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.

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