The Bloqueos That Await Us
My long-awaited return to Bolivia starts in just a few days!
I served in the Peace Corps there from 2005 – 2007. The last time I was there was December of 2008, which was rather horrendous being that we (my godson and I) got stuck in terrifying, in-passable landslides (whole other story…). One of the reasons I chose to visit in September was because it was the dry season–no landslides! However, it is Bolivia, and it would not be Bolivia without road blockades, or as they’re known locally, bloqueos. Bloqueos are constructed by local residents to disrupt traffic and draw attention to their political wants. Most of the time bloqeos are organized by ordinary citizens or campesinos. In a country in which the population is made up of more than 50% indigenous peasants with little voice, building bloqueos is an effective measure of protest. Most bloqueos are fairly sublime–branches, tree limbs, rocks, tires, etc. are laid across the road and the “protesters” sit next to the blockade and make sure no one crosses. Again, they are sublime unless you try to cross, and then there might be some rocks thrown or, in rare cases, shots fired. In the Peace Corps we were taught to NEVER cross a blockade. I did twice and they were both pretty heart-rate pumping experiences(….) Bloqueos can last for a day or for a week; waiting is the only thing one can do. They are incredibly effective at interfering with commerce, travel and daily life as Bolivia is a very undeveloped country with few roads. If you are able to close down the one road that exists, well, you’ve accomplished something.
This week there have been bloqueos along the road between Cochabamba and La Paz. About 500 neighbors from the area of El Paso protested the exploitation and mismanagement of many wells that they say 40,000 people in the area are relying on.
In La Guardia, which is a town about 45 minutes west of the City of Santa Cruz, there was a bloqueo today organized by 36 transportation lines who were protesting the inclusion of more transportation lines. According to the newspaper, El Deber, the transportation protesters reached their goal in less than 20 minutes (shortest bloqueo ever, me thinks!) as a meeting was called between them and the municipal executive in which they agreed on a compromise–the Director of Traffic and Transportation from the City of Montero, would resign.
In a more serious situation, more than 1,000 amazon indigenous residents have been marching towards La Paz, protesting a new road to be be built from [coca producing region of] Villa Tunari to San Ignacio de Moxos, in the Beni Deparment (Bolivia has 9 Departments–think of them like States). The road would cut through the Indigenous Territory of the National Park Isiboro Secure (TINPIS). The indigenous marchers have many demands, including being compensated fairly for the road cutting through their territory, protection of various natural resources and for funds for education and health services.
Here’s a map of the aforementioned places so you can orient yourself–creating personalized google maps sure is fun!
I just received an email from one of my friends in Bolivia who said the bloqueos no son tán graves so hopefully that is the case!