Archive for March, 2009

Something tells me that the Bolivia Information Forum will be publishing another of their excellent News Briefings very soon. Which is another way of telling you that I’ve just sent it to them and now will be getting round to that whole sleep thing I’ve heard about.

This one has been fun to write despite all the badnesses of the last couple of months, because of the wealth of crazy news stories, like alleged piranhas en Lake Alalay in Cochabamba.

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So, let’s imagine you have an elderly relative who was imprisoned and tortured during the years of dictatorship. (I hope for your sake that that’s not true). He doesn’t really have enough to live on, in a country where many people are, sadly, in the same boat. The government promises him some support, given what he went through, but he never receives it. He eventually dies destitute at 86, without even enough to pay for a funeral. Shameful. So what do you do? You smuggle his body out of the hospital, put it in a taxi, take it to the regional governer’s office and leave it on the floor there as a mark of protest. Obviously.

Edit: Apologies, I garbled that rather. The unfortunate Mr Canellas had no traceable family, and his mortal remains were used for political purposes by his associates at the Organisation for the Defense of Victims of Dictatorship, who are trying to get the government to comply with a resolution passed in 2004 offering compensation to survivors of repression.

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As requested, some homegrown Bolivian satire to rival Venezuela’s Chiguire Bipolar: Boris Miranda, author of Ventarrón, brings to our attention the Alasitas special E-Keko. It’s a ‘periodiquito’ put together by some of those same redoubtable geeks who are Twittering like mad and bringing you open source software, Bolivian style.

The whole thing’s a riot, but my personal favourite has got to be Leopoldo Fernandez’s mocked-up Facebook page (‘Leopoldo is reading ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’…Leopoldo has become a fan of ‘Papillon’) and the ‘classifieds’

VENDO partido oppositor, casi sin uso y con buena bancada parlamentaria, ideal para fogearse en las proximas elecciones. Ref. Tuto Quiroga’

Congratulations all round, nerds bolivianos, aplausos!

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Okay, so it’s in the past now and the protests are over, but it’s worth pointing out that the same day that the family of his erstwhile VP were being whipped, stoned and driven out from their house partly for their association with him, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was a keynote speaker at a Harvard Business School symposium on Latin America entitled, ‘Today, We Build The Future’.

Yup, you can crash your country’s economy, preside over the massacre of dozens of people AND have an appeal for your extradition outstanding, and the bright young things of Harvard will still be flocking to hear your wisdom! Meanwhile back in Bolivia, the campaign to bring Goni to justice grinds on and the lingering resentment over his administration’s corruption, disastrous economic policies and heavy-handed repression is still enough to provoke outright attacks like that carried out against the Cárdenas family.

The title of his talk? ‘Recovering Stability In Times of Crisis: The Perspective of a Leader’. I haven’t laughed so much since Pompeii!

‘Well, estimados amigos mios, once you’ve provoked the crisis by adhering slavishly to IMF policies which exacerbate poverty in your country, and selling off everything that was there to sell, what I recommend is that you order the army to kill a load of unarmed people and then skip the country after having emptied out the Treasury. Leave some other poor sap to try to clear up your mess, and settle down to a life of leisure in Virginia! Also, don’t even worry about going back and facing a trial: if you insist loud enough that the Bolivian justice system won’t treat you fairly, your old college buddies in the US won’t make you. That’s how I keep things stable, personally’.

Or to quote someone else:

‘If there is a government in the USA which fights against terrorism and corruption and which defends human rights and democracy, it should expel the murderer and delinquent Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada as soon as possible’

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Evo in the New York Times


(copied and pasted)

Let Me Chew My Coca Leaves

Published: March 13, 2009

THIS week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia’s commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.

Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.

Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.

The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.

Mistakes are an unavoidable part of human history, but sometimes we have the opportunity to correct them. It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 14, 2009, on page A21 of the New York edition.

(Hat tip: AT)

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Once again from RedBolivia:

British immigration authorities have strengthened the visa requirements for visitors from Bolivia and Venezuela.

According to officials, tourists from those countries will be forced to provide fingerprints and pay a fee to obtain a visa before entering Britain. The BBC News reported that those countries “failed a test of the threat posed by their citizens in terms of security, immigration and crime.”

So now it costs £65 for a Bolivian citizen to get a vistor’s visa to the UK. What crap. Yeah, right, Home Office, everybody in the UK is paralysed with worry over those well-known Bolivian organised crime syndicates taking root in Acton and Peckham. I think they’ve been taking reports of the ‘talibanes aymaras’ too seriously. Or possibly the UK just has ridiculously stringent immigration rules which involve incarcerating innocent children (PDF) and coercing those who are refused asylum into leaving the country by forcing them to live in unbearable poverty. Wankers, wankers everywhere, nor any drop of sense.

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Vaya Bolivia

Photo by T’anta Wawa, please do not re-use without permission

Good luck today in the friendly against Mexico, boys! Shouldn’t worry, the match is in Denver and you’re used to playing at altitude, right? Also, who is this nobody coaching Mexico these days? Sven somebody? I hear the last national team he coached were shite.

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whoah no way

They did what to former Bolivian VP Victor Hugo Cárdenas? Apparently a group of campesinos stormed his house, burnt his things and beat up members of his family. The Los Tiempos article suggests that it’s to do with him raising his voice against the new Constitution and hinting about running for President this December. Perhaps it’s also intended as punishment for his ‘neoliberal years’ (1993 – 1997) alliance with former Prez Gonzalez Sánchez de Lozada, who went on to be elected for a second term selling off Bolivia’s natural resources, became enmeshed in popular protests against the sale of gas reserves at bargain-basement prices, ordered the army to fire on unarmed protesters and thus presided over the deaths of over 80 people. He then resigned ignomiously and skipped the country – he’s still at liberty in the USA at the time of writing, practicing his golf swing safe in the knowledge that his pals in Washington probably won’t extradite him.

There’s something weird but symmetrical about the first Aymara vice-president being on the receiving end of this twisted version of justicia comunitaria. Of course, ‘authentic’ community justice or customary law as recognised in the new constitution doesn’t involve breaking into people’s houses and beating them up, it generally means much longer consensus-led deliberation on offenses committed, followed by a restorative rather than punitive approach to reparations, and has little to do with the periodic lynchings which stain the Bolivian headlines. It’s rather bitter that the family of Cárdenas, the groundbreaking Aymara politician and former Katarista radical, should suffer from this kind of violence while Goni takes tea in DC, knowing that the civil case against him will drag out for a nice long time, and that there’s little danger of the US government sending him back to face the (rough) music.

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