Over Before It Started?

One of the “Alcaldes” that comprised the founding members of the Frente Amplio (FA) movement headed by Rene Joaquino, Presidential Candidate, has jumped ship. Miguel Becerra, mayor of Cobija in the small Department of Pando, accepted Samuel Doria Medina’s offer to be the Unidad Nacional’s (UN) Prefect candidate. So now there is speculation that this FA is slowly coming apart at its seams. It hasn’t helped that Joaquino has been polling in the single digits, with most Bolivians not even knowing who he is.

Bolivian politics relies on name recognition and cutesy nicknames. There’s “Tuto” and “Evo” and the fallen “Goni”. Even the former President Jaime Paz Zamora is better known as “El Gallo”. Samuel Doria Medina better find himself a nickname, if he wants any chance to stay in the race. (I suggest “Burger Boy” in reference to his ownership of the Burger King franchises in Bolivia).

Unfortunately for FA, its most famous member, Juan Del Granado (MSM), has decided to hold off any Presidential aspirations. There are some speculation that Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga is courting Joaquino as his Vice-Presidential candidate, whether that means dissolving the Frente Amplio or leaving the door open for del Granado to step up.

But these overtures made by Quiroga, who has been characterized as an extreme right winger, seem to make no sense.

The Mayors, including Gonzalo Terceros of Cochbamba (ex-NFR), are planting themselves firmly on the left, specifically the “modern left”, (does that mean MAS is the outdated left?). Capitalizing on the election buzzword of being “anti-neoliberal”, it would seem that eventually the FA would give its support to Evo Morales by default. So if Tuto does manage to convince that there is room for the left in his project, then the chances for a MAS presidency diminishes.

However, these speculations about a Joaquino defection to Tuto’s team could work to Evo’s advantage. These days any association with the political parties and “neoliberal” politicians automatically scores you negative points in Bolivian society. Joaquino and the mayors who want increased credibility could very well jump to the only remaining viable leftist candidate to prove that they mean business.

Joaquino must find a way to make a name for himself and show that he is an authentic political option for those who are tired of the same recycled politicians and are weary of Evo Morales’ support for disruptive blockades. The FA also must hope for some more big names to come out in support of this project, such as El Alto’s mayor Jose Luis Paredes (PP), who is a popular figure in that city. But what Joaquino needs is the biggest gun to come out of the woodwork for a heavy-duty endorsement.

Paging Carlos Mesa, please pick up the nearest courtesy phone.

Live From Africa

I haven’t had much time to really reflect upon these whirlwind 17 days in Southern Africa. The days have been long and filling through four different countries: Swaziland, South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia. But as I sit in the airport in Johannesburg on route to my final two days in Cape Town, things are slowly coming together. I had a belief that it would be a larger culture shock than what I experienced. Nevertheless, all of my travels throughout Latin America never prepared me for the poverty that I saw in the informal settlements (poorer than shantytowns and townships) around Johannesburg. Poverty is one thing. But when the entire continent of Africa attempts to come to grips with the out of control HIV/AIDS crisis, one can never get used to sights that I experienced last week in these settlements. Death from the incurable disease was present everywhere and was magnified in these settlements.

So what does this experience mean to my view on the world and in particular, Latin America? I have no way of knowing right now, but this experience has greatly enhanced my global outlook. I wouldn’t want things that easy to figure out.

My bloglines feeds are out of control, as I am looking forward to catching up on everything I’ve missed. Being without internet has been a bit unsettling, as I have gone four days without checking email, which is a new record, I think. Next post when I return to the States.

Barrio Flores at One Year

This will be my last post until September. It also coincides with the one-year anniversary that Barrio Flores was created in this current format. I never meant to start a blog. Back when the Living in Latin America webzine began in early 2004, for sale I offered to contribute some of my pictures from my 2000-2001 year in South America. At the same time, no rx I began my immersion into Bolivian news and politics, recipe devouring any news article that I could get my hands on. Other Bolivian blogs helped me formulate my opinions through the comments sections. Then, all of a sudden I had the desire to try my hand at writing. My first article dealt with the controversy of the Diablada dance at halftime of a soccer game between Bolivia and Chile.

After jumping from Livejournal to Blogspot and now to my own server space, I hope to continue on for another year.

On Thursday, I will be boarding a plane for Johannesburg, South Africa for a three-week stay in Southern Africa. My nervousness is far outweighing my amazement of my good fortune. Having only spent time throughout the Americas and Western Europe, where I could fit in without a hitch, Africa will be a completely and novel world for me. In the meantime, Bolivia will be begin its race towards the December elections. Make sure you read the blogs listed on the righthand column.

