The Peruvian revolutionary politician and activist talks to Alborada about a lifetime of fighting capitalism in defence of humanity and the environment.
Hugo Blanco’s long life has been committed to revolutionary struggle. Now 84, he became politicised at just ten years old, after learning of indigenous struggles in his native Peru. He became a student leader and joined the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party at the age of 24. He mobilised campesino and indigenous uprisings against the repressive state and national bourgeoisie, which brought him under scrutiny from security forces. Establishing solidarity and practical links between workers and indigenous movements, he founded a peasant trade union with thousands of previously non-unionised members. After entering armed struggle, in 1961 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, sparking a major international campaign for his release.
In 1971, Hugo Blanco was deported to Chile, then under the government of socialist president Salvador Allende. During the 1973 military coup d’état that overthrew Allende, he sought refuge in the Swedish embassy and was smuggled out of Chile. He then returned to Peru in 1978 to stand as a presidential candidate for the recently-founded Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1980 election. He came fourth and entered the Peruvian senate, where he remained until threats forced him into exile, this time in Mexico, in 1992.
Hugo Blanco still lives in Mexico today, where he works closely with indigenous and rural movements based in revolutionary socialist and ecological principles. A new biography, Hugo Blanco: A Revolutionary Life by Derek Wall, charts his lifetime of resistance to capitalism and environmental destruction.
While in London recently to promote the book, Hugo Blanco sat down with Alborada to talk about the challenges which continue to shape indigenous and campesino struggle in Latin America and beyond.
What does indigenous society teach us about democracy and organisation?
It’s important to pay attention to indigenous peoples, whether in Peru, the Americas or all over the world. They represent the original form of humanity’s horizontal organisation. Once this shape was lost, caste-based societies emerged, such as the Incas and the Aztecs, and that was followed in Europe by class-based societies – the pro-slavery class, the feudal class, all the way to where we are now with vertical governance by transnational companies.
I believe therefore that it’s positive to support indigenous movements which preserve humanity’s original organisation along horizontal lines. For example, an indigenous community may elect a general secretary or a president, but they soon make changes. The Zapatistas are a precise model of this kind of organisation, and they apply it very well, while the Zapatista Army fights arms itself to defend their territories. The civilian population governs in a way that is exemplarily democratic. They do not elect a person, but a group of people of equal rank. All the group has the same rank. Re-election is prohibited, because nobody is indispensable. This means that the collective governs. I believe this is how humanity should be organised.
How can indigenous people organise within a capitalist system that does not respect ancestral claims to territory, and in which everything – rivers, land, community – is a market commodity? How do they respond to these attacks?
These are attacks in every sense, such as with mono-agriculture. In the Brazilian rainforest, Bolsonaro is at the vanguard of the attack on nature. This attack is not only against the indigenous population, but against humanity and nature in their entireties. For example, the rainforest is destroyed to extract fine woods or to construct hydroelectric power stations. Or its cleared for ranching to send meat to Europe, and for agro-industries such as palm oil. There is a war not only against people but against nature in general. The survival of the species is threatened by environmental destruction: for example, global warming is a product of large transnational companies which today govern the world but do not care about the environment. They don’t care if the world ends or not. They only care about earning the highest amount of money in the shortest possible time.
Peasant communities, of course, maintain a struggle of resistance. They defend their territories and fight open-pit mining. Why? Because open-pit mining extracts four tons of rock, which it washes with water and cyanide, to create one gram of gold. In Peru, I was involved in the struggle against the Conga mine in Cajamarca. This was just one mine but today there is a mining corridor which traverses three Peruvian states: Apurimac, Cuzco and Arequipa. The attack on nature, and therefore on humanity, is always growing. That’s why indigenous peoples must fight back against this attack.
How does urban society perceive the challenges faced by indigenous populations?
There is less consciousness than before. But it is positive that there are collective struggles and demonstrations to resist the aggression towards the environment or humanity. For me, these public demonstrations are positive, as they are convoked by general society rather than any political party. But it is necessary to organise more of these mobilisations and more frequently to reject the attacks by big capital on the environment.
What is the relationship between the state and indigenous populations? And what links are there between indigenous populations and the working class?
There are links of solidarity with workers. But governments today represent the interests of big business and they use the police to attack. For example, the López Obrador government in Mexico has confronted the corrupt political parties which governed Mexico, the PRI and the PAN, and as such many people have faith in him. But he has another side. For example, the Maya Train project threatens the Zapatista zone. He has told soldiers that they are also police, encouraging them to target the Zapatista zone. Recently, I attended the 25th anniversary of the Zapatistas, and the Zapatista Militias were parading at arms. In Latin America, we witness attacks by large transnational companies, conducted through governments, against the general population. There is a permanent struggle everywhere.
Are indigenous people viewed as an obstacle within capitalist systems?
Yes, of course. Because indigenous people maintain their struggles against the destruction of the system. Across the Americas –Latin America, the United States and Canada – indigenous people resist big capital. Other oppressed groups, such as workers, also fight. Sometimes there is a concentration of people to protest an act which harms the population. The collective demands that big capital respects its rights. In Brazil, Bolsonaro faces resistance from Amazonian people and from the Brazilian people in general, as he plainly represents the interests of big capital. Bolsonaro is completely open about this but other governments are subtler.