According to Los Tiempos, former US president Jimmy Carter has declared himself to be proud of his friendship with Evo Morales and is looking forward to coming back to Bolivia in December for the elections…and the coca harvest. Carter invited Evo to come and harvest peanuts on his farm in Georgia, see, so Evo has invited him in turn to come to Chapare and cultivate coca. It’s all reciprocal like a big international mink’a (work party), except that Carter won’t be able to take any of the coca back to Georgia with him on account of it still being classified (ridiculously) by the UN as an illegal drug indistinguishable from cocaine.

Speaking of mutuality, Evo seemed impressed with Barack Obama, based on their encounter at the Summit of the Americas: ‘Obama came to attention because he’s seeking relations of mutual respect. He listened to all the Latin American presidents at the summit, whereas other US Presidents just talk and then go’. All very promising for US-Bolivian relations, especially when Hillary Clinton is on record recently as saying, ‘We want to see if we can figure out how to get an ambassador back and work with Morales in Bolivia’. Could the page be turning?

I haven’t posted about the whole Santa Cruz hotel room/dodgy international mercenary gang/police shootout debacle until now, but I’m pleased to see that the big boy bloggers have been taking on the essential job of disseminating information about the attackers and the circumstances. More of that in a minute. Today, my boss Alex at the Bolivia Information Forum has put together a cut-out-and-keep, bullshit-proof summary of what went down, available here. You will probably be familiar by now with the gory details – a shoot-out on April 15th in which a gang of international thugs who were (almost certainly) plotting to assassinate the President were cornered in a hotel room by police, with three of them being killed in the ensuing gun battle, and several arrests following. You might also know that there have been links drawn between this band of roving guns-for-hire and the opposition leaders of Santa Cruz, in the form of transfers of lawyers guns and money via the Bolivian co-ordinator of the thoroughly dodgy right-wing lobbying NGO Human Rights Foundation. The BIF report gives a brief bio of each of the dead terrorists and summarises the aftermath of the case, but it’s probably the last two paragraphs which are most worth reading and taking note of:

Regardless of who exactly were the sponsors of the group, its existence is indicative of anti-democratic elements operating in the media luna region. In the face of continued defeats in national electoral contests (such as the constitutional referendum in January), and the likelihood of another victory for Morales in the December presidential elections, extreme tactics are now being employed to defend elite interests in Santa Cruz and elsewhere. There have been some 30 attacks in Santa Cruz on houses and offices of people linked to the government (including members of congress, ministers, and social movement leaders) as well as some members of the opposition and attacks on the offices and personnel of human rights organisations. These actions reached their zenith in the wave of violence last September in Santa Cruz and the main towns of the media luna which ended in a massacre of indigenous peasants by an armed group in the department of Pando.

A United Nations report into the Pando massacre, released in March, attributed the killings to members of the local prefecture and civic committee in Pando. Published at the same time was the UN OHCHR annual human rights report which pointed to the activities of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista and groups like them that operate with the support of the civic committees in the media luna. Even if the allegations of involvement of the prefect and business leaders in Santa Cruz prove inconclusive, these actions are an indication that a campaign to promote terror was on the cards. Rather than condemning the presence the armed group in their midst, the incident has served as a rallying point for the cruceño opposition. ”

The would-be assassins in the hotel room may or may not be linked to the ‘democratic ‘ opposition in Santa Cruz – it’ll be a knotty problem for investigators to work out, and then a knottier one for observers to work out whether they trust the investigators, which is why it’s a Good Thing that the government has allowed an international investigation, for greater impartiality. But even if Marinkovich and his baseball-bat wielding pals turn out to be entirely unconnected with this, what does it say to you that instead of repudiating the plotters and condemning any suggestion of attempts on the life of the President, they are closing ranks and raising their voices in defense of those arrested for complicity in the plot? Not reassuring, is it?

