Hugo Blanco message to the Socialist Resistance meeting , London 6/11/2018
English translation of the Hugo Blanco video message
I want to thank the British cdes for organising the presentation of the English version of my book.
I am sorry that there have been problems with obtaining a visa and even I manage to get one now I would arrive too late to take part in your meeting
That is why we decided to make this little video so that I can at least be present in this form at your meeting.
Question 1: Hugo, how did this book We the Indians come about?
Hugo: It’s about various experiences I have gone through with the indigenous movements, including some writings from Fronton jail when I was a prisoner, and these have been gathered together in this book. There was a book I have written before, called Land or Death – which I mainly wrote when I was inside Fronton. Some parts of that book have been included in this one. They are experiences and reflections from various periods in the past and they have been brought together in this book, We the Indians. We are up to the third edition in Castillian and we are preparing a fourth. We now have the English translation and an Italian one. We are working on a Portuguese one and we know there is a comrade doing a French/swiss translation.
Question 2: What does Indigenous mean to you Hugo?
Hugo: Well, we call them primitive but they are right if we look at the type of organisation they had before and which prevailed everywhere, the collective will dominated with no chiefs or individuals and the indigenous communities had these features across the world, where horizontal relations dominated and not top down, vertical ones. Furthermore they were linked to the land and farmed but in ways that did not damage the environment unlike in today’s neo-liberal world. Neo-liberalism teaches that life is only how to buy and sell. But before it was not like that. So this is what an indigenous person, an Indian is for me, they are embedded in the sea or land, they co-habit with nature, other words, living well. In other words to live with mother nature, farming and rearing animals .
Question 3: Can you say something about your legacy?
Hugo: I am committed to social struggles. I had thought when I passed on that I would have my ashes spread in all those places of social struggles I had known but the Colombian comrade Ernesto Piez (Perez) said to me you got to be there when I am alive, and I am alive, so I wrote something to Maria Esquabe (???) about my experience as a peasant activist as an indigenous militant in the
Lares and Cusco communities. The other comrade told me about his experience of struggles with indigenous peoples and how it went but he said bloody hell I am getting old now, I cannot go and about like before, I cannot struggle like before, But I haven’t changed my ideas, I want to take my legs there, to take my voice there, to participate in the struggles. So this comrade reminded me of this and said my legacy wasn’t to have my ashes spread about but that the lessons I have learnt in my life had to be shared with others, obviously Not so that people should copy me but using my ideas to encourage the struggles. So we set up a group on the internet -< We the Indians> We thought of linking up with other places and seeing how different chapters would be relevant there . Not to give a line of course but so they could maybe use something from our experience. We also were able to read some chapters together and comment and link up the experience of the book with the present struggles in whatever part of the world. So we have this internet group. We were invited to Guadalajara, Jalisco, to a meeting of university researchers, professors, they had seen our book and the previous Land or death one ( about the struggle in Cusco and La Convencion). They set up meetings with other organisations. There was an interview with me which was important for spreading the message of the book. So it shows the importance of this group, to link up with younger generations and with currents like the Zapatistas. I want to learn from the experiences of the We the Indians group.
Question 4: What about the recent indigenous peoples congress in Ecuador
Hugo: Yes I could not attend this meeting but a comrade from our group was able to go and was able to distribute our materials there. We met up with Lorenzo Cammoro, a peasant leader who was there too. The materials and our work interested a lot of the people there. Another positive has been the setting up of a similar group to ours which is part of our network in Mexico city. Also we have links in Ecuador. so this network We the indians is making a contribution – not a model to be copied but to see where we can learn from each other and to discuss with each other and to understand our problems.
Question 5: What have you got to say to the English cdes
Hugo: I am very sorry that I cannot be present tonight. I want to thank you for the invitation I wanted to be at this presentation of my book but the visa problem has stopped me being there.
Want to thank Derek wall, the English writer, who has written about our struggles, other interesting articles and has written a biography about me and my experiences. Obviously I wanted to thank him for that.
Hope the book can be useful to develop the ongoing struggle not to be copied but as a additional tool for relating to those struggles.
Introduction by Terry Conway on Hugo Blanco
You will have heard the bad news that Hugo isn’t here and won’t be here this week. The good news is that despite the hostile environment, he has got a visa which is valid until the end of April and so we will be bringing him to London – in all probability at the end of February.
I’m still disappointed that he is not here now because I had been really looking forward to spending time with him, having discussions with this exceptional person.
I want to tell you about my relationship with Hugo and how it has evolved and changed over a long period of time.
