Thousands assembled, tears were shed, beautiful words were spoken, history was made and a new era of hope and challenge arose before us. Yes, people of the Internet, this week the Karaspita blog was brought into the world weighing several megabytes, in rude health. Also, in the USA, a new president was sworn in, which made a lot of people very happy. But enough about him (for now), what are you doing here?
Well, I could start by telling _you_ what I’m doing here and why. I am a research student at the University of London and I have spent the last few years neck-deep in the study of Bolivia, specifically the politics of the place and the indigenous people who live there. I carried out PhD fieldwork in Cochabamba, arriving a month before the election of Evo Morales and leaving a year and a half later, and even in cold, colourless London Bolivia-geekery is my main occupation and recreation of choice. I read the Bolivian newspapers (itself an action requiring a hefty rightwing-bias-filter) and write digests of the news for a British audience, plus articles here and there (which I’m hoping to do more of).
‘Karaspita’ was the preferred swearword of one of my favourite informants when doing anthropology research, a peasant grandmother of formidable character. When exasperated, she would let fly a string of insults culminating in ‘karaspita, che!’ tutted with a shake of the head. It’s an expression of the same sentiment I feel when reading that, for example, the US State Department has called the government of Evo Morales ‘undemocratic’ just weeks after it was reinforced with a 67% vote of confidence from the general public in a referendum. Or when the BBC reports on rioting, sabotage and destruction of government installations in the East of the country and attaches a request for information by anyone on the scene, in the style of citizen journalism, ‘Are you looting any ministries in Santa Cruz today? We want your side of the story’. Karaspa is what I think, admiringly, when Bolivia’s league of disabled people stages a gruelling march on the capital over hundreds of mountainous miles, and once there sets about rioting and trying to storm Congress. Don’t mess with the disabled people of Bolivia! By discussing some of these stories in English, here, I hope to convey some of the enthusiasm I feel about this smashing wee country and the people who live there, and some of my exasperation at the reporting of it in the English-language press.
Hello to you if you’ve travelled over from Jonathan Jarrett’s mediaeval history blog. You’ll be after some more of those colourful pictures and descriptions of rural markets, religious ritual and indigenous language, amirite? Well, there’ll probably be a good dose of the anthropological, given that that’s my day job, but don’t get too turned off if you discover that what I write about here is primarily political. You see, in Bolivia at the moment, indigeneity and political practice inform each other in many ways, not least in a robust tradition of direct action. With a 65% indigenous population and 36 native languages spoken in national territory, how could ethnicity and culture ever be separable from national political discourse? And the fact is that local struggles over land, water and the continuation of tradition also feed into and are influenced by resistance to international forces which encourage casualised labour, privatised resources, lopsided concentration of wealth and power and crowbarring open the markets in vulnerable countries to dump subsidised products on them, while taking away trade preferences at the drop of a hat, or the expulsion of an ambassador. So when you get locally-grounded processes of resistance and social change which throw up challenges to the forces of global economic hegemony, how can you not be fascinated by them? My posts will probably feature more swearwords and fewer footnotes than Jonathan’s, and certainly less mediaeval history, but it’d be grand if you would stick around anyway.
Hello to other bloggers writing about Bolivia! Now, starting my own blog doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re all lovely, especially you. Otto at Inka Kola News and The Dude especially are jewels in my bookmarks folder for their, ahem, balanced analysis. It just seems a shame to spend this much time immersed in Bolivian political geekery and not be able to share it with you. Besides, I’ve yet to notice an English-language Bolivia blog coming out of the UK, perhaps for obvious reasons, but we do have stuff going on here too.
So anyway, k’aj! Salud, slainte mhath ma tha, welcome to all, please bear with me while I get links and so forth all put up and see you all later to start talking about this Sunday’s referendum.