the union organization and the road blockade. Morales won the spotlight, and Mallku became his fierce opponent. With Morales already in the presidency, Quispe came to describe him as “neoliberalism with an Indian face.” He flew low during the 14 years in which he was in power, and always defended his public confrontation with the former president, reporting that, in 2003, during the protests that overthrew the second government of Sánchez de Lozada and left 63 dead due to military repression authorized by the Government, his trade union confederation had defended itself from repression in the city of El Alto, while the coca grower leader, with the growing popularity in Latin America of Hugo Chávez, “was returning from some walk in Venezuela or Libya, from a visit to Chávez or Gaddafi ”.
During the government of Jeanine Áñez, who assumed power after the overthrow of Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2019, Felipe Quispe, who taught classes at the university that he helped to develop in El Alto, he returned to the ring. He led the protests last August, demanding elections after months of postponements due to the covid-19 pandemic. Despite his public antipathy, he admitted that he would vote for Luis Arce, Morales’s dolphin who became president in the last elections, as the only proposal that came close to his goals. “Even the enemies are going to give them their vote. The government itself, sick of racism, makes propaganda to them ”, he exclaimed.
But Quispe remained faithful to his Aymara ethnocentrism until the end. “I think the time has come to say enough,” he said in one of his last interviews, on August 14. “That they [el Gobierno de Áñez] go to your motherland, we are going to govern ourselves. The collasuyo [en referencia a la subdivisión territorial más grande del imperio Inca] Bolivia has to liquidate, we are another nation. There we will have a Mamani, Condori, Quispe government. Nor are we going to mention Evo Morales, that was not our government, it was surrounded by whites and mestizos. “
Morales, like all the political leaders of the Andean country, fired him this Tuesday night, acknowledging his struggle and influence. “Bolivia loses a consistent leader,” the former president wrote in Twitter. “Immortal Felipe for his Indianista struggle!”