Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"¡Somos Asesinos!" Just Doesn't Cut It

Thanks to Otto for pointing it out: An Unasur commission, headed by Argentinian lawyer Rodolfo Mattarollo, is set to investigate the massacre in Pando. There are many conflicting reports of what actually happened there, some of them absolutely insane. But most, including AP's account, indicate that militants from the anti-Morales opposition machine-gunned Morales supporters. Opposition leaders, whose supporters regularly shout "¡Evo Asesino!", obviously want to blame this on the peasants; their slogan depends on it.

Jokes aside, it's a pretty impotant step to clear this up, find the responsible party (Leopoldo Fernandez, former prefect of Pando, looks to be the likely instigator), and mete out some justice--as much, anyway, as can be salvaged from this unfortunate, brutal, and cowardly event.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brief Round-Up

AP investigates the massacre of Porvenir. Guess what, Lorien? Looks like the oppos/fascists/easter bunnies were not just there to give out chocolate eggs:
Opposition leaders deny their side used a machine gun. But a lightweight 9-mm submachine gun was among the weapons the military says it seized from 13 Fernandez supporters it arrested.
Also, neat lines of bullet holes sprayed across the caravan's vehicles before they were set ablaze by an opposition mob are consistent with automatic-weapons fire.


Simon Romero actually uses the words "fascistic" and "Nazi" in the first two paragraphs in an otherwise softball profile of Branco Marinkovic.

BoRev gets the milk-spraying-out-of-my-nose award for this:
Colombia's Uribe talked about cocaine. He told the West to stop snorting it and send him more money. "Whoever buys a personal dose of illicit drugs, helps to set off a car bomb in Colombia." He must be real fun at the after-parties. And oh BTW his administration has to answer for another drug-related para-politica scandal.


What else is going on out there? You tell me--I've been in the mountains all day!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two More Videos

Two videos for you now: No. 1 is from the night of Sept. 23, showing the valiant non-fascistic, torch-bearing cambacrowds rallying in Plaza 24 de Septiembre in central Santa Cruz, ready to defend their city from the swarthy, bad-mannered and dangerous hoards of nasty Cuadillo Evo Mao Chavez-worshiping poor people who had surrounded the city, blocking it off from essential supplies. (Never mind that the cambas started those blockades, hey!) The next morning, alas, the city was razed by campesinos and the entire population was cannibalized.

video
What? It didn't happen? But I have proof of those campesinos' intentions in this next video, which shows them throwing themselves in front of my taxi as I approached a roadblock into Santa Cruz. Because they HATE gringos. (How many times have I been assaulted while traveling in Bolivia, I cannot count! See note below.) Listen closely and you can hear Venezuelan army snipers shooting at me from the trees. This is crazy here, folks! Americans: Stay away! (See second note.)

video

(Note: I can't count to zero.)
(Second note: The only problem I've had in Bolivia was a couple of days ago with a Texan hotelier, who I think hates all New Yorkers, especially ones that forget to pay for their coffee refills. So I really don't want to see anymore of you estadounidenses while I'm down here.)

Various Pics

Here's more video from various rallies in the Plaza 24 de Septiempre in Santa Cruz on Sept. 23, the day before the rumored invasion of pro-government forces which have been camped on the outskirts of the city. Following is a shot of grafitti in Santa Cruz, and pictures of the roadblocks en route to the city from the old highway to Cochabamba. (Grumble, grumble. I tried to upload that video for two hours, and it failed. Maybe later, folks.)





Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fascism

We've been having some fun in the comments section about defining fascism/Nazism/whatnot. This argument is far from over, but I want to offer a tidbit I found on Machetera (whom I'm embarrassed I haven't read earlier, but will keep going back there). Anyway here's an excerpt.
“This civil war has resulted in already almost half the country being in the hands of the fascists, and I say fascists, because they operate by the use of force, violence, with non-parliamentary groups typical of fascists, with the backing of the middle class, by taking public buildings of all kinds, paralyzing gas pipelines, even blowing up pipelines, taking control of police stations, customs, etc...."

Read the whole thing here.

O.K., enough for tonight. I've got a speedier Internet connection today, so more videos of hooligans tomorrow. I can't do it tonight, because I have to call my mom. She gets worried when I hang out with fascists!

