Tuesday, 29 December 2009
CHAPTER 16: It’s our gas
In Jim’s words paraphrased into the refrain
Jumping Jack Flash – it’s our gas
As the fate of the country’s natural resources transformed itself into an issue of national pride, now is an apt moment to compare in greater detail the personalities of Evo and Goni, more specifically the qualities of Evo that allowed him to define the coming agenda and the defects in Goni that blocked his chances of survival.
As already mentioned, Evo first became publically known as a union official in the coca producers’ organization. Already he was slightly out of bounds, coca production being a delicate matter, frowned on by the authorities and the US drug enforcement bodies. But this notoriety did Evo no harm especially as it became evident that he combined his political activities (he had founded his own party MAS - Movement Towards Socialism) with an enthusiasm for playing football and the trombone in his own brass band. What gradually emerges is a public picture of Evo as a secular, informal indigenous leader, on the path which will eventually conduct him to his successful bid for the Presidency in later years. And then came his championing of the wiphala, as an alternative to the Bolivian national flag. The wiphala, composed of quadrilateral subdivisions, made from small squares of Andean textiles, had a very special origin, principally connected to the momentous year of 1992, which is when the combined might of Europe and the States decided that the world might want to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. But, in the event, it didn’t work out like that; to the surprise of the Bolivian and other South American governments, the jubilee turned into a grass-roots assault on the invaders who assumed they could exult in the annexation of previously free territory. In city after city, from Lima to Cuzco, from Quito to La Paz, the gala celebrations were cancelled before the waves of righteous anger unleashed by the effrontery of the trespassers. Fuck Columbus; he thought he was headed for India (which is why the inhabitants of this land were mistakenly labelled ‘indians’), and reached a previously unannexed continent. What is there to celebrate in his error?
And from this rejection of the 500th anniversary, the wiphala emerged in public consciousness as another option which could validly represent Andean awareness.
That Evo had the good sense to uphold the value of the wiphala attests to his accurate reading of the national mood. The messages contained in the various quadrilateral subdivisions are quite subtle, depending on which of the 7 colours of the rainbow form the central rectangle. Red symbolizes the earth, orange health, yellow energy, green production, purple government, blue the godhead and space, and most importantly white, time and harmony. A moveable feast indeed, though the different variants are open to interpretation, Evo’s choice of the wiphala.as the appropriate ayllu flag for ceremonial events reveals an understanding of indigenous values that put Goni to shame.
In contrast, public opinion noted the following gross failings in Goni, which we shall his classify as his Gonerias, if you’ll excuse the crudity of the term. Without doubt, Goni was viewed as arrogant and selfish even by those political allies who remained at his side. For the rape of Bolivia, historically and, in modern times, to the multi-nationals, is branded as a wholesale sell-out by anyone with even the slightest knowledge of current affairs. One doesn’t need to be an international agitator to mark Goni out as greedy for the way his policies have casually increased his personal fortune.
No wonder that Evo has been able to establish the terms of debate on the road to the tragic finale of Goni’s wretched regime. What we are observing here is the demise of neo-liberalism as a feasible alternative to the development of Bolivia and the groundwork for Evo’s eventual accession to the Presidency in which he will regale the watching world with his informal wardrobe (no ties on this man), his secular fancies (he will ensure his future security by reading coca leaves) and surprise onlookers by naming Pancho Choque as his Foreign Minister, to represent the revolutionary stance of Evo’s Presidency. All to come; no hurry; hold your horses.
Chapter 15: The Alto Scandalised
The mock heroic exploits of the Flying Fox and his goon hit squad hardened attitudes among the population at large, especially among the ranks of the downtrodden in the heights of the Alto. Goni’s asinine behaviour had converted him into more than a figure of ridicule, worse than even a traitor, in fact a disgrace to the reputation of the country. Steps were taken, decisions made, it would seem by mutual agreement, or even perhaps telepathically, to rid the stage of this outrageous character. At whatever cost, Goni had to go!
