Thursday, November 23, 2006

If You Don't Like It, Burn It

Turns out that some of the voters in several precincts of the regional elections in Peru were unhappy with the results. So they took the votes they didn't like, ripped them up, or burned them in huge bonfires in the city center, like in Paucartambo.

Some news commentators suggested this was another tactic of intimidation..that the losers hired the people in the crowds to make a fuss, and therefore nullify the results.

In the largely Aymaran district of Puno, Humala's far more militant brother Antauro won. I've read Antauro's newspaper and interviewed his etnocacerista followers. Most of them are really into their Indian roots. But one guy told me they also admired Hitler. "He did for the German race what we are trying to do for the descendants of the Incans here." Everyone in the office, a small group of about ten, nodded their heads. And the Jews? I asked. "Oh well, Hitler had to do what he did because the Jews were controlling the economy."

I see, I said, trying my keep my impartial journalist face from slipping.

Actually, there are parallels between the Incan descendants and the Germans post World War I. The lost empire, a sense of humiliation. Etcetera, etcetera. A dangerous combination, as the etnocaceristas have shown.

How quickly we stupid humans forget our own errors.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Great Moments in Journalism

Still in Quillabamba. I expected to spend just a few days here, since I'd been told in Cusco that it was rainy season here and impossible to travel by boat to the interior.

But what do they know in Cusco? Apparantly not enough, because everyone here tells me the river, and the famous Pongo de Manique waterfall, is still passable. So I'll be going there tomorrow, and visiting some Machiguenga communities.

So what have I been doing, in this high jungle town of heat and flowers?

Lots of nothing. Some interviews. Ex presidential candidate Ollanta Humala came to town and people swarmed around him with beaming faces, mostly campesinos. He was much more likeable in person than in his newspaper photos. I guess that says something about how he was portrayed in the media. So I took a few pictures on my own, and he made a point of reaching over and giving me some large pats on the back and a big smile. I'm not sure if he was doing this because I seemed to be the only media person welcoming him, or because I am the only gringa in town.

Being the only gringa in town is actually somewhat refreshing, after the Cusco deluge of tourists and the constant flow of vendors and other folks trying to wheedle nonexistent money out of me. This town is large enough so that people pretty much leave me alone, don't necessarily want to know what I'm doing here, though the little kids and even some of the adolescents stare at me like I was an extraterrestrial.

Until Sunday, the town was blooming with political banners, chants and speeches by loudspeaker, truckloads of youngmen yelling political slogans as they drove through town. Now the regional and municipal elections have seems more than anything that Peruvians voted for change. Hardly any incumbents were re-elected.

I've had to wait for various things to happen here in Quillabamba in order to continue with the articles I'm writing, and most of them didn't happen. People I was supposed to talk to never showed up, etcetera etcetera. Working freelance in South America, at least the kind of stories I do, is very different than working in an office in the States, where you can get so much information by just picking up the phone. Here, even local phone calls are relatively expensive, and in some places, there are no phones. So you go there.

But some of the best stuff that has happened to me--and the most amusing--has been stuff that never got into any of the articles. Like the time, just a few weeks ago, when I was introduced to a leader of an indigenous organization in Puerto Maldonado who I was going to interview and as I went to shake his hand my pen went flying out of my hand right into his eye. Ouch.

If I had been able to say something in English, I could have attempted something cute like "Heh, Heh, let's have a stab at this interview now, shall we?"

But in Spanish all I was able to muster was a dumb apologetic laugh and "Wow, great first impression, huh?"

At any rate, of all the people I spoke to in that particular organization, he is the one who is still sends me emails and wants to know how I'm doing. I guess he was impressed with my aim.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

From Quillabamba

I seem to be living too hard and fast these days to do as much blogging as I thought I'd be doing. Since my last entry, I attended the continental indigenous conference in Bolivia, then came back to Cusco, where I got together with friends to try one more time to say goodbye to Cusco. The big joke everyone has is "Are you really leaving this time?" And I say, "Yes." And then something comes up to keep me in the Cusco area.

This time it's my desire to visit the region where the Camisea gas project is. Lots has already been written on this project, which has been filled with disaster from the very beginning...badly constructed pipes, ruptures, negative effects on environment. What hasn't been written about much are the social effects on indigenous people here of the project, or the "hush money" that seems to get liberally spread around to local politicians, journalists. and other leaders..and of course is difficult to prove. So I'll say it here in this blog, in the event that I can't say it in a forthcoming article.

The other thing I will say is that I don't understand why the majority of internet cafes in Latin America are also trying to be discoteques, with, like the one I'm in now, blaring hip hop or reggaeton music. Another reason why I don't blog much...I think I'm too old or too Northern to think straight with so much noise.