Bolivians March in VA

After the Salvadoran community, no rx it is estimated that Bolivian immigrants make up the second largest Latin American community in the Washington DC Metro area. So there is no surprise to see American and Bolivian flags among the student marchers today in Northern Virginia. A slideshow and audio interview with a Bolivian-American student is included in the Washington Post article. What was especially impressive was how quickly that the march was organized. The interviewee states that the protest was planned using text messaging, view instant messaging and other social networking websites over the course of one day. As a result, 1,500 students walked out of classes to attend – proof that technology can be a trusty tool to mobilize individuals who hold a common cause. Now all we need is to make sure that everyone has access to these tools.

Repression?

Bolivia Indymedia is always on top of things with on-the-ground reporting and photographs of today’s confrontation with police at the Cochabamba airport were published online within hours. There is no doubt that there were orders to clear the runways, but now the question is who gave these orders. The Democracy Center had an interesting exchange with Oscar Olivera who claimed, “Evo is tear gassing his brothers.” As I mentioned earlier, this would be the first time that the new administration would be “haciendo cumplir la ley”, as they had stated they would during the campaign. The word “repression” is all over the Indymedia site and mainstream Bolivian media.

What was especially interesting is the groups that are protesting side by side. In Santa Cruz, the Centro Obrero Departmental (labor union) arrived to the airport to support the LAB staff members, usually made up of many middle class pilots and other support staff. Rarely have we seen such unity among different groups who usually protest in accordance to their own interests and usually along class lines.

LAB on the Brink

Workers of the airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano took control of the Jorge Wilstermann airport in Cochabamba. Apparently, planes are blockading the runways and the police are using tear gas to disperse the protestors. This is President Morales’ first challenge with protestors that cause inconveniences for the country.

They are calling for the nationalization of the airline, which currently has 140 million dollars of debt. Previously the government placed an intervention and was administering the company. However, courts ruled such an intervention was illegal, thus returning control to the President, Ernesto Asbun. The workers announced that they will prevent the Constitutent Assembly from taking place until their demands are met. This is an interesting protest, as it brings together service workers, pilots, stewardesses and other executives all fighting for the same cause.

Update 1: Not good. Photo: Reuters

Update 2: Prensa Latina ends its article with an interesting statement: “The government plans to create its own new airline.”

Fall Out from the Bombings

Questions still remain in the aftermath of last week’s bizarre bombings in La Paz. Two are behind bars while a country is relieved that it seems to be an isolated event.

How did someone with such a past receive a license to sell explosives?

In hindsight, a mentally unstable individual with a criminal history usually should not be given the authority to sell explosives. However, Lestat Claudius de Orleans (LCOM) aka Tristan Jay Amero acquired such a license from officials in Potosi. The commercialization of dynamite is not uncommon in a city where this is just tools of the trade in the mining field. However, the blame game is in full swing as police and immigration officials want to wipe their hands clean. Clearly someone dropped the ball by not fully investigating this man’s background and someone may have gone through the motion for a conveniently placed bribe. Maybe this will cause some public servants to think twice that a seemingly innocent and simple act of bending the rules and cutting corners may result in a tragic outcome.

Will this cause a spike in Anti-American sentiment?

Protestors against U.S. policy always were able to distinguish between the citizens of the United States and the actions of their government. Tourists have never been targets of these protests or jeered while curiously observed these marches through Bolivian streets. LCOM is very unrepresentative of the majority of U.S. citizens, but his actions could cause Bolivians to look suspiciously upon North Americans or other “gringos”. Days after the bombing, BBC reporter Paul Mason wrote, “We had to keep explaining we were not Americans, or Goni supporters, or bombers. I am not kidding.” Some who may have only heard President Morales’ premature statements of linking LCOM as an agent of the U.S. may not have followed up with the information linking LCOM with obvious unstable statements and actions.


How will Morales’ foot-in-the-mouth statements affect the country?

A week after the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the U.S. drasticall affected Bolivia’s ability to export soybeans to Colombia, Bolivia was set to speak to the U.S. about reconsidering this part of the agreement. Clearly the U.S. was “concerned” about Morales’ words insinuating that the bomber was somehow related to the U.S. government. U.S. ambassador David Greenlee cancelled some appearances. The comments could set the warming relationship, as proven by Morales’ meeting with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, back to the ice age. What took two months to construct appeared to be torn down in the matter of hours.

What about the victims?

The focus has remained entirely on the unusual turn of events and past of LCOM and his Uruguayan girlfriend. Internet research has uncovered interests in satanism, fleeing from Communists, faeries and racy calendars. However, little has been written about the true innocent victims in this crime. LCOM wrote in his journal that he had expected 150 dead in the bombings and seemed to be disappointed upon learning that only 2 had perished. They were Mónica Farfán and Roberto Aliaga, The hotel owners also were devasted. According to news reports, the hotel owners of the Riosinho and Linares were uninsured, surely they never foresaw protecting themselves against dynamite blasts. Now they must decide whether to rebuild with little money or close up for good.

Why was the Chilean consulate targeted?

If two random budget hotels had been the only targets, then we could probably close the book on this case. However, it was revealed the bomber fully intended to destroy the Chilean consulate in La Paz. The strained relationship between the two countries have also appeared to be improving with reciprocal visits by the two Presidents to the others’ countries. If a bomb did manage to damage or destroy the building, it would have certainly been an international incident with unknown consequences. What would have made this seem less of another random target is the fact that Bolivia and Chile have this historical relationship and that the attack would have coincided with the Day of the Sea activities. Was there a political statement behind this target? Did LCOM want to make it seem that it was a Bolivian who attacked the consulate? Did LCOM target the consulate thinking he was doing a favor for Bolivia? LCOM is painted as a psychopath, but he obviously knew what such an attack would have meant.

