Archive for February, 2009

I Ate’nt Ded

…but somebody close to me is, and rather suddenly too, so blogging has been suspended for a wee while in favour of things like emergency plane trips and memorial services. Bear with the t’anta wawita: I’ll be bringing the snark to snarchaeology&anthropology again in no time. Have some Vichito Mamani in the meantime. Everybody loves Vichito Mamani, right?

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Is it selfish…

..of me to want a Bolivian version of this lolarious Venezuelan satirical blog? The closest thing I can find is this, which makes me feel a little bit dirty for laughing at it.

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There’s more than one way to campaign against creeping privatisation and inequality. The following is a good reminder that privatisation or capitalisation isn’t always the evil twin of state ownership, as struggles over natural resources might seem to suggest. It can also take the form of copyright law, or other restrictions on the flow of information, and as such, people come up with new ways to subvert it or work around it.

Even the new Bolivian constitution allows for three kinds of property – state, private and collective – by way of acknowledging the rights of indigenous groups to control and administer land according to a communitarian tradition. But what about a fourth category, that which cannot be owned or administered by any appointed person, but which is the result of unlimited collaboration among an open-ended network of volunteers? I am referring, of course, to open source software.

It’s tempting to build all kinds of political allegories from the open source movement. Its decentralised, horizontal, collaborative aspects are appealing to anyone who instinctively mistrusts hierarchy and monolithic corporations (or states). And the deliberate open-ness of the code to scrutiny, testing and repair is something of a poem to political transparency: the more people who actively pick holes in your system and then suggest ways to fix them them, the stronger the system becomes. It’s popular consultation writ large, only without a set of intermediaries to decide which set of improvements to make and which to disregard. It does rather remind me of popular assemblies and community meetings I attended in Bolivia, where everyone present had a right to speak if they had something to say, even if it meant that the meeting carried on all night and well into the following day.

Here, the parallel rather trips up: politicians can only act as emissaries of public opinion to a certain degree, and responding to every single grievance and complaint – in other words, pleasing all the people all the time – is an impossibility. But that wasn’t what I opened this window to post about, so that discussion can be had another day. Let’s instead focus on the appeal of open source software itself for Bolivia and Bolivians. Well, it’s free, for one, and it’s adaptable, for two. The first obviously goes some way to leapfrogging the digital divide between those with access to computers and those without. But not only is it within the economic reach of anyone with a basic box and a knowledgeable friend to install it, it’s also customisable beyond the imagination of $Windows. Hence the extremely cool news (not very new anymore, but you have to forgive the blogosfero anglofono for being late to the party) that a group of people have released a Bolivian version of Ubuntu, a widely used open source operating system, adapted especially for Bolivian needs:

Unlike other GNU/Linux distributions, BoliviaOS has been created so that it is possible to install and use it from the two CDs provided, without needing an internet connection to complete the installation process and obtain a completely functional system which is capable of writing texts, running spreadsheets, navigating the internet, communicating by chat and email, programming, playing and creating music and videos and much more.
Bolivia OS sets out to cater to the necessities of all Bolivians, including speakers of indigenous (originario) languages. It includes a text processor for Quechua and Aymara and a Quechua spellchecker. (Translation – TW)

Dudes, I cannot adequately convey how exciting I find the idea of a Quechua spellchecker without writing !1OMG, SQUEEEE!11′ in large letters, and I’m sure you’d prefer I didn’t.

What is more, the the same compañero who pointed this out to me briefly discusses the HackBol project, started several years ago by five anonymous Bolivians (who never met) who provided a patriotic service to sites with poor security: hacking them in order to highlight their weaknesses, so as to prevent future incursion by foreigners.

This isn’t the first example of benevolent hacking, but it might be the most patriotic: as well as using the attention to promote campaigns against software patents and child pornography, the group posted messages on the commandeered sites telling the sysadmins to tighten up security in the name of Bolivia’s international reputation. In an example of active citizenship and pride in the Patria: the messages went beyond, ‘Your s3cur1ty suck5 h4h4 n00b! – 1337 h4x0r’ but went as far as to upbraid them for bringing Bolivian webdesign into bad repute and leaving the country open to attacks from Brazilian and Argentinian crackers.

We have just one word for the security on this site – USELESS. We’ve come to stay, to show that there are educated and capable people in Bolivia who go further than taking exams where they ask you what the ‘mount’ command does. The situation we’re living in in Bolivia is DISASTROUS and all the fault of of governers who only want to get rich and abuse the trust the people place in them

and in another case:

Why do we do this? Because we’re tired of seeing how foreign groups take over ‘cracking’ Bolivian servers, and so that you know that Bolivia isn’t behind in these ‘matters’, the seed was planted and now we are growing!

But DarkRho, one of the 1337 team involved looks back on it reflectively, saying how he prefers to dedicate himself to open source projects these days and thereby work for the common good:

‘To do a ‘deface’, find a bug in a badly-made php application, compile an exploit and look for vulnerable servers, obtain admin privileges, is a fun and exciting challenge. But to help people and form a community goes further than personal satisfaction and ego. We all walk isolated, obtaining knowledge here and there, but it’s difficult for us to help others arrive to the point that we have arrived at.’

Open Source philosophy and Bolivian patriotism and public-spiritedness: it’s a match made in cyberspace.