Update: Got to Machetera NOW! Especially if you're a dumb gringo like me who takes forever to translate the Spanish-language news. It's a treasure trove!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Video of the Strange Parade/Rally Last Night

Here is the promised video of a group of people vowing to defend Santa Cruz last night. Notice the salutes and armbands that are strangely reminiscent of another era. While there was something sinister and anachronistic about the assembled throngs (more video of which I'll post later), I found the turnout to be much less than I expected. At no point were there more than 200 to 250 people assembled--a very small number considering that they allegedly were there to defend their city from the unwashed masses of poor gathered on their doorstep.
video
Perhaps I'm bringing my own psychology into the equation, but I sensed (or projected) a feeling, not of shame, but perhaps that things had gone too far. I think that the conflict has been publicized worldwide enough that the antics of the opposition is now seen as ridiculous. Cutting one's nose off to spite one's face doesn't raise sympathy for your cause, only contempt.

That said, I was treated better in Santa Cruz this time around than I had been earlier. My first two stays there I was shocked at how uncommunicative and rude people were to me. There was a kind of arrogance in the air. This time, my waitress and hotel staff recognized me and welcomed me in warmly. Granted, this is their big city-founding-festival time, and the roadblocks and civil unrest have really emptied their coffers. So even a poor, threadbare gringo like me with little to spend has to be welcomed. Although that didn't stop me from leaving right away, as I've found a semi-paradise in the hills I was anxious to return to.

I've got better video quality on my computer, but the file is just too large to upload from rural Bolivia. If anyone has any suggestions on how to post 30-plus-meg files, let me know.

Ouch!

I missed this yesterday, from El Dude. I was too busy shuttling back and forth in S.C. state, snapping pix of cambas locas. But please do read it, especially if you are from the U.S. I've been getting pretty pissed at the portrayal of the Bolivian conflict in my country's media, and El Dude hits one out of the park with his analyis, basically calling B.S. on this hack.

Don't ever piss on the Dude's carpet, man. It ties the room together.

Also, check out this map he dug up from the Camba Nación. Where the hell is La Paz? What did they do with all the Indians?

Respite

According to various sources, including El Deber, the campesinos have suspended their march into Santa Cruz until later this week in order "to facilitate dialog." With the activities last night, I felt sure something was going to give today, but it looks like Morales is using the threat of a campesino takeover of Santa Cruz as a bargaining chip with his ongoing negotiations with the opposition.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Prelude to the Battle of Santa Cruz?

Cambas are steeling themselves tonight for what might a tumultuous day tomorrow, as pro-government supporters are rumored to begin pushing into the city center to reclaim government buildings that the opposition has held since last week's anti-Morales riots. Shopowners are boarding up windows around Plaza 24 de Septiember, and large crowds are holding rallies. Shouts of "We must be strong" and "Evo is an asshole" (it sounds better in Spanish) compete with fireworks to grab the crowd's attention. Some of the green-and-white flags they are carrying say "Camba Nation."

Below are a couple of videos of parades that circled the plaza. The first is replete with people giving salutes that look similar to the old Heil Hitler, a curious choice for a movement that has been accused by many critics, including me, of abject racism and fascistic tendencies. Notice the armbands, too, with are imprinted with the swastika-like symbol of the city. The second video features the "Youth Brigade," dressed in military fatigues and carrying torches, for that extra-creepy look and feel. Following the videos are random pictures I snapped throughout the day.

The videos are not going to happen for the moment, as the Internet in Bolivia is too slow for a 30-meg file. You'll have to be content with photos till I can compress the movie files on my laptop (I'll try to get to it tomorrow, I promise).

Damn, the Internet is slow in S.C. You only get one two pictures for now, this has taken an hour already, and I'm hungry.

In Santa Cruz

Contrary to the scuttlebut, there weren't mobs of enraged campesinos on the outskirts of the city, armed to the teeth with dynamite and guns, awaiting Comrade Morales' orders to storm on in. In fact, it was relaxing between the barricades. I saw no mobs at all. (There are several stores in the city center, though, that have boarded-up windows in anticipation of violence--possibly tomorrow, I hear. But then again, most of what I've heard just hasn't come true.)

Natch, I got pictures, but I'm heading out of town again. I don't want to spend the night in this city. They'll possibly be posted tonight, but tomorrow is more likely.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Interesting

While I frequently always disagree with Lorien, she's got some suggestions on how Evo might gain a second presidential term:

... he has two strategic options:
One month prior to the next election, Evo could resign as president of Bolivia. His vice president would become president. Evo would be legally free to run for re-election.
Alternatively, he could have made all of his concessions to the opposition conditional on an amendment to the current Constitution which would allow him to run for re-election. That’s it.

And since I'm flummoxed about how he's going to be able to rewrite the constitution (which is the only way, so far, he'd be able to retain power for a second term), I'll entertain those two ideas. (Though I think the second is farfetched; you'd have some pissed-off MASistas if he did that.)

