Bonnie and Clyde, Bolivian-Style
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because love can be revolutionary and still lead you to redemption.
By Wesley Tomaselli
Álvaro García Linera left his native Bolivia in the early 1980s to study mathematics at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, where he met a young Mexican woman named Raquel Gutiérrez. They fell in love — with each other and Marxism — and through math and romance discovered they shared something else that would change their lives: a desire to join Bolivia’s indigenous revolutionary movement.
García Linera is now the right-hand man to Evo Morales — set to become Latin America’s longest-serving democratically elected president. After two decades of revolutionary struggle, jail and torture, García Linera may now have less idealistic views. But they’ve helped guide Bolivia’s transformation under Morales’ presidency.
The couple said they were separated and tortured — deprived of food and sleep, hung from their limbs and beaten — for five years.
Throughout the Cold War, youth across Latin America cultivated armed Marxist guerrilla movements to challenge governments whose politics they saw breeding social inequality and injustice, and Bolivia was no exception. Ever since the Spanish colonized the region in the mid-1500s, Andean indigenous groups have waged armed rebellions against the ruling elite. Túpac Katari, an 18th-century indigenous leader, formed an army to battle the Spanish colonials. Though defeated and executed, he remains a hero to many Bolivians. So when Bolivian indigenous groups banded together in the 1970s, they named their movement after him: the Ejército Guerrillero Túpac Katari.
García Linera isn’t an indigenous Bolivian, neither poor nor elite, but revolution makes for strange bedfellows. When the young lovers returned from Mexico, they met Felipe Quispe, a Túpac Katari Guerrilla Army leader. He helped García Linera and Gutiérrez forge closer relationships with the indigenous coca farmers and miners living in the countryside. The locals’ indignation and anger were already sowed, but the Túpac Kataris needed thought leaders. So the young couple picked up their pens, disseminating thousands of pamphlets and publishing several books promoting Marxism to unions across Bolivia.
The two considered Marxism a means of “comprehending our reality,” Gutiérrez has said, and the Túpac Katari Guerrilla Army a vehicle for political change. They aimed to inspire social movements “without dynamite,” according to García Linera, and never intended to be involved with an armed group. Instead, they wanted to embolden people to take control of their political destiny. García Linera has defended the group, noting that it never kidnapped anyone and that to gain power through others’ suffering would have been a “terrible error.”
But Túpac Katari’s militant wing was infamous for violent attacks, especially against energy infrastructure. In 1992, García Linera and Gutiérrez were implicated in a string of such incidents and detained. They’ve said they were separated from each other and tortured — deprived of food and sleep, hung from their limbs and beaten — for five years.
Before their imprisonment, García Linera had won the trust of Evo Morales, the indigenous farmer leading the coca growers union. García Linera saw Morales as a “strong figure with momentum” and “hung on to his coattails,” says Iván Rebolledo, president of the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce. Morales’ ascent to the Bolivian presidency provided the ex-guerrilla with his own path to power.
As vice president, García Linera is still considered an ideas man, but today he’s crafting the ideology behind Morales’ progressive social policies. Instead of Marxism, he champions a kind of Andean/Amazonian capitalism, with a strong state to coordinate communities, families and a modern-industrial base — what the vice president calls Bolivia’s productive tiers of society. As for the romance that started it all? García Linera and Gutiérrez severed their “nontraditional” relationship in 2001, and Gutiérrez returned to Mexico to pursue academia. García Linera has since remarried.