Off to South Africa

In 2006, I suffered through the poor 3 and out showing by the US in World Cup watching the games in a couple bars in Arlington, VA and in a German cultural center in Washington, DC. Bolivia did not qualify.

In 2002, I remember the early morning hours before my flight to spend another year in Bolivia. I had to scream with joy into a pillow, as to not wake my parents, when the US upset Portugal. That tournament would prove to be the best finish of the US team and I watched the rest of the tournament in Bolivia, often at many obscene hours because of the time difference with Japan and South Korea. Again, Bolivia did not qualify.

In 1998, I recorded the games on my VCR (what are those? asks digital natives) because I was working at a summer program for kids, but I begged and pleaded with my co-workers not to tell me the scores. Many of them fed me incorrect score lines to mess with my head. The US finished dead last and Bolivia did not qualify.

In 1994, I could care less about soccer/football, which ironically was the year that both Bolivia qualified and the US hosted the WC. If that same situation occurred today, I would have done just about anything to be at Bolivia’s opening match against Germany in Chicago. However, I did catch a single match in the Cotton Bowl, upon the insistence of my father who took me to see Argentina vs. Bulgaria. That was the game where Diego Maradona had been suspended prior to kickoff because of drug use. I spent the entire match marveling at the intensity of the crowd and took in the atmosphere. I can definitively say that it was that game that got me hooked on the sport.

Now 16 years later, I am hours away from boarding a plane to Johannesburg to see the 2010 World Cup with a greater appreciation of what it all means. These past several years, I have taken in local matches in about half a dozen countries giving me a greater insight to those local cultures, I have suffered through the ups and downs of Bolivia (ups: 6-1 drubbing of Argentina downs: just about everything else), and put down some local roots in Cochabamba by investing myself in the local club team.

Attending this tournament also means giving up the opportunity to work with my students back in DC, which is something I had done for the past 6 summers.

So, I think it’s time to dust off my blog and write/post photos/post videos about my 28 days in South Africa, where I have tickets to 8 games (for now), and see what happens. I’ll also be doing some work while I am there, writing for Global Voices and for Highway Africa. More on that later…

Bolivia: Election Results Reveal Emergence of New Opposition Force

originally posted at Global Voices

Soon after the final vote was cast in the April 4th municipal and departmental elections and the official results began pouring in, many bloggers started to provide their analysis and interpretation of the results. On that day, Bolivians would set out to elect local mayors and members of the city council in 327 municipalities, as well as governors and departmental assembly members in the 9 departments.

After winning re-election in December 2009, President Evo Morales and his party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS for its initials in Spanish) sought to consolidate power by maintaining those regions in which they traditionally had strong support, but also to put forth “invited” candidates in opposition regions that may provide them with different results from previous losses.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Mario Durán of the blog Palabras Libres [es] notes that the MAS won 6 of 9 governor seats, but only the mayorship of 2 of the 9 departmental capitals. This he notes, leaves the victory with a “taste of ash.” Duran’s brother, Jaime, also chimes in with some questions and answers about the results:

¿Qué significan estos resultados? ¿Se puede hablar de una derrota del masismo?

Cómo siempre no hay una respuesta única a estas preguntas. Es una derrota porque no se colmaron las expectativas. Perder tres alcaldías en Occidente no son buenas noticias. No es una derrota porque el nivel meso (las gobernaciones departamentales) está bajo control del partido azul y es en ese nivel que se construirán las autonomías. Aunque debe matizarse que los departamentos en los que se encuentra la riqueza hidrocarburifera no están bajo las alas del oficialismo. Esto generará problemas y se lo verá dentro de poco.

What do these results mean? Can we talk about a defeat for the MAS?

As always, there is not only one answer for these questions. It is a defeat because they did not meet expectations. To lose 3 mayorships in the West (traditionally strong support for MAS) is not good news. It is not a defeat because at the mid-level (departmental governments) they are under control of the blue party (MAS) and at that level the autonomies are constructed. Even though it must be noted that in the departments in which the hydrocarbon wealth can be found, they are not under the control of the government party. This will create problems and will soon be seen.

