Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Chapter 13: The Tide Turns Against Goni.
Throughout the history of this land, later known as Bolivia, yet well before Simon Bolivar was even a twinkle in the eyes of his great-great grandparents, indeed prior to any Europeans crossing into this continent, from the very earliest times, roving intruders laid their hands on what they considered available until the greed of each invader had in turn, by an ironic twist, caused their own downfall.
For example, the Incas so valued the sun-metal, gold, for its beauty that their interest had attracted the covetousness of the Spanish conquerors who subsequently changed their attention to the silver lodes recently discovered in the Cerro Rico of Potosì. Then the surfeit of silver bullion introduced into the European economy caused the inflation that so weakened the Spanish control of their colonies, that one by one they fought for and gained their independence.
And so in a repetitive cycle, in this corner of the Andes, on this fertile high plain, the fortune that seemed to favour the conquerors proved to contain a wicked spin that would make their happy benefactors rue the day that luck appeared to have smiled on them. The Incan and Spanish Empires came to their natural ends, and, as a student of history, Goni should surely have learned how every stroke of good fortune in this part of the world seems to rebound on inept national leadership.
It’s as easy to rely on hindsight as talking through your arse, but one might have expected someone with the educational opportunities of Goni to have picked up some lessons from contemplating Bolivia’s recent history.
On countless grounds, with any number of examples, he should have been aware how each stage of the country’s development led to the loss of territory. For example the rubber boom of the 19th century resulted in the snatching of Acre by the Brazilians. In another case, the rise of guano (bird-shit) for use as fertiliser, induced the War of the Pacific and the humiliating seizure of the Pacific coastline, at one fell swoop changing Bolivia into a landlocked country. And Goni should have noted the role of the British in egging on the Chileans. If not including this in his analysis any alert Bolivian leader must certainly have detected the residual resentment, the folk memory, reinforced annually by parades of remembrance to mark the anniversary of the taking of the Pacific coastline. Every Bolivian schoolkid is aware of this loss, it’s a cornerstone of their growth. Is it any excuse that Goni missed out on this stage of development by spending his childhood and youth in Chicago?
So Goni can be accused not only of ignorance but also arrogance in not recognising the common indignation that the incursion of foreign capital and interests has had on the mindset of ordinary Bolivians. So out of touch.
The next haul after gold and silver comes with a more modern metal, tin. Once again the leading investors are foreign companies. But in another memo from history to Goni, he ought to have noted the career of Simon Patiño, a homegrown talent, who started as a humble miner in Oruro and ended up as a mine-owner with his yachts anchored off Monte Carlo, preferring to ship the ore to his foundry in Liverpool, England rather than promoting income and enterprise for his fellow countrymen. Message to Goni: beware especially of those that forsake the homeland and fall for the blandishments of foreign luxuries. Patiño, though Bolivian, became a byword for a traitor. His heart was not here. His loyalties were elsewhere.
And finally the ultimate lure of petroleum, the scarce fuel so necessary for technological advance, a resource that Bolivia discovers in relative abundance and which has already provoked one disastrous war with another neighbour, Paraguay and caused yet one more crucial loss of territory leading to the liberating revolution of 1952 in which Goni’s own party the MNR took a leading role. Goni beware – learn from history or else become its latest victim. And while on the subject of cool fuels, let’s look at its sister energy provider, natural gas, which is where Goni comes a cropper.
His advisory team would naturally recommend a plan based on economic good sense. The best market for this valuable resource is California where every citizen puts their means of transport ahead of every other consideration, perhaps even their families. Their industries need fuel and the citizens of California will pay top prices to ensure the continuity of production. “Only one problem, ”smirks Tad or Jeremy, whispering into Goni’s ear. “You remember Bolivia is landlocked. The only way to get the gas cheaply to the coast is through Chile. Do you foresee any hitches with sending the consignments through to the Pacific coast by this route, Mr. President, sir? “Of course not,” replies Goni. “The Chileans are in business and will recognize the cost efficiency behind our proposal. Everyone will.”
But, of course, not everyone did, especially the common folk up in the Alto who had the image of Chile the Great Usurper, the overbearing and cruel neighbour who had robbed Bolivia of its access to the sea. So Tad or Jeremy’s bright little suggestion while making perfect sense in terms of economic feasibility, went against the gut feelings of every Bolivian who had ever attended the annual ceremony of remembrance as an impressionable schoolkid – which, of course, Goni never had. A fateful mistake for Goni to add to the other factors of misreading the history of the country which he was supposed to be leading.
‘NO GAS FOR CHILE’ read the slogans on the banners which began appearing on the marches downtown to the city of La Paz. Through ignorance and arrogance and listening to the poor advice of his imported team Goni has succeeded in uniting the opposition to his rule. And with the quirkiness that inevitably seems to attend inept leaders, at this very moment an authentic spokesman for the downtrodden has surfaced.
Evo Morales summed up in the popular imagination whatever Goni lacked. Evo, an indigenous representative who has not abandoned his people, first came to public notice as the leader of the coca producers of Chapare, he spoke Aymara and Quechua, played trombone in a brass band and was even known to enjoy participating in a friendly game of football. With these popular attributes, he left Goni tongue-tied. It was Evo who gave voice to the prevailing resentment against shipping Bolivian gas through Chile and with that, Goni’s fate was as good as sealed.
But Goni is still insisting that he is the constitutionally elected president. So what does he want, the lamppost where Villaroel was hanged by opponents in the 1940s? It’s an available option.
