Bolivia 101: How to understand the largest segment of the mestizo population in Bolivia

Carlos Toranzo superbly analyzes the largest composition of the mestizo population in Bolivia!

New capitalists and Gran Poder

Far away have been those days when the festival of the Gran Poder [Great Power: Catholic Parrish festivity in La Paz] was hidden, near the church of the Rosary. It was not clandestine, but it was a hidden holiday, although nothing marginal.

For decades this event already showed signs that now have to be highlighted in capital letters, it was a party in which religious codes were mixed with social, cultural elements, but, above all, with economic keys worth highlighting, as he was referring to the emergence of new fractions of bourgeoisies, first of all, commercial. That is to say, it meant the emergence of new layers of capitalists, of those to whom traditional sociology denied them the character of a bourgeoisie, seeing them only as layers of well-off cholos.

It was not the indigenous people or the indigenous people who made the party, nor were they the peasants, nor were impoverished popular sectors those who danced offering their worship to the Lord of Great Power; rather, it can be perceived that since decades ago, in the Great Power, the protagonists were mestizo sectors, popular middle classes, but a good part of them, a wealthy Chola bourgeoisie, of those who did not fraternize in the Union Circle, but rather they did it in the big party halls.

These new fractions of the bourgeoisie are not a product of the process of change, its emergence date is much more ancient. We speak of popular middle classes that are the product of the economic democratization opened by the National Revolution of April 1952.

We refer to those who controlled interprovincial, interdepartmental and international transport, smugglers, metalworkers, merchants from Chijini neighborhoods, Eloy Salmón, Huyustus or the dozens of market places in Bolivia, butchers, owners of commerce of groceries, market vendors’ leaders, entrepreneurs who own small businesses, taxi drivers and urban transport. One or another public employee and many other etceteras, but with important economic resources.

Of those popular middle classes, a fraction, that which is at the top of the pyramid, is what became the bourgeoisie chola or cunumi bourgeoisie, is what happened to generate a new layer of Bolivian capitalists.

In the Great Power there was and there is a strong economic code that indicates a new type of accumulation, especially in the commercial field, very different from that of the traditional entrepreneurs of the oligarchies or of the elites of the past.

Along with that, the highlight is the presence of new mestizo actors, of mainly urban and non-rural actors. Of course they are carriers of cultures brought from their rural worlds, but they became more complex in their daily existence in urban worlds closely linked to the development of market economies, sometimes contacted with reciprocal logics, several times materialized in the frequent presterios [over three-day party where there is food, music, beverages, where people try to show off] in the cities.

The Chola bourgeoisie mixes popular cultures with the development of capitalism and realizes an assembly with globalization. Not in vain, in their hands is an important part of the commercial connection with China. These chola and cunumis bourgeoisies are a nodal part of the new economic elites.

For about three decades or more, the Great Power has taken the entire city of La Paz and controls the center of it, through it has been made visible the wealthy miscegenation, has highlighted the existence of Cholas bourgeoisies and new wealthy mid-popular classes that control a good part of the national economy.

What the Gran Poder has done throughout the country is to highlight the cultural, economic and religious diversity that exists in Bolivia, but it has done it fundamentally with a mestizo accent, with a strong urban and not rural brand; with a very strong economic accent that is linked to the market and accumulation logics; therefore, it does not live only in the logic of reciprocity, but rather that it lives in the territories of economic globalization.

Not in vain is the refrain of the morenada [folk dance] that says “how much you have, how much you are worth, my love, if you do not have, I pay you.” It is that here, stronger than religious symbology, is the general equivalent, but of a popular neoliberalism, that which follows the patterns of business and capitalist accumulation as its reason for existence.

Carlos Toranzo Roca is an economist.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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