RPCV Offers Update from Bolivia

Update from alternative development in the Chapare. (alternative
development means that you the taxpayer pay me and 600 other people to convince coca farmer to grow bananas, pineapples, palm heart and so on instead of coca. The Chapare is the only place in Latin America where its actually working, but the social and economic cost to Bolivia, and to the stability of its "democracy" are another story)

Yesterday at 9:00 a.m. I got a call from a co-worker saying the cocaleros were threatening to kidnap our personnel, take us to Cochabamba and parade us nude in the main plaza. Naturally I had to report this to the embassy, and they are investigating. The day before I had a very cordial meeting with cocalero leaders to talk about road maintenance, they were happy with our help and I am sure they would treat us well.

Recalling advice from my mom from the 50's, I sent word to all our people to wear their best underwear. I also passed this on to the embassy and their typically droll response: good idea. I made some points there for leadership.

In order to make a good impression we are thinking of sending out for some stylish underwear for everybody. The internal debate still rages over...boxers or briefs.

(OK trivia fans, name that Woody Allen movie)

Thank God this is not Colombia. To the extent that any social demand gets met here, it is done via the street theater of marches, road

blockades and hunger strikes with some regrettable violence around the edges, but nothing like Colombia). Downtown Cochabamba is called the Marchadromo.

The one thing that seems to hold this country together is dancing in the streets in innumerable festivals and parades. Protest movements respectfully arrange protest marching calendars around festival dancing season, and all social classes dress up in expensive costumes, practice after work all year, and dance in the street till they drop, from the poorest and least educated to cabinet ministers. There is a movement to change the name of the country to

Political cartoon from Los Tiempos (Cochabamba from last week): "If we Bolivians are so orderly, socially integrated, cooperative and respectful to each other during our festivals, and our festivals are so many and so long, why doesn't the Congress declare Carnival is year round, every day?"

I have had a chance to meet the new ambassador a couple of times, and he is good guy, David Greenlee. He was here in the peace corps 63 to 65, his wife, Clara, is Pacenia and they have 4 kids. He would like to find a way for us to be able to work directly with the cocaleros, which is a good idea since they have used the coca issue to organize the first ever indigenous political juggernaut, the MAS party led by Evo Morales. He got 21% of the presidential vote, while Goni got 22%. The other indigenous presidential candidate, El Mallku Felipe Quispe, got 3%, but

Evo and Mallku, both Aymaras, were not talking to each other at that point. The old elite and the embassy have done the math on this one, and this looks to some people like the situation in South Africa before Mandela took over. At some point Uncle has to get on the bandwagon of majority rule, even if it is an unwashed and unlettered majority. They are counting the Latin America dominos in Washington, and the count is up to around 4 and rising.

Of course, this is not the middle east, and Bolivia is not on too many maps these days. The question to the poor folks in the campo is not who governs but when will we get some attention to our local needs. Yesterday Charania, the municipality out beyond Viacha on the Chilean border, announced they are petitioning to become part of Chile. This causes great national consternation and accusations of high treason, but their question is, when
will we get electricity, schools and hospitals? And the answer from the
Bolivian Congress is nothing better than "we are looking into it." The
silent but clear, via actions, response from the US is if you don't have coca to eradicate, we don't have anything for you. This has to change.

Steven Huffstutlar
Bolivia 1968-70

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Volume 14, Issue 1

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