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Turns out that apart from being another one of Jim’s proteges stationed on their path to spike their progress (acccording to Sandy), Huascar was also quite a live wire in his own right. Once he discovered how reluctant the krew were to return to La Paz and guessed the reasons why, Huascar volunteered to ferry them on to the next stage of their tour and chose the destination himself.
“I suggest you travel to Rurrenabaque. That’s where my father, Don Solon lives. I’m sure he’d love to meet you and I expect as close friends of Jim’s, he’ll have a couple of surprises in store for you,” he explained to Sandy. What he didn’t say was that Don Solon was a practising yatiri or curandero and his surprises tended to be quite startling. But as the son of the resident witch-doctor it amused Huascar to keep quiet about his father’s games. Nor did he bother to mention, until challenged by Koff brandishing his map of Bolivia, the distances involved in reaching Rurennabaque, particularly if they had to avoid La Paz.
Rurennabaque lay many miles to the north-east of the Lake, in almost lowland jungle territory. “No problem,” boasted Huascar, “we can fly there.” As well as his guide duties, Huascar shared with his Dad a tour agency which ran flights from La Paz airport to Rurennabaque for rich tourists keen to avoid the tortuous 24-hour bus journey. How improbably convenient, considered Sandy.
“No problem. I’ll check, but I’m fairly certain there’ll be some vacancies on one of the flights so early in the year. We can divert the plane to Copacabana. There’s a landing strip just outside the town and I bet that not one of tourists will notice the difference,” Sandy translated, while Geordie and Koff swung between bemusement and awe at the skill and recourses available to this generous new friend. “Of course, I’ll be accompanying you to ensure you make contact with Don Solon.”
Now, why did this sound suspicious to the krew? Able but overly pushy was the verdict on young Huascar. Once again, they lamented the absence of any contact with Jim, if only to check on Huascar’s credentials and intentions.
So it was early next morning they found themselves boarding a half-deserted Lear jet on a levelled landing strip just outside Copacabana, and a mere hour and a half later landing amidst the sultry humidity of a jungle runway.
A battered jeep, driven by Don Solon himself, picked them up and took them to the curandero’s rambling house. A series of mini-courtyards spilled off from the main patio in a pattern that convinced the krew of some subconscious meaning if only they could grasp it. In and around the maze of corridors, until a double-door was held open to reveal Don Solon’s inner sanctum, a vast laboratory whence drifted a series of intriguing aromas. Involuntarily they breathed in the herbal scents touched with a tang of danger and the curandero’s voice already sounded distant and distorted. “Let’s get out of here,” whispered Koff. Sandy squeezed his hand in agreement but Geordie blustered, “Probably too late.”
Solon was mixing liquids that were brewing in various pitchers. “Don’t be afraid. Our mutual friend Jaime has asked me to prepare a portion of ayahuascar for you, which is what I’m doing now.” Geordie quivered, Koff blanched, but Sandy spoke out. “ I tried this stuff one time before in Mexico. Ayahuascar - yage – it’s a beautiful, magic trip I can assure you. Don’t be scared, boys. So, who’s going to be our guide?” Don Solon was already handing the stoppered phial of smoky green solution to Huascar. “My son will give instructions and watch over you. No fear. Let go. Happy trails.” Then he had disappeared.
. Koff was still apprehensive but Geordie was all for it. Nobody had eaten anything since that morning, and Huascar insisted they continue fasting. Then he picked up a machete and followed him down to the river-bank where they took a canoe over to the other side. Through the dense undergrowth Huascar hacked a zig-zag path until they reached a clearing where they rested on round boulders. Then Huascar gathered scraps of dry wood and started a bonfire as dusk quickly fell. Suddenly it was night. They listened in silence to the jungle sounds, birds hooting and screaming, beasts scavenging, termites burying treasures in their mounds. Magic, as Sandy had claimed, and they had yet to ingest the potion. Tension built.
As dawn approached, Huascar gave them each half a cup of the bitter ayahuascar liquid and pushed them back onto the canoe, proceeding downriver until he reached a whirlpool near a couple of enormous rocks with snakes carved on them. Huascar skilfully glided the canoe to a sandy bank and they followed a path that he cleared with the machete. Must have been an hour and still no noticeable effects, but they were certainly lost. Suddenly Huascar halts and points into the mist ahead.
“Behold, Cathedral Rock.”
At first they could distinguish no shapes, but soon they are trudging up a steep track, stumbling over obstacles. Then the cathedral shaped rock comes into view solidly, daunting and ominous, though seemingly within easy reach. What a delusion. No sooner has the goal become manifest than the full impact of the drug hits the krew, a sudden whirlwind envelopes them and, to cap it all, Huascar has vanished. Koff collapses in panic. They have to rely on Sandy, the experienced hiker, to rescue them on this horrendous trek, which she does with some aplomb until, that is, the panthers emerge, whereupon Geordie’s courage dissolves. Fortunately, right on cue Don Solon materializes (where did he come from?) and commences to charm the savage cats with his flute. They slink away.
Now the krew are on the summit, a warm breeze clears the air and they realize that the choice of freedom has always been theirs. A telepathic vision unites them to Jim. They see this pair of Khazari horsemen galloping towards the White Fortress. ’So that’s where those dreams of mine come from,‘ thinks Koff, relieved, but still quaking. Geordie plays down his fears, and Sandy whoops, ‘How weird!’ as they re-emerge after several lifetimes in Solon’s perilous, intricate patios.