Roving Blogger

Sorry it’s been so silent here. I’ve been working on my own vertical archipelago system of internet presence, in classic Andean stylee, which is to say that I’ve been establishing footholds in other niches so as to encourage close and fertile collaboration with this one. As part of this, I was asked to write an editorial piece on recent events in Bolivia and obliged…after drinking lots of coffee. Ranting ensued. Stay tuned for more speculative and impatient updates as the election year heats up!

In the meantime, check out some of the interesting and ever-growing sites being put together by Bolivians building communications bridges with the rest of the world, like Red Bolivia Mundo, put together by the prolific and poetic webmistress of Los Bosques, @xeduarda. Then there’s the unstoppable blogging behemoth Angel Caido, with every finger on a different pulse. Don’t take my word for how things are going down in Bolivia: if you’re capable, language-wise, it’s always my preference that you should pay attention to what Bolivians are saying.

Following Olivia Harris‘s shockingly sudden death, Xavier Albó has written movingly of his friend and colleague with a fluency and a beauty which it is an honour to translate. This article was originally published in La Razon. The original, Spanish version of the text follows underneath a cut.

Memories of Olivia Harris
by Xavier Albó

Many public events of these days have merited our reflection. But my mind and heart are now on a subject much more personal and human: the rapid and unexpected death of Olivia Harris. It arrives shortly after the death, this time after a long illness, of another good friend and colleague about whom many have written recently, Jose Luis Roca, both brought down amid us by cancer. Here I will not focus on Olivia’s fecund and well-cared-for academic production, but on the human and personal dimension of Olivia.

I met Olivia at the start of the 70s, when she stayed several times in my house in La Paz. She was a young English girl, lively and jovial, who possessed a great touch with people. Together, we travelled around the altiplano of Jesus and San Andres de Machaca, and together we worked on one of her first local pieces, on miners and peasants.

Olivia belonged to a well-connected British family, associated with the upper levels of the Anglican church and even linked to the Crown. But she immersed herself fully over many years in a completely different world, in the community of Muruq’u Marka, a day’s travel away from the paved road in the south of the Mining District of Catavi, in the far south of Ayllu Laymi, near the conflictive dividing line with Ayllus Jukumani and Qaqachaka. Upon presenting her credentials in the Direccion Nacional de Cultura in La Paz they told her she should study Quechua. She did. But when she arrived, she discovered that the people were Aymara, although many knew Quechua as a second language.

The comunity members thought highly of her because she shared all their lives with them: worked in the fields, herded llamas, danced in fiestas, ate and slept whatever and wherever. They admired her audacity to go on foot anywhere, to cross rivers in rainy season. She ran around all those stretches of land mostly on foot, sometimes even on a large motorbike which a teacher lent her. Over six months she accompanied the llama caravans to the Mizque valleys. Jaime Bartolli, at that time of Uncia parish, reminds me of a detail which is her all over: at the most unexpected hour and day, she appeared around there with her poncho – and her violin!

What might have brought her to so much adventure? Excited by the talks of John Murra, the great innovator of Andean studies, she was a pioneer in transcending the Peruvian perspective which was at that time so dominant, and completing it with the novel and complex cultural expressions of Northern Potosí. In those years, many local collaborators helped her, particularly Eusebio Inca Vilka and his wife Lidia.

Some ayllus further on, en San Marcos Vallada de Macha, Tristan Platt, another Briton, followed a complementary path. Further north, the French historians Therese Bouysse and Thierry Saignes (dec. 1992) added data and historical depth. Further south, Veronica Cereceda gave an aesthetic touch, with her unique sensitivity. From this emerged a whole team, soon accompanied by a troupe of researchers, as many Bolivian and Andean as from other countries, who have renovated our understanding and commitment to the Andean peoples of Bolivia, Peru, the north of CHile and of Argentina.

The human warmth of her first years were repeated in all the years which have come since until the very day of her death, accompanied by Harry, her dear husband and Marina, her so longed-for and beloved Anglo-Bolivian daughter.

