Apologies, President Evo Morales

This is an article by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, published in Público, 13th July 2013.

Apologies, President Evo Morales

I waited a week for my country’s government to make formal apologies for the act of air piracy and state terrorism that it committed, along with Spain, France and Italy when it did not authorise the technical stopover of your plane on its return to Bolivia after a meeting in Moscow, thereby offending the dignity and sovereignty of your country and placing your own life at risk. I did not expect it to do so, since I am painfully aware of the daily collapse of national and international legality underway in my country and in neighbouring countries, and of the moral and political mediocrity of the elites that rule us, and the precarious refuge of dignity and hope in consciences, in streets, in squares, long after having been expelled from the institutions.

It did not apologise. I am doing so, a common citizen, ashamed to belong to a country and a continent capable of committing this affront and of doing so with impunity, given that no international body dares to confront the authors and instigators of this international crime. My apology has no diplomatic value, but perhaps it has a superior value, in so far as, far from being an individual act, it is the expression of a collective sentiment, far greater than you can imagine, on the part of those outraged citizens who every day count more reasons to feel they are not represented by their representatives. The crime committed against you was one more such reason. We were glad of your safe return home and thrilled by the warm welcome you received from your people when you touched down in El Alto. Know, Mr President, that from many miles away, many of us were there, embedded in the magical air of the Andes.

Mr President, you know better than any of us that this was one more act of colonial arrogance in the course of a long and painful history of oppression, violence, and racial supremacy. For Europe, an Indian president is more Indian than president, and for this reason, it is to be expected that he should transport drugs or terrorists in his presidential plane. A suspicion of a white man against an Indian is a thousand times more credible than the suspicion of an Indian against a white man.

It is worth remembering that Europeans, in the figure of Pope Paul III, only recognised that the men and women of your people had a human soul in 1537 (bull Sublimis Deus), and they proved as ignominious in the terms in which they rejected that recognition for decades, as in the terms in which they finally accepted it.

It took 469 years for the election, your own election, of an indigenous president in a country with an indigenous majority. But I also know that you are attentive to differences amid continuities. Was the humiliation of which you were a victim an act of colonial arrogance or colonial submission? Let us recall another recent ‘incident’ between European and Latin American rulers. On the 10th November 2007, during the XVII Ibero-American Summit in Chile, the King of Spain, who was irritated by what he was hearing from the sadly missed President Hugo Chávez, addressed him abruptly and ordered him to be shut up. The sentence “why don’t you shut up” [por qué no te callas] will go down in the history of international relations as a cruelly revealing symbol of accounts still to be settled between former colonising powers and their former colonies. In fact, it is unimaginable that a European head of State might publicly address another European counterpart in such terms, whatever the reasons.

Mr President, you were a victim of an even more humiliating aggression, but the fact will not have escaped you that in your case, Europe did not act spontaneously. It did so under the orders of the United States, and, in doing so, it bowed to the international illegality imposed by North American imperialism, in the very same way, years previous, it had done by allowing the flyover of clandestine CIA flights in its airspace, in clear violation of international law. Signs of the times, Mr President: European colonial arrogance can no longer be exercised without colonial submission.

This continent is becoming too small to become great without being atop another’s shoulders. None of this absolves the European elites. It merely deepens the distance between them and so many Europeans, such as I, who see in Bolivia a friendly country and who respect the dignity of your people and the legitimacy of its democratic authorities.

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