Two Stories

First, Project Censored highlights work from Upside Down World, the NACLA, CISPES, and AlteNet, with reporting on the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador (basically, a School of the Americas for the police). While centered in Central America, it gives a glimpse at the influence the U.S. is trying to exert on other places in Lating America, too, with a mention of Bolivia at the end of the report. Check it out. Very informative: "Is the U.S. Restarting Dirty Wars in Latin America?"

Also, the BBC reports that the "Russian Navy Sails to Venezuela," which would indicate that American power, influence and prestige has dissipated to such a low point that, well, the Russian navy is sailing to Venezuela. Isn't the U.S. Fourth Fleet still hanging out down there? Jesus.

Water Rights and Bolivia

The Walrus, a literary magazine out of Canada, has an article up about water rights in Bolivia, and a new approach that uses usos y costumbres to guarantee access to water in perpetuity. Remember, it was the Water War in 2000 (after privatization by Bechtel--wonder why gringos have a bad name?--a tripling of water prices, and the declaration of criminality in collecting rainwater) that saw several people dead in riots that year.

A Correction

Earlier I made the comment the "nobody is stranded in Bolivia," or some words to that effect. My present situation proves that wrong. I do think that, if I had to, I could flee the country, as the airport in Santa Cruz is open now and it is possible to run the roadblocks to get there. But it's certainly not easy to get around, and I don't want to paint a dishonest picture.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Payback Is a .....

Over in Buena Vista, in Santa Cruz state, campesinos gave the town a fright when a couple thousand of them apparently started to throw lit sticks of dynamite around, according to La Razón. Shades of what's to come when they hit the city of Santa Cruz?

Cerca de dos mil campesinos arribaron ayer por la mañana al municipio cruceño de Buena Vista haciendo detonar cachorros de dinamita, lo que provocó pánico en la gente, informó el alcalde Vladimir Chávez.


Update: The march on Santa Cruz is apparently stopped, according to a message board I've found. I've no idea if it's true or not, but that's good news if the report is right.

Roadblocks to the Left of Me, Roadblocks to the Right, Here I am

It's official: I'm stuck! Through the grapevine I hear that the opposition has removed their roadblocks surrounding Santa Cruz, yet now we have pro-government forces erecting their own. So, while the country is slowly gaining stability, there's still a whole bunch of pissed-off people. In fact, there's supposed to be a whole bunch of angry MASistas on their way to Santa Cruz "to take back what is theirs." (I quote a anti-MAS shopkeeper just outside of Santa Cruz who calls MAS "a bunch of regressives," so interpret that according to your own political philosophy/party sympathy--I've got no insight at the present moment.)

What this means at Down South headquarters is that our staff of one is on a forced vacation! Could be worse--we could be stuck in Santa Cruz. Instead, we are still in a little town just a couple of hours out (no, we ain't saying where, as it's a pro-autonomy town and we don't want the locals to know they have an Evo sympathizer in their midst; they are nice folks here, and we don't feel like rocking the boat). We can't get to Cochabamba, and we don't feel like negotiating roadblocks just to end up in Santa Cruz (yuck!). So here we sit, watching our dwindling money supply (no banks in town, natch), and reading bad science fiction and mystery novel (thank god for the local book exchange).

Meanwhile, El Dude has published a letter from Latin Americanists asking the U.S. to disclose who the recipients are of your tax dollars (that is, besides the banking industry). Here's an excerpt, but go over to Abiding in Bolivia for the whle thing.

We call on the U.S. government to turn a new page in its relations with Latin America by clearly and unequivocally condemning the violent, destructive and anti-democratic means employed by members of Bolivia's pro-"autonomy" opposition. Most importantly, Washington must also disclose its funding for groups inside Bolivia - through USAID and other agencies - and reveal the names of the recipients of these funds. The U.S. government must cease any and all support - financial or otherwise - to any group or person in Bolivia and other Latin American countries that engages in violent, destructive, terrorist, or anti-democratic activities such as we have witnessed with great shock and sadness in the past weeks in Bolivia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Feed the Wealthy

Jesus, I learn something every day! From a Newsweek interview with Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research:
I was in Bolivia a couple months ago and I met with the Central Bank and the ministries. The government has $ 7 billion in reserves right now in the Central Bank, which is an awful lot [considering] their whole GDP is only $13.2 billion. Most of it is owned by the prefectures, the provinces, so they have a lot of money. So it is hard to explain why they would raise such a fuss over the government wanting to take a small part of that and use it for some pensions for people over 60, which also goes to their own residents.