Blogger Pablo Andrés Rivero of Purple Fire [es] writes that, “it is clear that the MAS-IPSP is the outright winner, but… there are many ‘buts'”

One of these “buts” took place in the city of La Paz, which is also the seat of government and where the MAS has enjoyed considerable support. However, its mayoral candidate Elizabeth Salguero, who had been leading in the polls, was defeated by Luis Revilla from the party Without Fear Movement (MSM for its initials in Spanish). It was this result that attracted the most attention in the Bolivian blogosphere, as many bloggers provided their thoughts on why the MAS lost in La Paz and what this means for the party and its party chief for the future.

Juan del Granado, who founded the MSM, had been mayor of La Paz for a decade before deciding not to run for a 3rd term in the 2010 elections. As a former human-rights lawyer, del Granado had successfully prosecuted the first Latin American dictator in the courts when he placed Luis García Meza behind bars in the mid 1990s.

During his 2nd term in office, the MSM became allies with the MAS party. However, for the 2010 elections, the MSM chose to put forth its own candidate, rather than support Salguero in the municipal elections. This led to a war of words from President Morales and many of his supporters, which included threats of placing del Granado into the Chonchocoro maximum security prison and warnings that the central government would not work with elected leaders from opposition party. This rhetoric was something which the bloggers and evidently the voters noted, as Revilla was elected. Some voters like Alberto Canedo (@betocomics) captured the image of their vote for Revilla in this Twitpic photo, as well as Patricio Javier Vera (@patojv):

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Daniela Otero of the blog Dejando Huella [es] writes:

La guerra sucia emprendida contra el Movimiento Sin Miedo, uno de los más importantes aliados del proceso de cambio en occidente, fue interpretada por los ciudadanos como una sucesión de actos de deslealtad y arbitrariedad.

The dirty war set upon the Without Fear Movement, one of the most important allies in the process of change in the Occident, was interpreted by the citizenry as a succession of acts of disloyalty and arbitrariness.

Blogger and political scientist Miguel Centellas of Pronto* adds that there was a bit of hypocrisy in these accusations:

During the campaign, the rhetoric intensified to the point where Evo and others threatened to jail the popular La Paz mayor (and democratization-era hero) Juan Del Granado. Apparently, after more than four years as close working allies, Evo suddenly discovered that Juan “Sin Miedo” (as he & his party are called) was “corrupt” due to his previous participation in pre-2005 governments. Of course, this didn’t stop MAS from recruiting Roberto Fernandez, the son of populist Max Fernandez of UCS (both of whom actively took part in the worst of the patron-client relationships of the 1990s “neoliberal” era). Roberto was recruited to run for the mayorship of Santa Cruz against Percy Fernandez (no relationship) and Johnny (Roberto’s brother). Percy looks to have won an easy reelection.

Richard Sánchez of the digital magazine La Mala Palabra [es] was especially tough on the MAS and clearly stated his intention to not vote for Salguero, and encouraged his readers to refrain from casting a ballot for the MAS candidate. He writes the following, 3 days prior to the elections, why people should not vote for the MAS:

Porque ese empleado a quien le dimos pega en Palacio por segunda vez, ahora amenaza. Se da el lujo de amenazar diciendo que no trabajará con alcaldes o gobernadores que ganen y que no sean del MAS. ¿No se da cuenta que es presidente de TODOS los bolivianos, le guste o no? Un embajador gringo también nos amenazó hace tiempo para que no votemos por Evo y todos votamos por Evo. Ahora Evo cae en las mismas amenazas. LMP y ninguno tiene ni debe ser amenazado. NO VOTES POR EL MAS CARAJO.

Because that employee (President Morales) who we placed in the Palace for the second time, is now giving threats. He gives himself the luxury of giving threats saying that he will not work with mayors or governors who win and who are not from the MAS. Does he not realize that he is the President of ALL Bolivians, whether he likes it or not? A U.S. ambassador also warned us awhile ago (1997) to not vote for Evo and then we all voted for Evo. Now Evo is falling into giving the same threats. LMP (La Mala Palabra) and no one else should be threatened. DON’T VOTE FOR MAS, DAMMIT.

