Monday, December 19, 2005

From The Streets of Cochabamba, Bolivia

Fireworks and dancing in the streets erupted last night in Cochabamba as Evo Morales won the presidency of Bolivia by over 50%.The election was a historic first in two ways--it was the first time any presidential candidate in Bolivia won an abolute majority, and it was the first time an indigenous candidate gained the presidency of this predominately indigenous country.
The fireworks, dancing and shouts of EVO EVO EVO came after an eerie day of stillness here in Cochabamba, where rain fell on streets that were largely deserted, escept for occasionaly bicyclists and families returning from their walk to the polls. Cars are forbidden on election day, so the streets literally belonged to the people.

I had been told that Cochabamba was Evo's territory, so I expected to hear a lot of support for Evo on the day before the election. Cochabamba was where, just a few years ago, people took to the streets and successfully blocked the privatization of water by Bechtel after it insisted on enormous hikes in water rates, and asked residents to install meters on their own backyard wells.

But surprisingly, out of a random series of interviews with ten people on the streets of Cochabamba, I only found one who showed any real enthusiasm for Evo. Many of the others showed fear, suspicion, doubt, skepticism, and despair. "All the politicians are the same," several people told me. "They're all corrupt. Nothing will really change."

One couple, undecided until the last minute ,said, "We found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. If we voted for Evo, Bolivia would collapse economically because the US and foreign investors will pull out. But if we voted for Tuto ( Evo's main rival) , Evo's party would create road blockades.¨"

When I asked people why I wasn't finding more support for Evo in Cochabamba, they told me it was because Evo's base was largely the campesinos. City people, they said, were more affected by the road blockades and less supportive of Evo.

So maybe I asked the wrong ten people. I should have gone to the smaller villages in the coca-producing Chapare, where Morales´base is.

Here, I've been hearing a lot of paranoia, mainly from the middle class. Some Bolivians of European ancestry tell me point blank that they are afraid of the vengeance of ¨"The Indians" after 500 years of oppression. One man told me he was afraid of losing his three houses. Another man told me that the US and Chile, Bolivia's age old enemy, were waiting to destroy Bolivia. An indigenous man told me he thought Evo was making a mistake by being too strident, that his government would fail and everyone would say "You see, those Indians don't know how to run the country."

"We have 500 years of fear here," another woman said, it's in our ancestry, in our bones. It's going to take a while for things to change."

But with a clear majority mandate for the 46 year old Aymara candidate who herded llamas as a boy, Bolivia has clearly stated it's ready for a change. Evo Morales has his work cut out for him. The more radical organizations in El Alto have given him three months to nationalize the country's resources, the US has already begun its meddling (for an excellent investigation of this see Reed Lindsay´s piece for NACLA) and the right will undoubtedly continue to spread rumors of Bolivia's impending economic collapse, despite Joseph Stieglitz assurances to the contrary.
Evo has promises to keep--nationalize the country´s resources, help create a constitutional assembly that will rewrite the country´s constitution, giving Bolivia's indigenous peoples more representation, and create a state that is genuinely intercultural, ending 500 years of neocolonialism.

It's not going to be easy. But in La Paz, people have told me that Evo as an individual is not really that important--that this change that is happening is genuinely the will of the Bolivian people, and it is up to the people of Bolivia to make sure Evo follows through on his promises. With or without fear.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

In the Alaskan Bush

So I did it. I quit my day job and went and spent six weeks in Alaska with my high school friend Tanya, two weeks in Fairbanks and a month in the Alaska bush on the Kantishna river. So imagine this: two middle aged women living in a two room cabin together for one month in the Alaskan bush, after barely seeing each other for thirty-years.

Yes, we survived it. Tanya has evolved into THE quintessential survivor, now solidly packed with not only life experience but all sorts of wisdom you can only obtain in the Alaskan bush: how to manage and clean a chain saw, how to maintain generators and battery packs, how to whip up delicious oatmeal cookies on a wood stove, how to clear a path in the woods, how to fell and limb a tree for firewood, then chop the wood neatly in two so it will fit into the stove, how to shoot a bear when it comes after your chickens, then feed the bear to the chickens and can the rest.

And me? Utterly useless. Despite my camping forays into the California Sierras and the desert, I am basically a city girl, and years of city living has made me soft. So, okay, I limbed a few trees, learned how to clean a chainsaw, went on long walks in the forest, feet bouncing on the spongy rockless ground, observed explosions of mushrooms push through the ground from one day to the next, watched the birch leaves turn from green to yellow to blazing gold then fall away to leave the white birches standing naked among the green spruce, listened to the wolves howl near our cabin at night, stared across the river at a fat and sassy moose, made friends with the sled dogs Gusto and Buddy, stood in awe as thousands of cranes filled the sky on the day that we left, heading south. And of course did what I do in the city--sat in front of my computer and played with words.

No cell phones. No internet. No telephone. Only a CB for communication between the cabins on the banks of the Kantishna, and a Christian radio station for receiving messages from people outside the Bush. Splendid isolation.

