Chapter 8: – Goni at Work and Play
Goni is not usually to be found in the Plaza Murillo, where there are altogether too many prying eyes and journalists on the lookout, though he will sometimes grant an official interview to national newspapers from his desk in the Burnt Palace.
No, to track him to his chosen lair you’ll need to go hunting past the new American Embassy (only a short distance away, for Goni psychologically needs proximity to his protectors). Continue to the next curve leading down to the zona Sewer and you’ll probably find him in the new presidential residence. On the same curve, for additional security, is located the headquarters of the Military Police. And there, under the watchful gaze of a lifesize statue of Confucius (the venerable philosopher giving a sense of stability to the proceedings), squats Goni’s preferred retreat; in reality a fortified bunker, where he can hide well out of the public view, with family and very few friends and his select body of trusted advisors.
For the inside story we are indebted to the reports of the privately engaged English teacher who had somehow managed to worm his way into this charmed inner circle. Let’s assume it isn’t Jim. And if not Jim in person (and allowing him access would be another one of those lapses of judgement to which Goni was prone), the individual in question passed on his information to Jim who gleefully relayed details to his friends and hence the magazines for which he wrote.
And thus we have been treated to a full description of the supporting cast.
Let us commence with the wife, who fulfilling an essential role in this traditional family, gave Goni his solid respectability. Always available for dinner parties and receptions, she played the hospitable hostess, dutifully accompanying her distinguished husband. She was capable of keeping the conversation light, entertaining and directed to non-controversial issues. In addition, her family connections had provided a useful hoist whereby Goni ascended the ladder of MNR hierarchy. She assumed her share of charitable duties, opening hospitals and orphanages, attending masses at the Cathedral as required. She always backed the policies of her husband in public and even in private. Not a whisper of scandal could be attributed to her diverse social life. A real asset, doubtless. She would even provide a shoulder for Goni to cry on in his times of woe, eventually accompanying him into exile, as was appropriate. She certainly appreciated the material benefits of his ambitions. But did she ever understand his vision or share his philosophy? A social asset, certainly, but the one member of the inner family circle who possessed the drive that endeared her to Goni and fully shared his view of the world was the oldest daughter.
The daughter was a tactician after Goni’s heart, super-capable of running the show. In retrospect one wonders if she didn’t actually have a negative effect, bolstering his pride when it would have been more advisable to temper his enthusiasm and focus strategies. Indeed, Goni already had marked her as the dynastic heir(ess) which was hardly surprising as the eldest son was another kettle of fish.
They say that Mother constantly sprayed perfumed aerosols around the residence to combat the plague of mosquitos rising from the rogue rivers meandering from the city centre. True enough, but what if she were also trying to mask the smell of illegal substances wafting from her son’s den. Let’s just say that the elder son was a rock n’ roller, the sound of the Doors and the Dead blaring at full volume from his quarters. And therefore useless in the current crisis.
Beyond this intimate family circle, who else could Goni confide in? No cabinet ministers had access to the private quarters, except for the swashbuckling Defence Minister Sanchez Berzain, the one remaining political ally posing as the Fox (of his part in the climax of the saga, much more later) though it can already be stated that the beleaguered President would have been better served by mellower counsel.
Which only leaves the team of foreign advisors that Goni had imported to guide him to his narrow victory in last year’s presidential election. This was the crew who had engineered (squeaked) the 22% electoral triumph and had lingered to overstay their welcome. Those who remained were a sneaky, simpering bunch, much given to secretly filming cabinet meetings through false mirrors and ridiculing the resultant conversations. Their feedback from the February disasters ran on the line of “crisis – what crisis? Our brand is crisis; we thrive on it.” The main part of the bunch answered interchangeably to the names of Tad and Jeremy and specialised in administering unsound opinions such as of course Goni was disliked because the public perceived him as being arrogant. “But, never mind, Mr. President. Stick with the globalization strategy. Make Bolivia a center for world investment. Use your natural resources to tempt foreign capital into the country, and unemployment will vanish by itself...” and the like – the kind of neo-liberal tripe that they’d picked up from the focus groups they’d also been feeding and then clandestinely filming in order to buttress Goni’s monstrous ego.
When it would have been healthier to slap him around the mouth and impress on him the concepts that were circulating the streets - of national pride and dignity. Bolivia had served for too long as a free lunch for foreign corporations eager to combine fast bucks with cheap labour. This was the sentiment of the dispossessed masses in the Alto and already a force was emerging that could give voice to this position – an expression that was seen as humble, incorruptible and authentic – the sound of Goni’s nemesis –Evo.
The concept of Goni at play raises more difficulty, for in truth, weighed down by what he perceived as his responsibilities, he had little time for leisure activities, unless one includes the exercise and fitness regime of weights and devices which he had installed below the conference room to control his body’s tendency to swell. Goni could quite enjoy gathering his confederates around like a bunch of kids in the locker-room if only because it so reminded him of the good old days back in the States. Beyond that, Goni’s chief time of sedate contemplation was spent in the comfortable armchair beside his desk, studying stuffy reports on Bolivia’s progress towards globalisation targets under his presidency or basking in reading reports from the Wall Street Journal about his growing reputation as a leader who has orchestrated a tremendous rise of investment opportunities in mining operations. Dry, very dry. And a somewhat myopic investment- -