Primer in U.S. Intervention in Bolivia

I'm still a bit out of the mix here in Bolivia, enjoying a sojourn in a small town in the foothills of the Andes. I've no plans for the next week to hit La Paz, Santa Cruz or Cochabamba, where all the action (what little there is) is going on. It's a cooling-off period here at Down South and, I hope, for the rest of the country. Things are looking up indeed.

While we all catch our breath and celebrate the seeming success of Bolivian and South American sovereignty, let's also take into account the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America. We all know the big ones: Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc., etc. But to get a small taste of U.S. interference in Bolivia, check out Stephen Zunes's great little primer over at Foreign Policy in Focus. Here's an excerpt that I found extremely illuminating, and which explains the extreme violence and intransigency of the medialuna departments:
Under Morales, Bolivia has attempted to strengthen the Andean Community of Nations and the signing last year of a "People's Trade Treaty" with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba is indicative of the desire to strengthen working economic and political alliances outside of direct U.S. influence in order to be better able to stand up to Washington.

As a result, Morales and the MAS seem better positioned to withstand economic pressure from the United States. Unlike the MNR in the 1950s, Morales comes out of a popular mass movement of the country's poor and indigenous majority, which is very different than the predominantly white middle-class leadership of reformist officers under the previous government. Combined with economic support from oil-rich Venezuela and Morales' efforts at strengthening its economic relationships with Bolivia's Latin American neighbors, MAS has made it possible for the Bolivians to resist buckling under the kind of pressure imposed by the United States a half-century earlier.

The Current Uprising
It's this very ability to better withstand the kind of economic pressures the United States had until recently been able to exert, either directly or through international financial institutions, which has led to recent violence in Santa Cruz and elsewhere in the wealthier white and mestizo-dominated eastern sectors of the country. As a result of the reduced leverage of their friends in Washington, which had previously enabled them to rule the country, certain elite elements now appear willing to violently separate themselves and the four eastern provinces in which they are concentrated.

With much of Bolivia's natural gas wealth located in the east, and taking advantage of the endemic racism of its largely white and mestizo population against the country's indigenous majority, now in positions of political power for the first time, these right-wing forces appear ready to either bring down Morales or secede from the country. Earlier this year they sacked and burned government buildings, murdered government officials and supporters, attacked journalists, sabotaged a key natural gas pipeline, and renounced any allegiance to Bolivia's democratically elected government.

While the leadership of the Organization of American States and virtually every Latin American president has condemned the uprising the U.S. government has not, adding to concerns that United States may indeed have a hand in the violence.


So, while the violence and vandalism which the opposition has been engaged in is frightening and harmful to Morales, according to the above it comes out of situation where the perpetrators have no other recourse. The usual avenues of undermining the government are closed, and now, like a spoiled child who cannot get what he wants, they stand there holding their breath under they turn blue, hurting themselves more than than their avowed enemy.


Not to say that that all the pro-government supporters have acted like angels. I have (unconfirmed) reports that the current roadblocks are being manned by pro-Morales forces, who are disappointed in the president's mild response to the provocations of the opposition. But these efforts, thankfully, appear to be sputtering out.


I think Morales deserves much recognition for his measured response to the situation here that's played out in the last few weeks. Instead of a mano dura, as the crowd of supporters chanted for him to use when celebrating his referendum victory a month ago in Plaza Murillo, he waited out the crisis, strengthened himself politically, and defused the situation masterfully (the exception being the massacre in Pando, which I think was a horror to everyone except for the extreme nutcases and helped Morales in the end).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reading Assignment

I actually have work to do today (I know, I am not too happy about it, but I have to eat), so I am not glued to the Internet nor watching the news nor reading the local papers that much today. But things are looking up--to me, at least--and Jim Shultz at the Democracy Center has a good analysis of recent developments. Go there, then stop by and say hello to Otto and El Dude, because you will not find me covering protests in Santa Cruz today, as I left town. Currently, I am holed up in the foothills in a sleepy little town. Dogs are sleeping in the street, and I am tempted to join them. It looks comfortable!

But sometimes the life of a traveling copy editor dictates sitting on the terrace above the central plaza, sipping beer and digging down and making sure that the verb agrees with the noun. (Or whatever--anybody got a style guide? I left mine in La Paz.)

