Sunday, February 27, 2011

Last Post

Wow, the time just flew by here. Friday was my last day of work; I presented the chapter on indigenous self-determination I wrote for a book that will be published here in April, called Pluralismo y Deslinde Jurisdiccional (Legal Pluralism and Jurisdictional Demarcation). It was a really interesting experience, and the people at the think tank deserve an award for agreeing to publish a so-called legal analysis from a 21 year-old with no experience in law nor Bolivian issues.

Apart from finishing my internship, the most exciting thing going on here for the last two weeks have been the strikes. Bolivia has, to say the least, a culture and history of protest and mass mobilization. This, as well as the ubiquity and power of unions, has been explained to me as a result of the historic lack of the State’s presence or help in marginalized sectors of society. The most recent, and ongoing, incident of collective action has been the conflict over public transportation. The transportistas, bus drivers, decided to raise the price of passage from 1.50 to 2 bolivianos, (some context, that is a 7 cent increase in dollar terms, and the bus tariffs haven’t been raised for several years). Cue: people going crazy.

First, bus riders protested the raise by going into the streets and banging on the buses. They successfully communicated their anger, so the drivers’ union decided to respond and pulled all of the buses from the street. Well, the buses were still in the street, but as bloqueos, blockades. This is a Bolivian protest favorite, along with fireworks, and can take several forms: parking vehicles across the street and playing soccer in front of them, oil drums (you can light fire in them if you’re really feeling upset), or just sitting in the road. Because of all of this, everyone everywhere decided to stop working and we had a de facto vacation. This continued for several days during the week until last Saturday, when all of the buses started going again. “Great!”, all the naive gringos thought, we can start going to our jobs again.

Not so fast. Apparently, everyone took the weekend to break from striking, and though normality had seemingly resumed, we were back on strike on Monday. As this was my last week at work, I just started taking taxis because I needed to finish up my article. However, we had to take all sorts of creative routes to get anywhere because of the blockades, which isn’t good given my horrid sense of direction without people creating large obstacles in the streets and shooting off fireworks. A couple of days ago, there was an announcement that they had come to a compromise: tariffs would be 1.80 bolivianos. This, however, was still not satisfactory for some, and thus the strike continued. Upon hearing about the agreement, I was ready to go light an oil drum on fire so I didn’t have to deal with 20 cent coins. The buses are running now, but I’m unsure if that’s because it’s the weekend, and thus off-limits to strikes, or if they have actually figured things out.

This confusion has all been compounded by the rain. We’re in the rainy season now, so I’m not surprised by the frequent precipitation, but this place is horrible at getting wet. Though Bolivia really is pretty, the ground here does not absorb water, so it all runs off right away. Additionally, drainage systems, especially in poor neighborhoods, aren’t good or don’t exist, so the streets flood in minutes. What’s more, Cochabamba is situated in a big basin, so all the muddy water from the mountains just flows right down. It’s been a party.

Anyway, I leave on Wednesday for Santa Cruz, the city I originally flew into. I was going to take the bus but, alas, the highway fell into the river because of the rain. This, I’ve been told, happens every year, so people haven’t been acting too worried. I’ll thus be flying all the way to Brazil from here, where I’ll be for two weeks until I home come on the 16th.

Since I’ll be traveling around from now on, I think this will be my last post. I want to thank everyone who has read and given encouragement these past eight months, I’ve truly enjoyed writing for such a great audience and your support and interest is very affirming.

Hasta la próxima,


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