I also met a few of The Bush People, homesteaders like Tanya who have given up city life on a full or part-time basis, and live entirely off the land in the remote Alaskan Bush. People like Mike, a grizzled trapper in his sixties and his forty-something wife Fran, who could rival Martha Stewart with what she's done with just a small cabin and a chunk of land. In the fall, the homesteaders get in their boats and visit one another, and some of the moose hunters from the city also drop by. I introduced Argentine mate as well as the film Hope in Hard Times to a bunch of these folk, hopefully linking a bit of the Far South with a bit of the Far North.

Tanya, who is part Tlingit, thought it would be a good idea if the indigenous people of the continent could form a kind of network, a thought echoed by Quechua and Aymara friends that I have in the Southern Hemisphere, so we talked about how that might happen. We also talked a lot about religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bahai, Native traditions, New Age thought--it's easy to feel the presence of god in remote places like the Alaskan bush, and interesting how that presence has been interpreted over the years.

Tanya wrote about her experience in her comment in my previous post. I'm glad she thinks of me as still golden despite all the grey I see in the mirror. We have, over the years, passed a kind of poem back and forth between each other. This was another verse.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Smoking Pumpkins

I've been trying to decide whether to join the swarm of journalists now in Bolivia or go to Alaska and chill with my friend Tanya from high school. Probably I will do both.

But Alaska first.

I have been promising Tanya for centuries that I will come and visit her and her land in the wilderness.

Tanya and I used to sneak into the bathroom at Sehome High School in Bellingham Washington and smoke cigarettes. Like just about everyone else. Only we went to the boys' bathroom, blowing smoke blithely into the air while these poor males would come in, go 'huh' and leave, figuring they were in the wrong bathroom. Her with her round shy face and her big Alaskan pumpkin-colored jacket and me in some kind of LA coordinated green miniskirt thing that allowed me to freeze my ass off in the snowpacked Bellingham winter.

We spent most of that year staging strange and random events like this, eating bad food in the cafeteria while we spoke in invented languages no one else understood, sitting under the school desks instead of "at" them, leading demonstrations of six of our friends against high school functions that seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone else. I guess we thought these were revolutionary acts.

Later that year I got kicked out of school for spending all my time organizing events and never going to class and Tanya went to a foster home.

A psychic told her she and I would be friends for life, that we would be old ladies together.

Well honey, I said last night on the phone, we have to admit that we're getting there. Maybe I better move my butt up to Alaska to visit you while I can still move it.

We had a lot to talk about last night. Downing Street memos. Torture. Despair. Why isn’t Bush impeached yet. Why are Americans so numb. How can we take all these layers of numbness off.

You eventually got rid of your big pumpkin jacket, I said, maybe there’s a way.

Yeah right, she laughed, but you never learned that you can’t wear miniskirts in the snow.

My cell phone cut off right about then, because I had exhausted the long distance minutes I had paid for. So I put some more money into my account and then when I called back discovered that I had eighteen dollars more than I had put in.

Money appears from nowhere when you really need it. Like rain, old friends, small and spontaneous revolutionary acts.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

I Guess It's Time to Say Something

Here I was just fooling around amusing myself last night with this idea of creating a blog and already someone has posted a comment!

I'm wondering how Janinsanfran even FOUND my blog, with the amount of blogs being created on a daily basis, ricocheting out there into cyberspace.

Truly, we are becoming beehive cells in one giant mind ...

So, Jan, you've forced me to actually START blogging, when here I thought I could get away with just posting a few links and mumbling incoherently to myself as part of my efforts at managing this one little beehive cell.

Tonight I went to a showing of the film about Argentina, Hope in Hard Times, which was playing in the basement of a Methodist Church in San Rafael. This is a film my friends Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young (www.movingimages.org) made when I was living and working as a journalist and teacher during the Argentine uprising and social movements of 2001-2003. Because I introduced them to some of my Argentine activist friends and offered some creative feedback on the film while they were making it, they were kind enough to list me as associate producer. So I spoke a bit after the film about the Argentina I had lived in two years ago, and Andres Conteris, another filmmaker and
director of Nonviolencia Internacional spoke about what's happening in Uruguay with the election of the Frente Amplio and a lot of former revolutionaries,ex Tupamaros, to the government.

It is a good thing, we all agreed, that George W Bush has been so preocupied with Iraq, leaving South America much more to its own devices than the US is usually capable of doing. As Conteris said, if not for Saddam, Chavez would have been out of Venezuela. Forget about attempted coups. He would have been outta there.

Meanwhile in Bolivia the bees are busy uniting their
powerful beehive cells into one giant Aymara mind, cascading down from El Alto and the hills and filling the streets of several different cities,waving the multi-colored Wiphala flag, and calling out Basta!

The bees are tired of the honey being sucked dry by multinationals while the bees themselves don't get any. In this case, it's Bolivian natural gas. In Uruguay, they have declared water a "constitutional right" in their referendum. They have learned from the Argentines who lost most of their natural resources to privatization in the 90's, and from the South Africanswho sometimes have not been able to afford their own drinking water.

The Mapuche in Chile and Argentina, whose water had been poisoned by oil drilling when I visited them in 2003, now have their own newspaper. The written word, as they say in their online newspaper,
is another tool, another weapon.

I guess it's time to say something.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Watch This Spot

Watch this spot for soon to be written words.

In the meantime, check out some words already written in the links on the left.