Lies, Lies, Lies, Exagerations

Not to be outdone by the loonies in Santa Cruz, the Bush administration is now offering flights to U.S. citizens out of Bolivia--at cost. Citing increased political tension, it has yanked the Peace Corps out of the country and advises other U.S. to consider leaving. Why the U.S. is doing this--especially when there are dozens if not hundreds of airplanes flying in and out of the country every single day--is not clear from reports. Nobody, I repeat, NOBODY is stuck in Bolivia. Perhaps it has to do with the U.S. ambassador having been sent packing?

Coincidentally (because none of these actions are related the other, mind you), Bolivia just popped up on the U.S. drug blacklist.

Actually, you know, maybe this is all true, because if the Bush administration were to just invent all this it would look incompetent, and it's certainly done a fine job so far in foreign relations till now!

Also, more hysteria from Time. Civil war? I don't think so. The entire continent has rallied around Morales; Bolivia is a landlocked country. And did I hear "67%"? Yes, I did.

I think that a lot of these doomsday scenarios--particularly the ones coming out of Washington--are being used to exacerbate the crisis, nothing more. There is a crisis going on, but recent events have illuminated a peaceful way out. Information is what we need to understand what is going on down here, and, as usual, the U.S. government is covering something up. Call and write to your representative and senator and demand that all information be released as to what groups the U.S. is funding in Bolivia.
Update: Ten Percent sums it up so much better:
So this is how the Empire responds when its subversion fails, for the gullible public it is spun like goody US stands firm against evil druggie rabble (and so nice to smear both Bolivia and Venezuela by lumping them in with frickin’ Burma!). But the timing is clear, it is a response to Bolivia defeating the coup in the east and UNASUR standing in solidarity with Morales. But then no one could ever accuse -former? addict- Bush of not being a petty little shit.

Sad Video Out of Pando

Head over to Inca Kola News, where Otto's got a video of the massacre in Pando. I normally avoid death porn, but it's necessary viewing, if only for the rage it induces. Then, when you are done, use that rage: Call your senator, write your representative, and demand to know who the groups are that the U.S. is funding in Bolivia!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Evo Reels One In; Cambas Cruceños Rally Against Decency

From El Deber: Disgraced Pando prefect Leopoldo Fernández is in custody in La Paz, a day after South American heads of state declared solidarity to Bolivian president Evo Morales. Fernandez is widely seen as responsible for the atrocities earlier this week that saw 30 (or more) pro-Morales supporters killed. Good riddance.(Photo to right shows Leo in custody and boarding a plane for La Paz.)
Update: He has been charged with genocide.

Not wanting to seem either reasonable or even remotely human, cambas cruceños--as I type--are gathered in Plaza 24 de Septiembre in a rally to lend their support to the accused massacre mastermind. Apparently cambas cruceños, no longer happy with the appellation of "The Racist State," are now trying out "The Murder-Loving State." Photos below show good citizens holding up signs that say, "Leopoldo, We All Support You."




All the while, people were chanting that they want "democracy," which in the past has meant the majority of votes, but now the bar has been set to at least 68% for now.

(Cruceños or crucenos? You tell me. Otto sez: cambas. Thanks!)

It Looks Like Evo Came Out on Top


Otto and El Dude have once again summarized the situation down here very well. Check out their sites and read the news for some spectacular recaps on what has just occurred at yesterday's summit meeting among South American leaders. Otto's got the goods on the summit, and El Dude breaks down the motivations of the racist/fascist/meenie opposition. (Photo stolen from El Dude.)

If you are too lazy for that, let me give you a selected rundown (from Otto's translation):

It looks like Evo's hand is once again strengthened. Not only did he receive 67% of the vote last month, but now South America has rallied behind him. I've always wondered what the hell Costas and Marinkovic (prefect of Santa Cruz department and "civic committee" leader, respectively) were thinking when they assumed that Santa Cruz--a landlocked region in a landlocked country--could take control of the state's natural resources. To whom would they sell: Brazil? Argentina? No, both have leftist(-ish) leaders who respect the democratically elected president of Bolivia. Now, that sentiment is formalized. (1. [The participants of the summit lend] [t]heir fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a wide margin in the recent referendum.)

But what of this "autonomy" movement? (Whatever that means. I've never heard nor read a sufficient definition of what that implies, beyond "We don't want to associate with a dirty Indian.") Well, doesn't look like that's going to go too far: (2. [South American leaders] warn that its respective governments energetically reject and do not recognize any situation that implies an intent of civil coup d'etat, the rupture of institutional order, or that compromises the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bolivia.) Boom! Take that, Branko!