Even though del Granado did not participate in the local elections as a candidate, many have been calling him one of the day’s winners, partly due to the errors committed by Morales and the MAS party. Otero summarizes this [es]:

Quizá, la lección más importante de estas elecciones es que los errores políticos siempre pasan altas facturas y que los que se cometieron en el caso específico de La Paz sólo contribuyeron al surgimiento de una nueva fuerza política nacional: el Movimiento Sin Miedo.

Maybe, the most important lesson in these elections is that the political errors always come with consequences and those that committed these errors in La Paz cause the rise of a new national political force: the Without Fear Movement.

Jaime Durán, writes that at the head of this new political force is del Granado, and it is a different kind of opposition [es], because it is also an left-wing opposition, as opposed to the traditional right-wing opposition to the MAS. Victories by the MSM also were recorded in the city of Oruro, another traditional MAS stronghold, and strong finishes in other parts of the country.

At the victory press conference appearing with the mayor-elect Revilla, MSM supporters greeted del Granado with calls for him to run for President in 2014. Despite the springboard to the national scene based on these results, del Granado said that “2014 is still very far away.”

Support Global Voices Advocacy

Global Voices Advocacy, the branch of Global Voices Online that covers examples of online censorship, targeting of bloggers by oppressive governments, and pushing for freedom of expression is participating in the Blogging for a Cause contest sponsored by Zemanta.

During my first trip to the Middle East last month, I met some Egyptian bloggers who are doing great work drawing attention to some of the issues in their own country, something that we in Latin America, for the most part, do not have to worry about. Bloggers like Noha and her Torture in Egypt site and Mahmoud, who created this great video.

These are two of the examples from Egypt that Global Voices Advocacy covers and why it is such a worthy project.

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s “Blogging For a Cause” campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

Bolivia: Farewell to Aymara Hip Hop Artist Abraham Bojorquez

Originally published at Global Voices Online

The sudden death of Bolivian hip-hop artist Abraham Bojorquez was especially hard on residents of El Alto, the city from which he hailed. A victim of a traffic accident involving a bus, Bojorquez left behind many fans around the world, but also left behind a legacy filled with memories and lyrics that reflected on the struggles and the hopes of a young city that has been through so much. Many Bolivian bloggers knew him well and in the weeks following his death shared their condolences and stories of how much they respected this artist.

Photo of Abraham Bojorquez by Wara Vargas / and used with permission.

Photo of Abraham Bojorquez by Wara Vargas / and used with permission.

A blogger from El Alto, Alberto Medrano of Letras Alteñas [es] remembers the first time he saw Bojorquez perform in Rio Seco in El Alto and how “many young people were left impressed with his cadenced rhythm of “Hip Hop” with an Andean flavor and with content of political protest and revolution, calling for justice for the bloody events of “October 2003.”

The events of October 2003 played prominently in the lyrics of Bojorquez. During that difficult time in El Alto, approximately 70 residents died during a conflict with the Armed Forces. The events have since become a rallying cry for those demanding justice.

In the early 1990s, Bojorquez emigrated to Brazil where he worked in a textile factory, but at the same time was introduced to hip hop. When he returned to El Alto, he started the group Ukamau y Ké and often rapped in the native indigenous language of Aymara. According to Cristina Quisbert of Bolivia Indigena [es], Bojorquez had “a particular style of combining hip hop with social order content and with valuing the Aymara culture, and won a place amongst the Alteño youth and in the places where he took his music and song.”

However, it was the coverage by the blog La Mala Palabra [es] that provides much of the follow-up after his death and the subsequent displays of homage and remembrance by many who knew Bojorquez. The blog publishes pictures of the wake and funeral that show the outpouring of sympathy from those that knew him well, and those that simply admired his work. At the wake, many friends and family came to pay their respects:

Su familia está destrozada y era obvio: el humilde hijo de migrantes campesinos (su familia es oriunda de Sapahaqui, provincia Loayza de La Paz) había logrado salir adelante pese a haberse criado solito, quedó huérfano muy tierno, cuando apenas tenía 4 años. Le vendría una vida jodida, en la calle, con tragos, con drogas, con pandillas, con cuates, con el trabajo esclavista en Brasil… Sus primos, sus tíos y allegados se sorprendieron el poder de convocatoria de Abraham porque cosechó con ese carisma astral-andina a montón de cuates y cuatas. Y ese fue uno de los valores que todos coincidían en destacar.


