It’s been almost a month since I arrived, jet-lagged and tongue flapping hopelessly in the familiar but uncooperative Spanish, and man, a lot has happened. I’ve went into the mines in Potosí and became fascinated by the legends of El Tío and the legends that surround mining culture, eaten an absurd amount of chorizo in Sucre, seen goats and cows at my micro (bus) stop (and the busses are all exactly my height or shorter, Bolivians are not tall…), and gotten way better at speaking Spanish.
Sorry for not keeping you all up to date on that, but they sure keep us busy here. What inspired me to write ahorita, as they say (all though it doesn’t always mean now, it could be any time in the next 24 hours, part of dealing with the inconsistency of BST [Bolivian Standard Time]), is el TIPNIS.
El TIPNIS is an enormous national park in the Northern part of the department of Cochabamba and the Southern part of the department of Beni that is home to an enormous indigenous population, coca farms, and wildlife. The issue is very complicated, but the short version is this: Evo Morales (el presidente) wants to construct a highway through el TIPNIS that would connect Cochabamba to the capital city of the department Beni, part of a larger highway that would connect Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil. In doing so, however, he would destroy an enormous amount of wildlife and part of an area that houses many of his indigenous supporters. It’s the most important political issue here, which essentially breaks down to this: development or the environment?
Everyone has an opinion, pro-highway for economic or development reasons, or pro-TIPNIS for environmental or anti-drug trafficking reasons. And all of this for a highway proposed by Evo, a president who’s very political platform is incredibly concerned with the environment and indigenous rights. But based on the events that occurred last night, he may lose all the support he’s gained over the past 6 years.
There have been protest marches from el campo for a long time now, but yesterday the police reacted with tear gas canisters, resulting in at least 2 deaths and 39 people wounded, at least for now. One of the deaths was a 3 month baby, killed by the gas. For more details on the confrontation, here are some good links.
With this police violence against the march has come an overwhelming sentiment of anger towards the police and the government. The details are still unclear, but it sounds like Evo is going to propose a referendum to allow the people to vote on the highway, but that won’t undo the damage to his reputation. Some Bolivian people now view Evo in a similar light to previous corrupt presidents. This afternoon I went to the Centro Franciscano, which is the hub of TIPNIS protests in Cochabamba, where there is an organized hunger strike as well as marches, with students and campesinos alike sitting in the middle of the street in protest, a busy street that my micro normally goes down on my way to classes. I spoke with a woman and her daughter who had come an hour and a half from the countryside to protest. The woman told me that she thinks that this event has changed the tides of Bolivian politics. They encouraged me to participate in the march that began at 6, but I had to return to Spanish class…
I don’t know what is going to happen in the near future, but it has the potential to be something big. Part of what fascinates me about the politics here is the initiative that the people have to fight for their rights and create change from these movements. The people of the United States could learn a thing or two about active participation in politics, something more than going to the polls every 4 years, voting for your party, and observing passively actions that may not be in the public’s best interest. Easier said than done, but I feel like people don’t even go as far as say it. The recent demonstrations in Wisconsin and even more recent actions on Wall Street (which I need to read about, as I feel out of touch with what’s going on in the US) may be the beginnings of a trend towards active participation, one that I hope continues.
I apologize if there are spelling mistakes, living in Spanish has taken a toll on my written English (as evidenced by my spelling of Constitution as Constitucion earlier today, followed by a struggle to figure out what was wrong with it).
I’ll try and update you all soon with more detailed and correct facts, please comment if you have any questions or (obviously) comments. I’ll also try and let you know more about my daily life and the many interesting things that have happened to me on this program. I love it here and am learning a lot.