And the massacre in Pando, in which at least 30 pro-Morales demonstrators died, cut down while crossing a bridge to their meeting by paramilitaries sniping at them from the treetops (I'm not making this shit up!): ( ... [the leaders] express the firmest condemnation of the massacre that took place in the department of Pando, and support the call made by the Bolivian government for a Unasur [Union of South American Nations] commission to be set up in this brother country to impartially investigate and report this lamentable occurance as soon as possible, and to formulate recommendations in such a way that it is not left unpunished.) Translation: Leopoldo Fernández, you are in a world of hurt. (Although I have a feeling that in the spirit of "reconciliation," these murders might go unpunished.)


If you want to see what fascist thugs beating on defenseless soldiers looks like, here you are (in Spanish, but violence is a universal language).


I think that a lot of credit has to go to Morales himself, who had the prescience to tread lightly in this situation and not send in the army. That, I think, would have played into the hands of the autonomistas, consigning Evo to dictator (in convoluted medialuna logic) and weakening his hand considerably. Instead, Evo played rope-a-dope, taking his hits till his opponents sputtered out of steam. Now he looks like the good guy who didn't resort to violence (although even I, who am a fierce opponent of governmental abuse of authority, could see that military action was justified. (See Hanging Around on the Wrong Side of the World for a discussion of lefty politics and state authority in a time of crisis.)
And last, Counterpunch has a brief Bolivian tutorial that pithily encapsulates the crisis.

And interesting aside: Two nights ago I was eating dinner at a nice German restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz, and the bartender, a cruceña, was speaking to me about the situation in the city. She was nice, adamantly anti-Morales, and intelligent in her opinions. She insisted that the central government had done little to develop the city through the past few decades (I imagine that there's more Miami and cartel money down here than central funds). I was most appreciative of her opinions until she slipped and, with exasperation, she concluded her argument with the most obvious of slurs: "And he's an Indian!" I nodded and tucked back into my Weinerschnitzel.


I've heard the roadblocks are now down, and I expect to catch a bus to Vallegrande later today. It'll be nice to get out of this city. The people are not too nice here, I have to say, with certain exceptions.


Now go and read Otto and El Dude.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hear! Hear!

As I and others have speculated, when U.S. ambassador Goldberg meets with opposition groups in Bolivia it gives the appearance that Washington has a hand into the violence and Balkanization of Bolivia. (Notice my choice of words and Google "Goldberg" and "Balkans." Or just follow this link.)

Well, now the good folks at the Center for Economic and Policy Research have a sensible suggestion:
“Washington has decided to keep its ties to Bolivia’s opposition shrouded in secrecy, and that’s not conducive to trust between the U.S. and Bolivian governments,” said Mark Weisbrot, CEPR Co-Director. “If Washington has nothing to hide in terms of whom it is funding and working with in Bolivia, then it should reveal which groups those are.”

Now, some people think that it's paranoid to attribute to the U.S. all of the odd/evil/tripped-out shit that happens in the world. But it is not like hasn't happened again and again and again.

We're supposed to be a freakin' democracy, folks. How about a little transparency?

And never forget Sept. 11, folks! (No, not that one.)

Abiding in Bolivia

I am flattered in the extreme, and a bit embarrassed. I'm flattered becuase El Duderino over at Abiding in Bolivia has deemed me worthy of a link on his most-excellent blog. This guy has the chops that put most other bloggers to shame. His breakdown of what's going on down here is one of the most valuable sources of information I've found. Please visit him if you want to know a bit more than the news outlets tell you about Bolivia. Recommended!

I'm embarrassed because I haven't put him on my blog roll yet. That changes today.

Thanks, Dude!

From the Democracy Center

For a concise roundup of recent events in Bolivia--including a recap of the gruesome massacre in Pando (in which more bodies are being found as I type)--head on over to Jim Shultz's Democracy Center blog. He's got a special report up now on the situation down here.

Tragic times indeed in Bolivia, but there are also reports that a meeting yesterday between the central government and opposition representatives went smoothly, and there will be a conference today among South American heads of states to support Morales. (Peruvian president Alan Garcia won't attend; his plane was apparently overweight. Sorry, I couldn't help that.)

Where there's talk, there's hope.

Meanwhile, Santa Cruz is calm. It's still blockaded, but there's no violence like there was last week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Maritime Emergency Respone

Time to take a look back at New York City, a little over seven years after that fateful day that did, although I hate to say it, change the world. The Brooklynite on Ice points out to us a fascinating account of Sept. 11, 2001, by Carolina Salguero, the captain of the Mary Whalen. It's an angle to the oft-told story that I've never heard: the response of the maritime industry to that fateful day. Check out the pictures, too. They're great.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Long Way to Santa Cruz

I'm back in Santa Cruz, after an exhausting 15-hour adventure from Cochabamba. If you've been following the news, you know that the anti-Morales opposition has blockaded the roads surrounding Santa Cruz, in protest of hydrocarbon revenues being used to support the elderly and infirm ($26 a month--pretty decadent!).

