I’m a British activist from Bristol living and volunteering in Cochabamba,
Bolivia for 4 months.
Bolivia is a fascinating place to be. While I’m here I hope to get some
insights into what is going on in this paradoxical patchwork country. In
every way it’s a diverse mishmash here – geographically the country is split
into distinct zones whose altitude dictates their climate – from the chilly
bare altiplano where La Paz, the capital is situated, down to the steamy
jungles of the east, and it’s rival city Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Politically, ethnically and culturally the range is just as broad.
The revolts, movements, struggles
and victories in Bolivia have been
an amazing ongoing story since the
Water War in 2000. The 2005 victory
of Evo Morales and the political
party MAS (Movement for Socialism)
brought in the first democratically
elected Amerindian president with
overwhelming support and a mandate
for radical change.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, despite being “blessed”
with tremendous natural resources, which have never benefited the mainly
indian, mainly poor population. It has been run almost as an apartheid state,
dominated by a white and mestizo (mixed) elite for 500 years, since the
Morales was promising to use the country’s mineral wealth to lift the people
out of poverty whilst preserving the rainforests, environment and climate and
empowering women and the many indigenous groups.
Bolivia is already suffering serious effects from climate change. They have
taken the most radical stance of any country and Morales has delivered strong
speeches on the issue at the UN, allying himself with the international
movements against climate change. In April 2010 Bolivia hosted the World
People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth,
inviting people from social movements in Bolivia and from around the world to
democratically hash out solutions for climate change as an alternative
process to the top-down state and corporate-driven UN process. The summit
produced it’s own People’s Agreement, which the Bolivian Government tried to
bring into the UN negotiations.
Morales has capitalised on his stance as a heroic lone voice in the
wilderness, speaking truth to power.
But to what extent is this based on reality? I will be poking around in the
gaps between rhetoric and reality in Bolivia and interviewing people involved
in the social movements and in the communities affected by climate change,
development and social change.