Not many years after her time in Muruq’u Marka, her principal collaborator and co-researcher Eusebio Inka died prematurely at 35 years olf, from a lack of medical attention in a Potosí hospital, from an easily curable disease. This greatly hurt and worried Olivia as much for his wife Lidia as for himself and his children. Little would I have thought that, with the passing o the years and despite the impeccable care of the British medical system, death the thief would assault her in a similarly brutal manner.

Now she has met up again with Eusebio in that other spring of life, that which none of us comprehend but we know of and accept. The Laymis themselves taught her to accept with hope the mystery which, sooner or later, all of us walk through. Olivia, you continue very alive and present in our memories and all of the work which you have left us.

Xavier Albo is a linguist, anthropologist and Jesuit priest.

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Bolivia’s been in the news for many reasons in the last few weeks, and there’s a regular old pile of stories to be dissected and reposted: UN human rights reports, opening of relations with the USA, footballing triumph and oh my, assassination attempts! But I am afraid to say that all of this has been overshadowed by tremendous grief and shock at the death of Olivia Harris, who among many other things was my PhD supervisor. Writing this with a heavy heart, it feels that to follow this announcement with the customary sarcastic digestion of news is to trivialise it. I’ve also been reluctant to put it up here because frankly, that would mean admitting that she is dead, and that has been difficult. It’s illogical that someone so lively, warm and important should be suddenly gone. But she is.

Olivia’s influence in British anthropology and Latin American studies has been immense, but her contribution to thinking about Bolivia is perhaps even more significant. She carried out fieldwork in Ayllu Laymi, Norte de Potosi, and explored gender, landholding, cosmology and productivity. In the 1980s she published essays on gendered violence and reproduction that brought Andean realities into contact with feminist thought. Her background in philosophy and history gave her writing a framework of reference that made it pertinent and interesting far beyond anthropology, and she was also deeply interested in law and legal systems. Olivia’s influence, one suspects, was at the heart of many of the most interesting monographs to be written about the Andes and beyond in the last few years: Professor Les Back, for example, was one of her first supervisees.

I didn’t know it, but I was one of her last. I first met Olivia in 2003. I was a nervous recent graduate eager to carry on studying the politics and cultures of highland Bolivia, intimidated by the interview with Big Famous Name Olivia Harris. She put me at my ease immediately and we laughed and teased out research ideas. This unaffected warmth, generosity, patience and eagerness to muck in and discuss research questions continued to characterise every interaction we had, even at the nadir of sluggish PhD production, blockage, angst and frustration. Many times I went into meetings with Olivia embarrassed about a lack of progress or unsure of the value of my ideas, and I always – always came out reassured, buoyed, encouraged and inspired to continue writing. Just ten days before her death, it was announced that she was very unwell. I don’t think anyone could have expected her to leave us so abruptly. This is one of the moments of rupture she described as her latest research interest: traumatic, certainly and life-altering for many, not least her family. In addition to her personal kindness, compassion and charisma, there are a great many threads of investigation and thought left unwoven. The loss of all the possible projects, all the future books and seminars and collaborations, is difficult on an entirely different level than the personal pain of losing someone who was a parent figure, friend and mentor to so many. Olivia, thank you for the extraordinary gift of having had you in our lives. We will miss you searingly.

James Dunkerley, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London School of Advanced Study, wrote Olivia’s obituary for the Guardian. As one expects from James, it is academically robust in describing some of her key contributions, and tender in describing her life and how beloved she was by friends and colleagues. It follows below the cut, as does the text of a brief article from La Prensa including a note of mourning from her Bolivian colleagues. It is deeply sad that most of them will be unable to come to her funeral, but they have this to say:

‘Your friends, we who saw you arrive in the 70s for your fieldwork with the Laymis, we who shared with you your joys, slept, ate, cried and danced at your side, those who know of your commitment to our struggles, advances and retreats thank you deeply and wish you to know that we are with you, always’.

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Wow! Bolivia just played some stunning football and trounced the Argentinians. It really would take the hand of God to help you now, Dieguito! (There are Twitterers even now declaring, ‘I was here!’ from Hernando Siles. Historic, apparently).

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.

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.

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!

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’