This is the second of two posts by Gustavo Faverón Patriau that first appeared on his blog Puente aéreo. In this article, Patriau gets at the heart of Bolivia’s new law against racism & discrimination by showing that it is in the guise of righteousness that such radical conservatism takes the shape of censorship. Aside from the obvious importance this law has in the political climate of Bolivia and Latin America in general, I think there is something of Patriau’s analysis that can also be applied to the United States. More on that in a future post. For now, thanks again to Gustavo for writing this and allowing the translation.
Regrettable Conservative Sanctimony
Some people defend the climate of censorship that has a choke-hold on Bolivia as if it were a revolutionary or, at least, politically inspired reform, like any other reform that any other government in the world has the ability and right to create.
The self-imposed myopia of those who support the decision of Morales, his cabinet members and his congressional delegation is not very viable. The law (which I spoke about in the previous post) establishes the instrument by which the Federal Government will decide, without regulatory oversight, which texts are racist and which are not.
Added to this, this holier-than-thou law can revoke the media outlet’s license to broadcast, print or publish a text that is deemed racist. This, in practice, means rolling out a red carpet in front of any of the government’s caprices, since it is now empowered with the capacity ex cathedra to decide what is racist and wipe off the face of the earth the newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations that it thinks are deserving.
Evo Morales’ government already gave an example of how these decisions will be made when it declared that the works of Alcides Arguedas and Diaz Villamil are racist. Now, if a newspaper wishes to publish the novel Raza de bronce as a serial, the Federal Government has the power to shut down the newspaper’s operations. Should I, or any other critic, write an essay about that novel, reproducing paragraphs from it verbatim, the Bolivian Government has the power, in effect, to order a cease and desist.
I wonder which Peruvian presses have published texts that could be considered racist? All of them, I bet. El Comercio and several other newspapers have distributed editions of Duque or of Peruvian Traditions or of the tales of Clemente Palma or García Calderón or López Albújar…etc. Many television stations have broadcasted adaptations of those works. The newspaper Correo often publishes texts from a columnist who is as racist as he is stupid. Frecuencia Latina, if I am not mistaken, was the station on which Jaime Bayly proclaimed that, due to the low level of oxygen at high altitudes, Andean people make poor decisions about their future.
I have written critically and have denounced each of these acts, but never did it occur to me to request that Correo, Frecuencia Latina or the other media outlets I’ve named be shut down. If in Peru there were a law like the one in Bolivia, the operation all of our print media could be declared illegal with one single stroke of the pen. This is exactly what can happen in Bolivia as quickly and as often as Evo Morales and his government wish it to.
Those who think that Morales’ law entails no infringement seem utterly aloof towards certain fundamental liberties. And those who believe that this is a progressive measure are unaware of, or perhaps turn a blind eye to, the fact that this is just a repressive measure within the framework of a more general project to legislate on the Federal level what types of cultural, artistic, intellectual or simply media products can be consumed by the Bolivian people.
Now, Evo Morales has appointed his parliament members to “study” how telenovelas with erotic content can be censured. As the epitome of prudish and sanctimonious conservatism, among the examples that it gives, Parliament includes the semi-nudity of a woman; there you have it: This is censorship.
You clearly don’t have to be a fortune-teller or even particularly perceptive to notice that if print media and telenovelas can be censured like this by the government, then everything else is up for grabs too: Why prohibit pseudo-erotic telenovelas and not go right ahead and prohibit everything that it considers pornographic? Why prohibit eroticism on television and not in film? Why prohibit a “risqué” television series and not a novel or documentary or art exhibition or performance or modern dance that it also considers risqué?
What Morales is doing is not revolutionary, not in Peru, not in Bolivia, not on Jupiter. He is imposing on all Bolivians his individual morality, or rather, the discourse and limits of his individual morality which is clearly conservative in extremis. And it is evident that a morality like his can only be articulated through the language of prohibition, censorship, veto and delegitimization.
Morales is not planning for a term to follow through on the issues of his platform: he is planning, in the image and likeness of his mentors, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, to devote his entire life to forcing a country to behave as he himself would like to.
Imagine, for a moment, that Morales’ government comes to an end and the legislation approved by its supporters remains in effect. Imagine now that a party opposing Morales but with a similar authoritarian flare takes power. What might that government be able to do to the media outlet that published a cover-story containing the following phrase, spoken, in effect, a while back by Evo Morales: “A ver si los indios y los negros nos unimos, pero el negro está siendo el mejor alumno del blanco Bush.”
I don’t wish to comment on whether or not that phrase is racist. But I want to point out that any rival of Evo Morales would have the very difficult task of proving that his phrase is indeed racist and of thereupon revoking the license of the media outlet that has reproduced it.
Most likely, this will never happen. But if Evo Morales is free to say phrases like this one, nearing the edge of racism’s sharp blade, in the same country where he pushed through Congress legislation like this, it is because this law doesn’t apply to him, and it doesn’t apply to him because it’s an instrument that he has constructed and that is in his hands. His use of it will be openly political and surely oppressive.
In Latin America we have this misfortune: we have revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, who imprisoned homosexuals and considered a homosexual any man whose hair was too long. We have revolutionaries like Hugo Chávez, who fosters violence against the Venezuelan Jewish community. And now we have revolutionaries like Morales, who goes around covering up actresses’ breasts and drawing little grapevines over actors’ groins.
We have revolutionaries who think that to prohibit, limit, censure, silence or redact is to elicit a transformation. OK, sure, perhaps it is: but it is a transformation like the one that disgusted Orwell, with its Ministry devoted to smudging magazines, burning books and rewriting the past. There exists the possibility of a regressive revolution, and the dinosaurs who govern in Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela are there to prove it.
Translated by Joseph Mulligan.
You can read the original article in Spanish here.