Varios tomaron el micrófono para recordarlo, para despedirlo, para decirle la buena gente que era, que es, que seguirá siendo.


His family is devastated and it was apparent: the humble son of peasant migrants (his family originated from Sapahaqui, in the province of Loazya in La Paz) was able to get ahead even though he was raised by himself, became orphaned at a young age, when he was only 4 years old. A very difficult life soon followed, in the streets, with alcohol, drugs, gangs, with pals, and with slave-like work in Brazil…. His cousins, uncles and close friends were surprised to see the power that Abraham had to bring people together because he used that Astral-Andean charisma with many friends. And that was one of the qualities that many agreed upon that he had.


Many took the microphone to remember him, to say goodbye, and to say how good a person that he was, that he is, and that he will continue to be.

La Mala Palabra [es] also writes about the burial that took place in the public cemetery in La Paz, and which attracted a wide variety of admirers, friends and fellow musicians. With such a diverse group, there was a slight disagreement on how to best pay their last respects:

Palabras póstumas, voces quebradas, cuates que alentaban a cambiar la actitud porque el Abraham hubiera deseado buena onda en su entierro. Lo despidieron sus cuates hiphoperos que escupieron su flow jodidas por las lágrimas. Un charango y una quena hicieron de coro y también los de la Saya Afroboliviana pusieron su canto, uno muy lastimero mezclado con resignación.


Antes de que el féretro ingrese al nicho hubo una singular disputa. Mientras uno de los familiares se puso a rezar, fue recriminado el hecho de que Bojorquez no era católico y que con el silencio debería respetar la memoria del finado. Sin embargo, otros presentes dijeron que el Abraham hubiera respetado la forma de pensar distinta y diversa a la suya, pues creía en la integración de todos. Todo un dilema.


Posthumous words, broken voices, and friends who encouraged a change in attitude because Abraham would have wanted a good mood at his burial. His hip-hop friends said goodbye with a rap jumbled with tears. A charango and a quena provided the chorus and even the Afro-Bolivian saya provided their song, one of pity mixed with resignation.


Before the coffin entered into its niche, there was only one dispute. While one of his relatives started to pray, he was reproached because Bojorquez was not Catholic and the memory of the deceased should be respected with silence. However, others who were present said that Abraham would have respected the different and diverse beliefs of others, because he believed in the integration of all. It was a complete dilemma.

Video spot of a public service campaign against noise pollution. Performed by Bojorquez’s group Ukamau y Ké in Aymara with Spanish subtitles

Nevertheless, words of sympathy from all across Bolivia continue to arrive from fellow musician, such as Ronaldo of Animal de Ciudad [es] from Santa Cruz. Bojorquez had performed across Latin America and had shared the stage with many well-known artists like Manu Chao and Bersuit Vergarabat. Finally, the blogger Pez Fumador [es] sums up his feelings after learning about his death:

No suelo ser muy expresivo en los momentos de dolor, pero la súbita partida de Abraham Bohórquez ha rajado algo en mi alma. Un joven trovador con muchas propuestas, con una lectura justa y visionaria de muchas cosas en nuestro país, el Ukamau y Ké me permitió conocer las vetas políticas y estéticas del hip hop en nuestro país. Además, me ayudó a tender puentes urgentes con mi hija… para poder seguir avanzando en este mundo cruel. Realmente una pérdida jodida para muchos… escuchando las canciones de Abraham, aprendimos sobre la realidad de los jóvenes, de la lucha contra el racismo y de muchas contradicciones nuestras y tuyas también.


I don’t tend to be very expressive during moments of pain, but the sudden death of Abrahan Bohórquez has cracked something in my soul. A young artist with much to offer, with a fair and visionary outlook on many things in our country. the Ukamau y Ké that allowed me to know the political leanings and aesthetics of our country. In addition, it allowed to lay urgent bridges with my daughter … to be able to continue in this cruel world. It was truly an unfortunate loss for many … listening to Abraham’s songs, we learn about the reality of the youth, of the fight against racism and about many of our own contradictions.