I first heard about him when I became involved in far left politics in the mid-1970s and read his first book Land or Death. I guess I saw him as a fairly typical Latin American guerrilla – a bit in the mould of Che Guevara. He was a peasant leader – and in those days I knew that the struggle over land was important across much of Latin America, but I didn’t think very much about the implications of that.
Then I remember hearing him speak at a big rally in Central London in the early 1980s and was hugely impressed by the power of his oratory. I could certainly imagine him as an organiser, as someone people would listen to and be inspired by.
And it’s certainly the case that, even if today people are more likely to follow his writing – through the pages of Lucha Indigena –than to hear him speak directly, he remains very compelling. One important factor in this, brought out very strongly by Derek Wall in his biography (hot off the press today) is the tension between the fact that Hugo rarely talks or writes about himself and certainly is one of the most unassuming people you could ever meet. This isn’t just a question of personality – though there is an element of that – but it’s more fundamental – it’s because for him the collective is at the centre of everything.
When he last came to Britain in 2010, some of my vantage points had changed and so indeed had his from when I’d seen him in the 80s. Hardly surprising in that it was almost 30 years on. During that visit I had the opportunity of spending time with Hugo not only in public gatherings but on a one to one basis. Despite his limited English and my even more limited Spanish we were able to have some good conversations – discussions in which I was able to understand for the first time the way environmental questions permeated so much of his thinking.
Around that time Socialist Resistanceagreed to produce an English language version of We the Indiansand I agreed to edit it. It was a complex but hugely rewarding process. When he writes of how many times he has been in prison, or tortured, how close to having a death sentence carried out he does so in the context of talking about what is happening to others around him.
An anecdote I heard while working, not on We the Indiansbut on Derek’s book, was that the peasant unions in La Convencion and Lares planned a celebration for his 80thbirthday to commemorate his contribution to the successful struggle for land reform in that region. But Hugo insisted the celebration could not just be for him and went round trying to find as many people as possible.
The final version of the book not only retains some words in Spanish but also of Quecha – of which I have none. Never the less I thought this was a vital way of keeping the texture of what Hugo wrote. And I love the chapters in We the Indianswhere Hugo takes the side of the indigenous writer Jose Maria Arguedas against the neo-liberal, Vargas Llosa, contemptuous of indigenous culture and civilisation.
I’d been fascinated by pre-Conquest civilisations in Latin America for a long time, particularly the Incas. I guess there is some grudging acknowledgement that they must have been technologically quite advanced to build those extraordinary pyramids – but I knew nothing about their relationship with the land.
And the most significant thing that had changed for me during the intervening years since I first encountered Hugo, was that ecosocialism had become central to my politics. In Hugo’s writings I discovered much to lead me to understand that indigenous communities have a lot to teach us about how and why to stop destroying the planet.
Here is how Hugo explains it in We the Indians:
‘The inhabitants of the Andes felt great respect for nature, for Pachamama. We are not referring to the non-use of agrochemicals, which did not exist, but to other aspects, such as the care for the arable soil: by making terraces known as andenes, leaving fringes of grass on the hillsides to contain the earth, giving the canals a certain course so they cause less land erosion, making the furrows on the hillsides with the necessary inclination depending on the degree of rainwater, so that the rain erodes the smallest possible quantity of soil (some of these techniques still exist)…’
‘During the Inca period there was, and now there still is, full understanding and use of biodiversity. An average sized community had one group of people raising alpaca in the uplands and another cultivating coca in the low part. When a community member is asked what his land produces and he answers proudly that it produces ‘complete’, he is indicating that it has various ecological terrains. As a boy, I took potatoes from the high ground to exchange for tuna from the mountain streams, as a youth I exchanged coca (before the empire ordered the sacred leaf to be exterminated) from the forest edge for ch’arki(cured meat) and cheese from the cold mountains….’
‘The modern inhabitants of the forest have been hugely influenced by their ancestors’ culture. They knew how to build their houses on stilts so that they were not affected by floods. They learned from them how to eat the palmito(the heart of the palm), the yucca and the pijuayo. They memorised how to prepare the quintessential forest drink the masato. They knew how to sail on the Amazon’s rivers. They know the healing properties of many of the plants.’
And such assertions are not confined to the pages of Wet the Indians. Derek Wall quotes Hugo in 2017:
‘My fight now is for water, I am also with the Amazonians who fight in defense of the rainforest, which are the lungs of the world. I am also against agro-industry, because it practices monoculture that is impoverishing the earth, because they put chemical fertilizers on the land. They also use insecticides and herbicides that are killing nature, they do not worry about killing the land because after killing the land cultivated here, the multinationals can go to Asia and Africa, to continue killing the land. They also produce for export, growing artichokes and asparagus that suck up a lot of water, taking away the water that should be for Peruvians.’
London, Tuesday 6 November