Protesting-At-Work

2 Aug

I was at Wist’upiku eating a meat-filled charque empanada, which I’d ordered in the morning to maintain the right to be at the café, when my 10 o’clock meeting called me.  “I can’t make it.  There’s no buses today.”  Great, another protest.  Since I’ve been in Bolivia, my work has been impeded by either fiestas or protests.  Sometimes they even impede each other.  I remember one week-long teacher’s protest against low wages that finally ended when all parties took a break for Gran Poder rehearsals.  It was an awesome protest, with burning of effigies of the Ministry of Education, firecrackers, los campesinos hired as protesters, tear-gas from the police (I, as an innocent bystander, got tear-gassed too.  I was just trying to buy a tucumana!*)–and all of this was from teachers, setting a good example for the kids.  There was no school for the duration of the protest and then the parents of the kids started protesting against teachers.  The protest this morning was slightly different.  Instead of protesting against the government, the bus drivers were embroiled in a West-Side story territory battle against each other and collectively decided to strike together to capture the government’s attention so that it could resolve their problems.  If this sounds confusing, it is.  The previous day, bus drivers had come to blows, shattering each others’ glass windows, because someone had stepped on someone’s route.  Now they are hoping that a stoppage of cheap bus transportation will pressure the government to act fast to decide a new route for everybody.  I don’t exactly understand why they would trust the government to make decisions for them.

Protesting actually does work in Bolivia.  The police barely crack down on demonstrators, who sometimes resort to drastic tactics.  I remember the water was cut off for La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, for a couple of days when the campesinos in El Alto, the city above La Paz, turned off the water supply because they didn’t appreciate a government official which had been appointed for them.  The best example of protesting-at-work would be the water wars of Cochabamba, where the citizens, unhappy that the World Bank forced the water rights to be sold to Betchel, forced out international corporation and recaptured the water supply for themselves.  You can read this article about it or wait for the movie with Gael Garcia Bernal to come out.

I’ve been impressed in Bolivia by the level of political awareness and activism here.  I’m not sure if it’s because of or in spite of the history of corruption in the government.  However, as much as individual parties protest against particular grievances such as low salaries or against laws against drunk-driving (yes, it’s written correctly.  Bus drivers in Sucre were furious about a government law which banned drinking while handling a vehicle), Bolivians seem to accept the corruption or bureaucratic inefficiencies of government.  I didn’t see any protests when Evo bought a $40 million airplane, which is now stalled due to a lack of experienced pilots (100 hrs+) in Bolivia.  If only there could be protests against the amount of spending on the military, even the “navy” instead of on education or the lack of environmental protection or for better healthcare facilities.

*I eventually got the tucumana, considered the possibility that it could be poisoned by tear-gas, and ate it.

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2 Responses to “Protesting-At-Work”

  1. the robot November 13, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    God forbid the HEAD OF STATE have a functioning aircraft. You do know that his old model stalled out some months ago/last year?

    • agneschu November 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

      Of course, but the point of controversy was that it was too expensive and useless (at least for months). Here’s an excerpt from Los Tiempos, the newspaper of Cochabamba: “No basta la popularidad presidencial para gastar esa cantidad de dinero cuando pudo, según los expertos, haberse optado por aviones que de igual manera brindan seguridad pero que podrían ser utilizados paralelamente en apoyo a Defensa Civil, a menos costo/hora, con pilotos que en Bolivia existen y de los buenos en BOA y AeroSur, y con personal de tierra que ya conoce de su manejo mecánico. Evo pudo haberse “montado” en un avión más barato y con mayor utilidad pública. No fue así.”

      Translates roughly to: “According to experts, Evo could’ve bought an airplane which would provide him with security but could also be used for other purposes, such as Civil Defense, at a lower cost/hr, that can by flown by current pilots in Bolivia and with staff that already know how to maintain it. Evo could’ve bought an airplane much cheaper and more useful to the public, but it wasn’t so.”

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