This story has already become yesterday’s news in many of the newspapers. Placing LAB back in the hands of its former President and news about the Constituent Assembly are now taking precedent.

A Little Bit About the 2 Suspects

I think I’m sleeping with a nightlight on tonight.

Fellow blogger Jonathan Olguin uncovered some bizarre background information on the two suspects in the Bolivian bombings. He sent me an email this evening and also posted a comment on Miguel B.’s blog MABB with some links which surfaced after a Google search. This information comes courtesy of his investigative research.

Our two suspects have colorful pasts, which includes the American citizen, who goes by the name Lestat Claudius de Orleans y Montevideo. On a travel website he refers to himself as a political refugee from the United States and apparently practices wicca (thus, the religious motive speculation). His lady friend is a Brazilian and lived previously in Venezuela. Her biography claims she is on the run:

“(she) lived her youth in Venezuela, until 1980 when she was sold as a cow to Eduardo Roslik, who forced her to bear two children of his blood. Ultimately, Political Philosopher Lestat Claudius de Orleans y Montevideo rescued her and took her to Bolivia, where Communist insurgents funded by Eduardo Roslik continue to try to kill them both.”

LCOM (his new moniker) also was traveling with a World Service Authority passport and refers to himself as a Wiccan High Priest.

My original understatement of the year came when I called this case “weird”. This is beyond that term. One can only draw conclusions and make a hypothesis or two. I’ll save my guess until more information comes out.

Update 1: This updated AP article states the the World Service Authority indicated that LCOM’s real name is Triston Jay Amero (TJA). A spokesperson from the WSA said that he “had sought to renounce his U.S. citizenship after getting into trouble with the law in his home state of California.” A google search of that name turns up equally bizarre information.

Puzzling Bombing

Both Miguel B. and Boz picked up on this recent developing story about a pair of bomb blasts in La Paz, leaving two dead. Police have arrested Uruguayan and U.S. nationals. According to this Mexican media site, the two that are in custody are Alda Ribeiros and Claudio Lestat, respectively. A quick Google search found no results for Lestat or Lestad (as another article mentioned). Although this Erbol article mentions that he has a criminal record for blowing up an ATM machine in Argentina.

Update 1: Photos can be found on the Yahoo! news page:

Update 2: The Associated Press has a bit more information about the two suspects:

But other Bolivian officials discounted terrorism as a motive, saying the American appeared to be mentally ill.

“The possible motives behind these attacks are incomprehensible. There don’t seem to be any concrete objectives other than causing deaths,” Deputy Interior Minister Rafael Puente told Radio Fides.

A third attack was foiled by police, Puente said.

Update 3: Paul Mason from the BBC has also been covering the bombing and other aspects of Bolivian life on his recently discovered blog, Idle Scrawl.

Update 4: This case is getting increasingly weirder by the minute. Religious motives have not been ruled out by the Bolivian police.

Update 5: CNN reports that the third target was the Chilean consulate in La Paz. Fortunately, that planned attack was foiled by police. In addition, the U.S. condemns the attack, while Morales weakly tries to link the actions of a single American to the actions of an entire country.

Lecture on Morales – Thursday

The Inter-American Development Bank is sponsoring a lecture “In Evo Morales’ Bolivia” by the contemporary Bolivian writer Jose Edmundo Paz Soldán this Thursday, March 23 at 6:30 pm. in Washington, DC.

The talk will address the momentous changes taking place in Bolivia – discussing Morales’ ascent from leader of the coca growers’ union to head of the powerful MAS party, and looking at the MAS’ attempt to bridge the radical left and the moderate center. It will also analyze Bolivia’s changes in the larger context of the Latin American tilt to the left.

Paz Soldán currently teaches at Cornell University, but also moonlighted as a political analyst on Bolivian television during the 2005 elections. He is also a member of the Bolivian blogosphere and blogs at Río Fugitivo.

Download the pdf flyer here.

Approval Still High, VP Well Respected

Three out of every four Bolivians approve of the job that President Morales has done over the last two months in office. Equipos MORI’s poll of Bolivians living in the urban centers of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and El Alto approved of his performance, which is up 13% points from January.

However, the emergence of marches and blockades indicate that not everyone is content with the performance. Even with the austerity measures within the Executive branch of government and the creation of approximately 3500 jobs for education, the magisterio (teacher’s groups) recently took to the streets demanding the creation of even more jobs. Education minister Felix Patzi recently called the situation created by these pressures as an “infierno” (hell).

The role that Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera has also attracted favorable ratings, especially from the middle class. Captura Consulting polled individuals in the middle class neighborhoods in Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba and found that 54% approved of his performance, compared to 48.6% rating for Morales, which differs from the findings of the MORI poll.

Garcia Linera is being hailed as a great compromiser and was lauded by members of the opposition for negotiating the law convocating the Constitutent Assembly. At times, it appeared as if MAS would remain immovable in their positions and that regional interests might threaten this process with some rumblings of taking up arms in Santa Cruz.

Clearly the VP enjoys this “intellectual challenge” as he mentions in this interview in the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. The mathematician turned sociologist admits that he reflects on his decisions twice before acting upon them. Many speculate that he is the true decision maker in this new government, however, he stresses that he is always in conference with the President and follows his lead.