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Felipe Quispe Huanca, born in an Aymara community on the banks of Lake Titicaca, started out in Aymara politics in the 1970s as a member of the Tupaj Katari Indian Movement (mitka), a radical indianista party that rejected class struggle for anticolonial struggle against non-Indian oppressors labeled q’aras. He gained notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s in what was first called the Red Offensive of the Tupaj Katari Ayllus and later the Tupaj Katari Guerrilla Army (egtk). State security forces quickly dismantled the guerrilla unit and jailed its members, which included the urban leftist Alvaro García Linera. In prison, Quispe obtained his university degree in history, writing a thesis on Tupaj Katari. He also began to call himself the Mallku, a term meaning “condor” that is applied to traditional Aymara authorities. He gained growing numbers of admirers for the audacity of his anticolonial discourse.

In 1998, the national congress of the Trade Union Confederation of Bolivian Peasant Workers (csutcb) was split internally between the coca-grower Evo Morales and the peasant leader Alejo Véliz. The Mallku was elected secretary-general of the organization to resolve the conflict. In early 2000, the Water War in Cochabamba and massive community mobilizations on the altiplano led by Quispe and the csutcb initiated a five-year cycle of rebellion that brought an end to the era of neoliberal hegemony. Quispe conceived of this epochal struggle as a pachakuti—an upheaval of time and space, a transformation of the political and natural world. In this period, Evo Morales and the Mallku maintained a perennial tug-of-war for leadership within the social movements.

In January 2001, after powerful waves of rural road blockades in April and September 2000, Quispe was interviewed by Patricia Costas, Marxa Chávez, and Alvaro García Linera, Quispe’s former comrade-in-arms and Morales’s future vice president. In the selection that follows, Quispe comments on the forms of political organization on the altiplano and articulates his radical indianista vision, which challenged the political status quo in the country.

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