Sep 16

Peregrinación político: A trip into Bolivia’s social revolution

by in Argentina

Doña Meayar Amanda of Salta, Argentina,remembers celebrating the Miracle of the Virgin festival in her home city since she was 9 years old | photo by brandon c janes iv

Doña Meayar Amanda, 74, of Salta, Argentina, remembers celebrating the Miracle of the Virgin festival in her home city since she was 9 years old | photo by brandon c janes iv

After standing for nearly 18 hours in the Plaza 9 de Julio in downtown Salta, Argentina, the pilgrims finally ceased their songs of prayer and I repaired to a small cafe to read the reportages of Alma Guillermoprieto, a Mexican journalist who covered this region for the New Yorker magazine in the early 1990s.

Being here is only preparation for my trip to Bolivia today.

I have arrived in Salta during this bizarre festival of pilgrimage, when the streets of this dry, mountain town of about 600,000 inhabitants have boiled over with Catholics – one newspaper estimated 400,000 – many of them in full gaucho garb. Newstramp estimates about 200,000 of them came to sell empanadas.

A group of young pilgrims, who had walked for two weeks to Salta in matching church t-shirts, told me the story:

In the 16th century a six-day-long earthquake threatened the town. On the seventh day, a dutiful priest took the statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus out of the church and the earthquake stopped. Every year since Catholics have decended upon Salta to parade the statues around the block and atone for their sins.

In traditional Gaucho garb, an Argentine cowboy leads his horse to the Salta town square on a multi-day pilgrimage to celebrate the festival of the Miracle | photo by brandon c janes iv

In traditional Gaucho garb, an Argentine cowboy leads his horse to the Salta town square on a pilgrimage to celebrate the festival of the Miracle | photo by brandon c janes iv

Covering the revolution

Before I had a chance to sew it on to my sweater, I lost a patch of the Uruguayan flag that I had bought for my trip to Bolivia. Like Che Guevera before me, I was hoping to enter Bolivia incognito – disguised as an Uruguayan.

After fighting in the revolution in the Congo, Che disguised himself as the middle-aged Uruguayan doctor Adolfo Mena Gonzáles in order to start the failed Bolivian guerrilla revolution.

Of course, I am not going to Bolivia to start a revolution. I am going to cover one.

The Boliviarian Revolution, the phrase invented by the late president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, has been used to describe the socialist experiment active in the Americas and loosely based on South American liberator Simon Bolivar’s writings.

During his life, Chavez joined with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in an alliance of South American nations, which would focus its policies on helping indigenous people and the poor – two words in Bolivia that, until recently,  have been synonymous.

Populism and freedom of expression

Morales has a strong hold over the majority of the 10 million citizens of Bolivia. More than 80 percent of Bolivians are either Quechua, mestizo or Aymara, according to the U.S. State Department.

Until 1939 Bolivia’s indigenous were excluded from the political process by discriminatory suffrage laws.

Morales’ presidency has empowered indigenous Bolivians more than ever before. However, journalists still do not have access to government information and face violence from pro-government supporters.

In 2011 there were 46 assaults on journalists reported in Bolivia, according to the Bolivian National Press Association or ANP.

In October a radio journalist was set on fire during his live radio program about 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Salta, in the Bolivian border town of Yacuíba.

Last week Bolivian journalists protested a bill that would allow government ministers, mayors, city council members, municipal authorities to withold information from the public that they consider sensitive, according to infobae.com.

The proposed bill sparked protest in at least five Bolivian cities.

When Guillermoprieto was writing, in 1991, Bolivia rivaled Haiti as the lowest standard of living in the hemisphere and the province of Potosí – one of my first stops – there were just 5,000 motorized vehicles serving a population of nearly 700,000.

Bolivia remains South America’s poorest nation today, with an annual per capita income of US$5,200 – the per capita income in the US is US$50,000. The country also ranked 108 of 179 in the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index.

I should be at the border by noon.

Tags:

3 Responses to “Peregrinación político: A trip into Bolivia’s social revolution”

  1. From Maria:

    On this one specific topic I have to admit I know nothing about. Can’t wait to keep getting more information about this. Wish you could find more international attention to educate people. I think this needs to be out to the public. People from all over the world need to become more aware of these situations. I’m staying tuned.

    Posted on September 16, 2013 at 11:19 am #
  2. From Chaison:

    Is there any organized opposition to the Morales government? Also I have to wonder whether a revolutionary government can exist in a society that allows open access to governmental information, open access. Does that exist?

    Posted on September 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm #
  3. From Michael:

    This is really fascinating and something a lot of people don’t know much about. It sounds like the threats to journalists have been pretty effective. Stay safe and keep up the work, I can’t wait to hear more.

    Also, the festival in Salta sounds pretty fun; glad you aren’t hurting for empanadas!

    Posted on September 22, 2013 at 12:58 am #

Leave a Reply