These are scary times in Bolivia. I first came to Bolivia in 1999. I missed the Water War in Cochabamba but was in La Paz in 2003 when the city was blockaded for a week with massive protests forcing the president (known as “Goni”) to resign and flee the country. I’ve been here in good times and bad times — through food shortages and at times without electricity or water. Through it all, the Bolivians maintained a relaxed attitude (which I learned to adopt), adjusting to the new realities.
This last week, however, at least a dozen different Bolivians have told me privately about their fear for their future. This is something new, different and very disturbing. The country could break apart. It could fall into civil war. No one know what will happen.
Up until now, it looked like things might resolve themselves. One Bolivian told me that they tend to get right to the edge of catastrope and then turn around and hug each other, calling each other brother. Although we seem very close to that edge now, I don’t see any signs of brotherly hugging.
The Catholic Church, so far remaining on the sidelines, has been slow to respond. Part of that might be because no one knows how this will all end up, and the bishops don’t want to anger the wrong people. In the Water War in 2000, the archbishop of Cochabamba (known fondly here as simply “Tito”) took an active role in mediating between the parties. Unfortunately, the government lied to him, and he went to the people and said that the contract with Bechtel was cancelled. It turned out to be just false, and that burned him in the eyes of many of the protesters. It may be a memory of that is causing the bishops to hesitate again in mediating between Evo Morales and the MASistas on one side and the people of the Media Luna (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and sometimes Cochabamba and Chuquisaca) on the other.