I wasn't too worried about the blockades, as the cruceños who started them are apparently in cahoots with the U.S. government. Since I'm quasi-credentialed from a U.S. paper, I figured that they'd be sure to let me through (I also have a contact number from the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee on speed-dial, which I was ready to use if anyone messed with me.) Note: The U.S. ambassador has once again been expelled.

I needn't have worried: The blockades, starting about six hours outside of Cochabamba, are relaxed and peaceful (at least the ones I've seen). I planned on arriving at the first of the blockades around sun-up, but my timing was off and it was pitch-dark when the bus pulled over and everyone got off. There was no moon last night, and street lamps don't exist in isolated parts of this country. So I just followed a group of people closely, occasionally stepping on a sleeping figure on the highway, weaving in and out of lumber trucks, buses, private cars. I slipped down an embankment once and couldn't find my footing to get back up on the blacktop, but suddenly I heard "Manos, manos" and saw an outstretched arm coming from the blackness above. I grabbed on and an anonymous Bolivian helped me up. It was quite pleasant in the tropical nighttime air with the wind blowing down the empty highway, the palm-tree fronds clattering off to the side, and strange bird sounds emanating from the brush. The stars were magnificent. I could only recognize the Belt of Orion; all the other stars were unfamiliar to me, a man from the northern hemisphere. The only thing that spoiled the experience was a young girl who kept screaming at me "Monkey, monkey, monkey!" I guess I look like a white monkey.

After our group passed the roadblock--a heap of brush piled high on the road--we sat in the darkness and waited for a vehicle to pick us up. Shortly thereafter, an empty luxury bus charged us a little more than a dollar each to drive us another hour down the road to the next roadblock. I settled into my seat and dozed.

When we stopped, it was light out. All the passengers filed out and we grabbed our luggage, and we started hoofing it to the roadblock, which this time consisted of three-foot-high heaps of dirt. On the other side, motorcycle cabbies waited for customers, but I just followed the other people, and after about two kilometers of huffing and puffing, we came across another roadblock. We pushed on. Two roadblocks later, I finally caved in and hired a motorcycle. Balancing precariously on back, loaded with my duffle bag and backpack, we zipped down the highway, empty except for the occasional other motorcycle cab with a mamita perched sidesaddle on back, voluminous skirt billowing in the wind, until we hit the final roadblock. There, a dump truck was parked, selling space in back for the final push into Santa Cruz. I threw my bags in back and climbed aboard, grateful that I was almost at my destination. I was wrong.

There were still roadblocks ahead on the highway, and to avoid these the driver took to the back roads. A dirt track was now our road, with the truck bouncing over potholes and nearly throwing the passengers off. Tree limbs overhung the route and clawed at my face as we passed underneath. Occasionally the road disappeared entirely and we traveled along vast riverbeds. It's the dry season right now, and the streams are dwarfed by the floodplains. I'd love to see this land when the rivers are swollen and full. Finally, four hours later we arrived in the outskirts of Santa Cruz. I ran to the side of the road and took a long, needed pee. Then I went and flagged a cab down and found my hotel.

My mission is to check out the town where Che Guevara died over forty years ago. I'm trying to put together an article to coincide with Soderbergh's new Che biopic that will be screened at the New York Film Festival next month. That's the plan, anyway. But now I've been told that it's impossible to leave town due to the roadblocks. It was supposed to be impossible to even get to Santa Cruz, though, so I hope tomorrow I can negotiate my way out of here. I don't really like this city--the people are not very friendly, and it's too expensive. But I am tired and worn out, and you never know, there might be riots here again tomorrow, which I should really experience. Last time I was here I pulled out a day before everything really went to hell.

