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Contemporary Topics in Individual Psychology

Lack of Social Interest and Spanish Colonialism in Bolivia

By Ellen Alderton, October 10, 2009

This interview took place with Governor German Velasco, the former Governor of La Paz, the largest department of Bolivia. Governor Velasco also served as the Bolivian Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. He is the Editor-in-Chief of

Do you think that governments not rooted in social interest are destined for failure? Click here to send in your comments on this posting. (Or write to

EA – Our discussion today is about Spanish colonialism in Bolivia, and I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about what made Bolivia so desirable to the Spanish invaders.

GV – Well, to be remotely fair, it’s important to make an effort to place ourselves in what the world’s paradigm was five centuries ago. The Spaniards came to the New World in the early part of the 16th Century, like any other civilization, trying to conquer news lands and reap riches. It was the thing to do in those times, across oceans or within the continents, and, specifically, in what is now modern day Bolivia and Peru, they found a country rich in natural resources. The Spaniards were interested mostly in gold, but what Bolivia had a lot – a lot – of was silver. In the area that came to be known as Potosi, the Spaniards established the largest silver mine in the world. There is a saying in my country that one can build a bridge of silver all the way from Potosi to Madrid with the ore that the Spaniards extracted from one mountain.

EA – Are there any other natural resources that the Spaniards were after?

GV – Bolivia has a tremendously diverse geography. It is mountainous in the West – the Andes – and then it reaches out to the rainforests in the East. In the West, in the mountains, there’s mining, and after the silver was depleted it turned out that our mountains were also excellent sources for tin. In the East, there’s rich farm country, with huge spaces for cattle ranches, and there are also tropical timbers. Later in its development, Bolivia became important for rubber in its eastern regions. There were also some attempts to grow coffee, although those were less successful.

EA – I understand there is a history with African slaves and Bolivian coffee.

GV –  First, let me say a word about slavery. In North America, the indigenous people were mostly killed or driven west from their homes to isolated reservations. In Latin America, the Spaniards took the direction of enslaving and exploiting the native peoples. After the Inca Empire was conquered, its former citizens remained on their lands but they were forced to work for the Spaniards. They worked in the mines of Potosi, for example, under brutal conditions and many lost their lives. You mentioned the coffee trade and, in fact, the Spaniards also brought in slaves from Africa to work the mines. When these people from the tropics were not able to adjust to the high altitude, the Spaniards moved them to the low lands to farm coffee ranches. For this reason, our only population of African descendants in Bolivia is based in a semi-tropical region called Los Yungas, where they were first brought, in bondage, to farm coffee.

EA – I would like to share with you a quote from Alfred Adler:

History judges human actions according to the degree of social interest which is expressed in them. Without exception those deeds and events are regarded as great and valuable which are saturated with social interest, thus promoting the welfare of the whole. Lack of social interest… drives the individual into neurosis or crime, and groups and nations toward the abyss of self-extermination.

Could you comment on whether a lack of social interest among the Spanish conquerors led their colonial society toward Adler’s abyss of self-extermination?

GV – By lack of social interest you mean a lack of concern for the greater society?

EA – Yes precisely, and also a lack of interest in other individuals expressed through personal attitudes and deeds. Adler measured healthy human behavior by the degree to which it exhibited social interest – a concern for other human beings.

GV – I see. Well, I do not want to say that my country or my continent has yet reached an abyss…

EA – But the Spanish colonial rule did meet its end.

GV – Yes, the colonial rule met its end, and there can be no doubt that it ultimately failed, despite a very carefully and brutally managed authoritarian system, because it did not have the support of the people it governed. So, in this regard I agree with Adler that a government that does not show a social interest in the concerns of its people is likely doomed to failure. I can only say, from my own experiences in political analysis, that the only legitimate purpose of a leader is to serve the needs of his people. The Spaniards ruled in a very brutal manner over peons and slaves, and ultimately this system could not last. My country won its independence from Spain in 1825, and our revolution was just one of a series of successful revolutions which swept the continent.

EA – Can you comment on why North America generally fared better after kicking its mother country out?

GV – That is a complicated question, but it certainly has nothing to do with a greater social interest on the part of the North American colonists. To the contrary, I think a huge part of North America’s rise, honestly and very harshly, has to do with the fact that the English colonists exterminated their native competitors. In North America, the indigenous people became an almost insignificant minority. In South America, they become a large, disenfranchised and rightly dissatisfied segment of the population.

EA – That brings me to my final point. I think that most people would agree that although formal Spanish colonial rule ended in Latin America, there are still many vestiges of colonialism to be found in your continent to this day.

GV – Yes, and you can start with the fact that most of the elites in Latin American countries – the wealthiest, the best educated, the most empowered – are almost entirely the direct descendants of the Spaniards. So, you have not only the vestiges of this colonialism, but also the backlashes to this colonialism in disenfranchised indigenous peoples who are struggling to have their own interests met.

EA – Governor Velasco, thank you. I look forward to talking to you about these disenfranchised people more in some future discussion.

GV –  Yes, of course. Thank you.