6 De Agosto

Having spent numerous Bolivian Independence Days in Bolivia (mainly because it falls during the North American summer vacation), advice I have many memories of August 6th. When I was a kid, my grandmother’s apartment was situated right on El Prado, Cochabamba’s main promenade. Tradition calls for all of the area school kids, police, civic organizations, teachers, etc. to process out of obligation to the sound of a brass band and booming drums.

Unfortunately, these parades begin rather early so that families have the rest of the day to enjoy the holiday. Hiding under your covers or a pillow is of no help. No matter where you go in the apartment one cannot escape the bass drum’s wrath, which seems to be amplified during those precious asleep/half-awake states. The bedroom window faced the noble statue of Simon Bolivar, located at the center of El Prado, where admirers would place commemorative wreaths at the base.

As I grew older, I would end up spending time in Villa Tunari for the Annual Feria del Pescado in the Chapare. My cousins, friends and I would catch a bus on Avenida Oquendo or hitch a ride on the back of a camioneta for the the three hour ascent and descent into the Bolivian tropical forest. It seemed as if all of Cochabamba would be present for that holiday weekend, which included a giant open air fish festival featuring 4-5 different types of fish including surubí, pacú, sabalo, and pejerrey. (Don’t ask me for the English translations, because I don’t know). My goal was always to find the perfect dish, making my rounds observing cooking techniques of the 30+ vendors and trying to hope that my selection would pay off. Others had the same idea, standing at the foot of the grill “reserving” specific pieces of fish, until it was ready. When you walk up, you have to ask whether a fish had been “claimed”.

After three consecutive years of attending this Feria, I had it down to an exact science. I would get three different fish meals per day (yes, pescado is my favorite food). Once at lunch around noon, another around 5 pm and then as the night is winding down you go back around 1 am to find vendors who want to sell their remaining fish at a reduced price.

Even though the selection is hard to beat, nothing could top what was made next door at my cousin’s cabin. The connections he has are just a phone call away. Fish plucked straight from the river that morning, we drive 1.5 hours to Puerto San Francisco, where a giant sábalo is awaiting us. The fish that weighs around 35 lbs will be that night’s dinner. Cooked over a grill between banana tree leaves, this fish is the best meal I have eaten in my entire life. Some say one shows appreciation for a meal by visibly enjoying your food. After the others have been served, we would stand around the grill finishing off the remaining grilled fish in silence, because one cannot eat while talking.

If I were in Bolivia today, undoubtedly I would have lucked out and missed the marching band, and be planning my fish feast.

René Joaquino – The Third Option?

Up until now, it has seemed to be a two-man race with Tuto Quiroga vs. Evo Morales for the Presidential Elections in December. Even though Samuel Doria Medina will prove to be a formidable challenger, especially with betting it all with the Santa Cruz vote (having chosen Nacion Camba founder and former MIR cabinet member Carlos Dabdoub as his VP candidate), it is thought that there are two distinct visions for the country on the line.

It is rather simplistic to divide the Bolivian vote into two competing ideologies. However, a third alternative has emerged from the “Alcaldes” and their new Frente Amplio. This new Front has strongly professed itself as being “anti-neoliberal”, a key in this year’s election. One would naturally expect popular leftist La Paz mayor, Juan del Granado (MSM) to be the logical candidate for this new Front. Likely Granado is setting himself up for a future run in 2010 (or earlier as the trend has been). Perhaps it also had to do with del Granado only recently deciding once and for all in joining this new Front, instead of an earlier possible alliance with Evo and MAS.

Instead this new group, which includes Cochabamba mayor “Chaly” Terceros and other mayors from Oruro and Cobija, chose Potosi mayor René Joaquino. Back in January, the Santa Cruz daily El Deber ran a profile piece on this aspiring politician.

Why has he suddenly become important? He appeals to parts of the country that are mainly indigenous, because he is of quechua descent. His independent nature and transparent administrations have proven to be popular in his hometown. Now with the cementing of del Granado’s support to the Frente, he can pile up votes in La Paz.

Even though he once participated in an alliance with NFR, and was once rumored as Goni’s VP candidate in 2002 before Carlos Mesa emerged as a serious possibility, he doesn’t carry the baggage of being of the old guard.

The Frente is also looking east to gain national legitimacy. Recently, the Frente Amplio, extended an invitation to sugar industrialist Mariano Aguilera from Santa Cruz to be his running mate. However, recently, he turned down the opportunity citing differences with Del Granado and his earlier flirtations with Evo Morales.

There’s a strong possibility that Joaquino can appeal to many across the country, if he manages to get a VP candidate that appeals to Santa Cruz. The problem right now is that no one seems to know who he is. Bolivian politics loves big and well-known names, and Joaquino is still an unknown.