Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Latin American Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Tracy Devine Guzman

Second Committee Member

Marten Brienen

Third Committee Member

Kate Ramsey

Fourth Committee Member

Traci Ardren


Over the past decade, well-organized mobilizations have brought groups of Bolivian miners, urban workers, farmers, and especially indigenous peoples together in identification with and response to the rhetoric of indigenous self-recognition. These events culminated in the election of Evo Morales in 2005 as the country's first indigenous president. The contemporary resurgence of indigeneity has been perceived by many as either revolutionary or apocalyptic. My thesis examines why a country with an indigenous population of some 80%, has now decided to politically voice their indigeneity after years of silence. My paper begins with an analysis of the history of indigenous peoples in Latin America and shows that since colonization, Bolivia, like other countries in the region, has struggled with the question of how to "incorporate" indigeneity into the project of national identity formation. I argue that there is no one concept to identify clearly or unequivocally what being "indigenous" means. Indigeneity is therefore not something set; its meaning changes according to personal identification, the perceptions of others, and the social, cultural, political, and economic circumstances at hand. This conceptual problem makes it difficult to determine who is authentically indigenous, or what the demands of indigenous people really are. Within this complex scenario, Evo Morales has laid out a political strategy and agenda organized around the concepts of ethnicity and identity. To analyze Morales' platform and examine its relative success among indigenous Bolivians, I compare and contrast his work with that of another indigenous leader, Felipe Quispe. Quispe, who is a well-known figure across Bolivia, became involved with the indigenous cause in 1978, when he joined Indianist Movimiento Indio Tupak Katari. Quispe is not only an activist but also a prolific scholar who has written several works on issues related to indigenous oppression. Since beginning his career as an activist, Quispe has put forth a well-defined ideological project to form a separate indigenous nation and identity. However, the comparatively radical understanding of indigenous identity and the exclusiveness of his project (which only included self-identifying indigenous peoples and aimed to "indianize" non-Indians) limited his support among the general Bolivian electorate. In contrast, Morales' agenda as President of Bolivia has drawn on a diverse and pluri-cultural national identity in which "Indian element" can be incorporated and represented alongside whites, mestizos, blacks, and other historically marginalized groups. Morales' model breaks with previous understandings of Bolivian and indigenous identities as mutually exclusive and recognizes that these identities can be inclusive and in fact complementary. I argue that the project proposed and developed by Morales is compatible with the project of building a democratic society in Bolivia and consider the viability of that project in light of the many social, political, and economic challenges now being faced by his administration.


Mestizaje; Movimiento Al Socialismo; Pachakuti