Xenophobia in the Football Stands in Argentina

Originally published at Global Voices

Rivalries in Argentine football can become quite heated. The battles on the field often spill over into the stands, as club supporters clash with one another in various sections of the stadium. With nearly half of the 20 teams in the Argentine first division league located in the greater Buenos Aires area, it is quite easy for fans to follow their club even when playing as visitors. Even with precautions to keep fans away from one another, there are frequent clashes.

It is not always physical violence that marks the conflict between supporter groups often known as “hinchas” or “barra bravas.” Chants, songs, and signs can be directed at the opposing team and the opposing supporter groups. In some cases, these messages contain racist or xenophobic overtones, as it recently happened between a match between the club teams Independiente and Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. Fans representing Independiente waved Paraguayan and Bolivian flags with the number 12 written on them. The number 12 has traditionally been used to symbolize the fans of Boca Juniors, which is one of the most popular clubs on the continent and boasts a large number of immigrant supporters living in Argentina. The fans used the flags and chants to mock the Boca Juniors supporters for having these large immigrant groups as part of their fan base.

Bloggers from both countries also reacted to the incident. Paraguayan Arturo Zarratea Herreros of Vida de Perros [es] would like the fans from Independiente to recall Arsenio Erico, who is the leading goal scorer of all time in the history of the Argentine league wearing the #9 shirt for the club Independiente and who also happened to be Paraguayan. Zarratea adds that the fans had honored Erico in the past and even a part of the stadium is even named after him. However, he writes:

Nadie es más ni menos por haber nacido en un país, así como nadie tiene derecho a discriminar por ese hecho. Recomiendo a los hinchas de Independiente, que portaron el domingo las banderas paraguayas, que lean la historia de su club y tomen lecciones de educación cívica para realizar estas “originales” burlas.

No one is more or less for being born in a country, just as no one has the right to discriminate for that fact. I recommend to the fans of Independiente, who held the Paraguayan flags, to read the history of their club and take lessons in civic education to (not) take part in this “original” mocking.

The incident caused an outrage by the diplomatic mission of Bolivia in Buenos Aires, which called for severe sanctions and a condemnation from the Argentine Football Association (AFA), which is something that the AFA President Julio Grondona promised to do [es]. Some fans in Bolivia and Paraguay also reacted to the incident in a very heated manner.

However, Bolivian football blogger Jaime Galarza of Once a Once [es] writes that the reaction should be measured and rational:

Hay que tener cuidado en cómo se reacciona en estos temas. Las protestas no tienen por qué seguir el camino de los intolerantes de las banderas y los cánticos ofensivos y despectivos, o sea, los anti xenofobia no deben terminar convertidos en xenófobos.

Lo de la barra brava de Independiente es lamentable, más si utilizaron símbolos oficiales que merecen respeto como las banderas de Bolivia y Paraguay. Pero no por lo ocurrido en una cancha de fútbol se tiene que ir contra un país. No se puede involucrar a “los argentinos” por un grupo de inadaptados. No caigamos en la intolerancia.

One must be careful with the reaction to these issues. The protests do not need to follow the same path of the intolerance of the flags or offensive and derogatory songs, in other words, the anti-xenophobics must not become the xenophobic.

What happened in the barra brava of Independiente is unfortunate, even more when they used official symbols that deserve respect like the Bolivian and Paraguayan flags. But what happened on the field should not be used against an entire country. One can’t blame “Argentines” for the acts of a group of maladjusted. Let’s not be a part of the intolerance.

Racism in football is a problem affecting many countries across the world, and Argentina is no different. Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán writes about his time spent studying International Relations at a university in Buenos Aires in the mid 1980s and his experiences attending Boca Juniors football matches where the Bolivian Milton Melgar had played on the squad [es]. He recalls a match against arch rivals River Plate, which his visiting brother also attended with him:

Salieron los equipos a la cancha, ví a Melgar y me emocioné. Siguieron los cánticos. Parecía una competencia para ver cuál hinchada era más creativa en la ofensa; un estribillo ingenioso era respondido por otro estribillo aun más creativo.

