LA PAZ – Thousands of Bolivian officials received certificates from President Evo Morales crediting them with speaking a native tongue, in compliance with a law requiring state employees to speak at least two of the country’s officially recognized Indian languages.
The certificates were awarded Sunday at a ceremony in La Paz, where Morales spoke two sentences in Aymara, one at the beginning and the other at the end of his speech, which was otherwise delivered in Spanish.
“Bolivia has now a worldwide identity, we now have dignity. For that I congratulate all who have worked so hard to recover our languages, the better to serve our people, and all who train themselves in an honest, conscientious way to take part in this great service to the Bolivian people,” Morales said.
He also recalled that when he was a youngster he spoke Aymara, but at school they taught him to read and write in Spanish, and he would ask his teachers why they called indigenous peoples “ethnicities” and native languages “dialects.”
“The Aymaras, the Quechuas, we are a nation, we have territory, we have our own languages, we have systems of administrative organization, we have our own identity,” the president said.
More than 3,100 certificates were awarded at the event to officials who had qualified in native tongues over the past month.
A group of young people also staged a dramatization of life among the Indians before the Spaniards came to America, and of the violence that characterized the conquest and the colonial period.
In the 2001 census, 62 percent of the population claimed an Indian identity, but in the latest census of 2012, whose results were published a year later, just 40 percent said they belonged to one of the 36 ethnicities recognized in the constitution enacted by Morales in 2009.
Morales signed a measure into law on Aug. 2, 2012, that established a period of three years for state officials unable to speak a Indian language to learn one and begin to use it.
Ivan Iporre, director of the Plural Nationality Governance School, told the official ABI news agency that in nine years his organization had instructed a total of 23,593 officials in native languages and that 57 percent chose to learn Aymara.