links for 2007-01-29

links for 2007-01-23

Shrug

At last month’s Global Voices Summit in India, drugs I arrived to the Karol Bagh hotel after an exhausting 20 hours of traveling. Rarely have I gone so long with access to my trusty mobile phone or access to the internet. Embarrassingly, I get knots in my stomach during these long stretches of disconnected time. When I entered the front doors of the hotel, I was eager to meet other attendees since I had missed the first day due to weather delays. Immediately I recognized my Global Voices colleague from Chile, who asked me in a concerned tone, “What’s going on in Bolivia?” I had wondered whether something catastrophic had occurred in that day that I was flying somewhere over Russia on route to Delhi. “They are close to a civil war,” she would add. I felt myself shrug it off because I had heard this claim before. Analysts have said that Bolivia has been on the edge of a civil conflict for the past year, but it has always seemed to simmer just in time. She wondered aloud how I could be so nonchalant about such a possibility. My quick review of my sources of information would reveal that it was just the large cabildo in Santa Cruz, which drew attention from the media. I have always been reassured that Bolivia would return to normalcy soon after blockades and any confrontation. However, in the past 36 hours, it seemed as if that dreaded time had finally arrived….and I was helpless.

The repeating images on CNN en Español would only tell of the gravity of the situation. However, it was the stories and anecdotes of Bolivians that I chatted with on MSN, conversed with via Skype, the pictures from Flickr and even sites like Indymedia that brought the conflict to light. Unfortunately, the picture those stories painted was not pretty.

The cross-section of people I spoke with from my middle class cousins, including my college-aged female cousin who chose to join the city dwellers march, but became frightened at the commotion and escaped to her grandmother’s house (thankfully), my working class electrician friend who had been working on a project on Calama Street who said that it was the campesinos who were provoking in that area, my friend from the Zona Sud who was working as a security guard along El Prado, who lamented seeing so many women and children caught up in the fray, my parents who live near the Hospital and Morgue and saw ambulance upon ambulance whiz by carrying the dead or injured.

I fall asleep listening to the BBC radio every night and the sad tales of conflict from different parts of the world still seem like a horrible bedtime story gone awry, but this tale in Bolivia is much more personal. Some relatives in Bolivia, who are also U.S. passport holders have been making contingency plans. When might be the time to go? However, not everyone should be so fortunate to leave when he/she wants.

One such person is my girlfriend who still remains in Cochabamba. Before we decided to get back together after nearly five years apart, her original plan was to emigrate to Spain. That seemed to offer the best chance for a better future, as Bolivia offers an uncertain path. However, our relationship put those plans on hold, and she decided to wait to see how we might play out. The events of Thursday put quite a fright into her, as she wondered whether she might have been in a safer place if she had followed through on her original plan. Being a Cruceña in a town where rumors were flying that it were the Cruceños that were clashing with the campesinos certainly didn’t put her mind at ease. With the looming April 1 deadline in which Spain will now ask for visas from Bolivian nationals, the overhead cloud might rain on our parade.

I certainly couldn’t blame her. An uncertain future for the country is an uncertain future for her citizens. We are not yet a guarantee and every trip down to Bolivia is one step closer to knowing whether we could become closer to a guarantee. However, one must do what is best for oneself.

Yet in spite of all this commotion, I went ahead and purchased my ticket to Bolivia for February. My sister’s wedding, which hopefully will continue on as planned, was one of the reasons to travel once again to Bolivia, but my significant other was another big reason. When the Travelocity site offered the additional option to purchase travel insurance for $39.99, I debated internally whether to spend this extra amount. In case that travel needed to be suspended for any reason (civil war?), I could have recouped some of my original purchase price. I certainly could afford the amount, but I decided to decline the option. In a more symbolic move more than anything, I wanted to trust that my country would not fall of the cliff and fall into a full blown civil conflict.

As I write this article, things have quieted down (for now) and I hope cooler heads prevailed, but nothing has been solved.

On the Visa Issue

I am not a terrorist.” – sign on the National Mall, treatment April 2006

On that crisp April afternoon on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the multitude of Latinos and their families draped themselves in American flags, flags from their homeland and waved handwritten signs. Some of those placards pleaded for better treatment for undocumented immigrants, and some responding to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, reiterated that the vast majority of documented and undocumented immigrants were here in this country to work, and not for some nefarious reason. They resented the fact that many equated them with those other foreign visitors that have entered the country with the sole intention of harming innocent people.

Earlier this week I logged onto my computer and caught a glimpse of a surprise headline in the digital version of Los Tiempos. The announcement that the Bolivian government would now require U.S. citizens to apply for a visa to visit the country instantly affected me. Limiting the rationale to reciprocity would have made it a little easier to swallow. Every country has a right to control their borders and know who is entering their country. Sure, it is a headache, but if you really want to visit, then it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. When I visited the Brazilian consulate in Cochabamba, the visa would cost nearly $100 and was in place because of said reciprocity logic. There was no complaint from me, but the official at the consulate made sure I knew why I was applying. “You (the U.S.) make us apply for visas, so that is why you have to,” said the visibly upset staff member. This unsolicited answer to a question I never asked really defeats the purpose.

However, reciprocity is only half of the answer. Other countries like Canada, Australia, and Bolivian ally, Venezuela all require citizens to apply for visas, but they are exempt from this new rule. When asked about this incongruency, especially of Venezuela, President Morales responded, “The Venezuelans don’t come to kill anyone here.”

The direct reference was to the unfortunate, yet obviously freak occurrence that took place earlier this year, when Tristen Jay Amero aka Claudius Lestat de Orleans detonated bombs in a La Paz hotel leaving two Bolivians dead. Soon after the news spread about this explosion, the official government response was one of suspicion. It had feared that it was an attack masterminded by the United States. As news leaked out about the tragic, strange and nonsensical past of the bomber, it became quite apparent that it was the work of a psychologically ill man. It is sad to think that it hasn’t been apparent enough to the government. Yes, in theory, the attack was by a U.S. citizen (even though he renounced his citizenship and was traveling with a World Service Authority passport), the percentage of the tens of thousands U.S. citizens that have committed murder in Bolivia is miniscule

Is that enough for a drastic change in policy or what is the real issue here?

I guess, at this point, I too resent the fact that I may be lumped into a category of people that are deemed to want to hurt Bolivia. I echo Miguel’s sentiments that this rule especially hurts Bolivian-Americans, a group of people that truly have stronger ties to the country than the regular U.S. citizen. Even though I was born in the United States to two Bolivian parents, I do consider Cochabamba to be my hometown. I have spent enough time there over the past six years to feel much more at home there, and it has always been my goal to return someday to work to make the country a better place. Fortunately, the Bolivian government now allows for dual citizenship. However, due to the new rule, many do not know how to obtain this special privilege. My next trip to Bolivia will be in February, and I am hoping that I will never have to apply for a visa to enter my own country.