De pronto, la hinchada de River comenzó a corear: “¡Bolivianos, bolivianos, bolivianos!” La reacción de los hinchas de Boca en torno nuestro me impactó; decían cosas del tipo: “Nos jodieron estos gallinas. Y ahora, ¿cómo les respondemos?” No, no había forma. Para los hinchas de Boca, el peor insulto que se les podía decir era “bolivianos”. Por suerte, mi hermano no entendió lo que pasaba; cuando me preguntó por qué los gritos de “bolivianos”, le dije, procurando disimular mi rabia, que era la forma en que la hinchada de River reconocía el talento de Melgar.

The teams came out on the field, I saw Melgar and became excited. The songs continued. It appeared to be a competition to see which supporter group could be the most creatively offensive; a clever refrain was responded to by a more clever refrain.

Soon, the fans of River (Plate) started to sing: “Bolivians, Bolivians, Bolivians!” The reaction by the fans of Boca around me impacted me; they would say: “Those chickens (nickname for the fans of River Plate) messed with us, and now how do we respond?” No, there was no way to. For the fans of Boca, the worst insult was being called “Bolivians.” Fortunately, my brother did not understand what was happening; when he asked me why they yelling “Bolivians,” I told him, trying to hide my anger, that it was the way the River fans acknowledged Melgar’s talent.

These incidents are not always limited to the fans, even the referees have been known to utilize some racist language. Paz Soldán continues in his blog post by describing the incident that took place in 2008 between the clubs Argentinos Juniors and Gimnasia y Esgrima in the northern city of Jujuy. The referee Saúl Laverni had made a bad call and the players from the local side started to protest and plead with Leverni, who told the players, “stop bothering me, Bolivians.” The president of Gimnasia Raúl Ulloa resigned and said [es], “He called us Bolivians, and after 20 years in football, is something that I won’t tolerate.”

Sanctions against clubs can be monetary in nature, suspension of stadium privileges and in some cases, criminal action against the offending parties. No penalty has been announced against the club Independiente. During last weekend’s match [es], the players of the club Independiente came out of the locker room with a banner with the flags of Paraguay and Bolivia next to the Independiente shield and the words, “No to the Discrimination of our Brother Countries: Bolivia and Paraguay.”

Bolivia a Dangerous Tourist Destination?

Bolivia was recently listed as one of the top 11 most dangerous destinations for foreign tourists, joining Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. According to this Los Tiempos story, Bolivia is considered to be unsafe because of the continued conflict between the government and the opposition groups. This certainly is overreacting, since tourists are not targeted or caught in the middle as in the case of Pando. This label can’t help the downturn in tourism in the country.

Voces Bolivianas Summit in Cochabamba


I’ve been working on the first ever Voces Bolivianas summit to take place in Cochabamba on January 30 – February 1.  Our website is up and we’re in the process of finalizing all of the details.  The event is called “Web 2.0 for EVERYONE” and it was created by a really talented web designer here in Cochabamba.

Twenty five participants from all across the country, including those that we trained and those who trained will participate.  There will be a public event at the Martadero, as well as mini-workshops and some closed meetings to help decide on the direction of Voces Bolivianas.

Water Balloons Really Irk Some

Carnaval is about five weeks away, healing but all throughout the city of Cochabamba, sickness teens and university students are gearing up with the annual water balloon tradition.  It also takes place in other cities in Bolivia. Groups of young people buy water balloons from enterprising vendors and use them for target practice.  Young men only usually target young women.  Young children usually target anyone.  However, their aims are not very well refined and innocent bystanders are usually clocked without any hint of apology.

Today, I jumped in a cab and the driver was obviously still in a bad mood.  We drove up Pando street near the Recoleta and saw several groups of teenagers armed with a bag of water balloons, and upon seeing them the taxi driver mumbled something under his breath.  “They hit me last night,” the cabbie said pointing at his upper lip.  He then proceeded to tell me that the had stopped his cab and beat the living daylights out of one of them.  After his story, he pulled out his tire iron showing how he intends to fight back.