I have to say, though, that the roadblocks and the riots seem to be an immature reaction to the central government's plan to rewrite the constitution and redistribute wealth. I'm too tired to go into it now, but I suggest you read the latest Democracy Center blog entry to gain a view on this volatile situation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bolivian Prisons; Roadblocks Ahead

Yesterday, I had an interesting meeting with two young European women who allegedly tried to smuggle 20 pounds of cocaine out of the country in May. According to police reports, a trained dog smelled the drugs, which were hidden in the false bottom of one of their suitcases. Now both of them (including a friend whom I didn't have the opportunity to talk to) are awaiting their trial, which should be held in a couple of months. I'm not going into details here, because I'm trying to sell the story and don't want to spill the beans and ruin the opportunity, but suffice to say Bolivian prisons are unlike those in the States. It's a chaotic place: an old three-story adobe building with a large courtyard in which hundreds of women sit around and talk, eat, and try to sell food to visitors and inmates alike. There's even a laundromat there, where outsiders can drop off their laundry for the women inmates to clean. Apparently it's a lot cheaper than outside laundromats--if I only knew two days ago, when I arrived in town with my luggage full of smelly clothes.

Today, I'm trying to gain an interview with the local police commandante, to ask him about the alleged drug trafficking. The police, though, are tough nuts to crack, and so far I've been led on a wild goose chase from building to building, always a step behind the commander, who seems to be perpetually on his lunch break.

Tonight I head to Santa Cruz. I have to take a creative route to get there, as the country is currently debilitated by roadblocks in protest of Morales' proposed constitutinal rewrite and the issue of hydrocarbon revenues--whether they should go to a pension fund that gives poor Bolivians approximately $26 a month, or back to the media luna departments composed of whiter and wealthier Bolivians. That's a curious way to gain sympathy for a cause, especially in a country where the populace is overwhelmingly poor and where some say that the political unrest is largely due to the machinations of only 20 wealthy families!

Well, we'll see what happens. I'll also be trying again to speak with Branko Marinkovic, whom the government has just accused of trying to foment a coup.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

R.N.C. Convention

One of the benefits of being truly sick is that it provides a guilt-free opportunity to catch up on all the television that one has missed. So last night, during the last painful spasms of my sickness, I watched a couple of episodes of Law & Order--in which I spotted two former coworkers of mine starring in two different episodes (shout-outs to Santo and Isabel of Three of Cups who played a drug dealer and Det. Stabler's wife, respectively)!--and then, fittingly, Giuliani's and half of Palin's speeches at the Republican Convention.

Starting in reverse order, I was disappointed that Palin didn't freeze and choke during her speech, and immediately was bored to tears. Luckily, Saw IV/Hostel XXI was playing on some movie channel, which I quickly turned the channel to. That seemed a much more appropriate barometer for another four years of Republican rule. (One thing can be said about Palin's family though: They are sure good looking, although the girls and the poor unfortunate sap who is the new daddy sure did look uncomfortable. And was that baby drugged? How did that kid sleep through the whole noisy convention?)

But Giuliani! What a vicious, cold-hearted, malignant tumor he is! The pleasure he took when the audience showed its scorn over the description of Obama as a "community organizer" was astounding! Of course, during his eight years of governing New York City, Giuliani never failed to show that same scorn on organizers throughout the city. And of course, he had to underscore the Sept. 11 attacks all over again, even though if one looked through his résumé one would know who he royally fucked that day up. Well, besides Bin Laden and the Bush administration, which was asleep at the wheel--or worse.

But one thing struck me while watching this production, and that is that Republicans always seem to come from a position of impotent rage. Calling names and heaping scorn on the opposition (whom I'm none too fond of either), they seem to forget that they've been captain of this sinking ship for the past eight years. For the party of "personal responsibility," they've really seem to have lost their marbles.

(And did anybody notice that CNN was going out of it's way to get every African-American convention-goer face time on TV? That was a little disingenuous, as it's being reported that this R.N.C. had the fewest number of blacks in 40 years!)

But Giuliani did help my digestion: Perhaps all his bile somehow mysteriously affected the biological soup in my gut, killing the foreign invaders, because today--although weak and about 10 pounds lighter--I've managed to avoid the bathroom so far, and I've even been able to eat! I always knew Giuliani was full of shit, I just didn't know he'd be able to take mine away.

Update: Al Giordano at The Field says that "community organizer" scorn may just bite the Republicans on their asses.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Lost My Camera in Cochabamba

No, it's not a song, it's what happened.


In other news: When people tell you not to drink the water in Latin America, it's for a very good reason. For the past two days I've been making trips to the bathroom in 15-minute intervals. I am not happy. And I just ran out of T.P.


So I'm a shut-in here in sunny La Paz as of late, and that means I have no news to report to you (besides the decision of the National Electoral Court to annul Morales' decree to hold a referendum later this year on the proposed constitution rewrite).


BTW: You know how these lefty Latin American governments are fascistic? Here's proof. Don't let it happen in the States!

McCain/What's-Her-Name '08!