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Want a good English-language summary of the struggle to get the Constitution voted through, the compromises involved and possible challenges ahead? Nick Buxton has just the thing.

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Remember how last year, the Minister for Agrarian Reform, his employees and a load of Guarani people were kidnapped, beaten up and threatened by cartoon-baddy estate owner Ronald Larsen as they went about trying to establish legal titling for indigenous lands in the East? No?

Larsen’s the rancher from Montana who moved to Bolivia in the late 60s and, along with his family, bought up land three times the size of the city of Santa Cruz. Luckily for him, like many estates in the area, his ranch came with a captive labour force of indigenous Guarani people, who have been working there in conditions of servitude ever since.

Last year, a fact-finding mission from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of American States and the Bolivian government investigated forced labour and servitude on various large estates in Santa Cruz and other departments, and found that hundreds of Guarani families were living in conditions ‘analogous to slavery’, where landowners had supplanted the State and were operating with impunity, obliging people to work for laughably low pay or none at all, preventing them from getting an education or living in humane conditions, limiting their movements and violently repressing attempts to organise, create or join a trade union or speak to human rights organisations.

Even after being held at gunpoint by Larsen’s thugs for a couple of days and then kicked out of the area, the personnell from the Ministry of Agrarian Reform returned later on last year to carry on with the investigations and legal processes to find out if the land on this estate and others was held legally, and if people were being forced to live in conditions of servitude, in violation of various international laws (and, you know, basic human decency). They found a whole shitload of weapons, to start with, and they must have found evidence of substantial human rights violations, because guess what? The Larsens and several other arseholes with feudal pretensions large landholders are having their estates confiscated. I know, I know, but it’s so hard to get the help these days! I mean, have you ever tried running a 15,262 hectare estate without a captive workforce who’ll carry out forced labour under physical threat? It’s a nightmare, Matilda. One’s heart simply bleeds for those poor wee oligarchs kicked off their humble thirty-thousand-acre fincas.

Or, in the words of one of my poetic compatriots:

funny pictures
Photo: BBC. Used without permission, but with love.

Here’s the full story at Bolpress. (Incidentally, can someone have a word with the webmasters at Los Tiempos and La Prensa, PLEASE? I had links to the stories they ran about these events archived, and it looks like they’ve just not bothered storing online editions for 2007 and 2008, leaving me with a load of useless dead links. WTF arg etc – I don’t like only using Bolpress as the source, but they’re the only ones who take the trouble to make sure their old links work!)

My translation into English under the cut:


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What’s cooler than four rappers from different countries having a head-to-head battle rapping in three languages, English, French and German?

That’d be one group who take turns rapping in Aymara and Quechua, together, in the same song. Step forward Wayna Rap.

Seriously, is there *anything* that sounds better than Aymara hip-hop? Wayna Rap can even make public health appeals sound good. Here’s an ad that the La Paz city authorities used to run on ATB trying to persuade people to make less noise pollution in the city. My Aymara isn’t good enough to understand most of it, apart from jani waliki – not good – but IIRC they’re saying, ‘All these people making a racket, night and day, honking their horns and that, it’s doing my head in, mate’. Something about it’s even catchier than the preceeding.

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Admittedly, I’ve been a S.R.C fangirl ever since I first read ‘Oppressed But Not Defeated’. But bearing in mind folk wisdom about heroes – never to meet them, they’ll only be rude and shorter than you expected, and that later in life they may disappoint you by authorising nakedly commercial album re-masters – I must say that despite the sometimes impenetrably academic tenor of her written Spanish, she’s yet to publish anything that didn’t make me sigh and be glad for her existence. Check out the poetics of this open letter published on Ukhampacha News, with its rich allusions to the daily niceties of Bolivian cultures, casual slinging of not-easily-translatable Aymara phrases into discussion and urge to go beyond the good start of laws which outline a new approach, and to start putting flesh on the bones by grounding the legal changes in a holistic re-connection with the environment and ancestral wisdom. Only in not such hippyish phrasing. Most of all, read it for her warning against the temptation to turn the multiple, overlapping and fascinatingly complex political processes in Bolivia into an easily reducible set of new models that fit neatly onto a page.

Community must be reinvented, made to live again. We Bolivians—unlike those in our brother countries—are lucky in that our communal strength has not yet been locked away in museums or reservations, or in archeological sites for tourists. It is this polymorphism, its diverse and ch’ixi character, that has allowed our indigenous community, from the Andes to the Amazon, to still be a dynamic force and a collective creation.

in the long-term context, which no doubt is a Pachakuti cycle (though many idiots confuse it with a millennium, and Evo as the new Indian Christ), the debate itself of the constitution is just an epiphenomenon. The whole world is part of this process; it is an emerging and multiplying clamor to LIVE WELL (not live better), of restructuring our relations with the world, with the land, with the universe and its multiple signs. How great is it that we don’t even talk about that whole “development” thing anymore? It’s fantastic that this shift resonates in the new constitution! But it doesn’t do anything to know those slogans by heart if we can’t grind our own llajwa (traditional Bolivian salsa), or if we waste water like idiots during Carnival or if we get drunk until we lose our dignity or if we don’t look into the eyes of those who talk to us or if we use hired domestic help to do something as simple as serve us water or if we are not saddened every day by the growth of the black stains of bare earth on Illimani.

Full text below, but do visit the UB News site, there’s much to see. (more…)

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