Thus, steps were consensually taken to block access to petrol and gasoline to the downtown vulnerable city of La Paz. Essential supplies of water and electricity also had to navigate the Alto. An accident of geography? Perhaps. And this is why the rulers have always constructed their castles on the heights. It pays to be the one hurling boiling oil on the marauders, doesn’t it?
Of course, it was Pancho Choque who had predicted that the Alto would bring the city to its knees. “The Alto is ours,” he had always proclaimed, and the hidden hand of this revolutionary was clearly suspected by the competent authorities such as Coronel Waldo Ventura. In fact, Waldo even went as far as accusing Jim of being part of the conspiracy (and who really knows what Jim was up to?), but the notion of foreign influences at work is stretching it rather – as if, after all, Goni’s key advisors weren’t also rank outsiders.
No, the underdogs on the heights had taken the decision to oust Goni and his wretched administration. Good for them!
Essential support came from the flanks of the city, showing that solidarity was spreading to other disadvantaged sectors while the privileged zona sewer merely shrugged its shoulders, the snobbish fools. Ah but their moment of crisis will fast arrive, never fear. A perfect storm is brewing for Goni and his cohorts.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Chapter 14 : Escape from Sorata
The krew were flown back, care of the ever-obliging Huascar, still encapsulated in the drug-induced coma brought on by the ayahuasacar experience, to Copacabana, where they decided against hiring a taxi to the next destination, Sorata, because such expenditure would be way too conspicuous. They still nursed the illusion that they could remain invisible, leaving them no choice but to choose the ‘soft option’ of awaiting public transport in the Ceja. At least, waiting for a bus to Sorata, they were able catch the mood in the Alto of deepening crisis and inevitable confrontation.
But why should they care about Goni’s troubles?
“One last excursion,” joked Koff, “before the shit really hits the fan.” If only it were that simple to ignore the thunder of oncoming reality.
Roadblocks had spread beyond the Alto, and into the countryside, but our pals were fortunate to avoid trouble as they neared their destination.
Sandy, Geordie and Koff, after their strenuous wanderings through the hinterland of the Bolivian experience, were content enough to install themselves in this delightful paradise. Sorata is widely seen as the acme of tourism with a good variety of foodstuffs, even had reasonable coffee available, with a wide choice of hotels and lodging houses (including an ex-Nazi intruder turned hotel proprietor for those with twisted tastes). And if not precisely sub-tropical, it was a least getting warmer for those tourists who had just arrived from the Lake. And what views; from the central square, one could see a hunky ice-laden mountain, one of the giants of the Andean cordillera.
No wonder it ranks high on a list of must-see, must-try-out or “highly recommended” as the Only-Plan-It handbook crows. To even the most seasoned traveller, Sorata is considered essential.
But every paradise has its downside, the mirror image, for to reach Sorata one has to pass through independent indigenous Aymara territory – the much feared town of Achacachi, the dreaded Rinconada stretch that Jim had once marched across. And with the waves of agitation against Goni’s government spreading from the city of La Paz and especially the cantakerous Alto throughout the high plain, it doesn’t take much insight to predict that Sorata with its rich pickings of foreign tourists, nervous and well-connected, would become a prime target.
Indeed Sorata has a history of being besieged in troubled times. On one noteworthy occasion, it had been sacked by Tupac Katari during a peasant uprising as Spanish colonial times drew to their natural end.
Now, with the roadblocks to increase pressure on Goni spreading and as the noose tightened, as good food and luxuries (drink?) became scarce, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the hospitality of good hosts would prove to be wafer-thin. Gradually the sweet beckoning welcome soured. With the routes out now cut, the town was being throttled and the atmosphere has turned threatening.
. Koff, Geordie and Sandy enjoyed the pressure up to a point. Footloose and fancy-free, but then they had no airplane flights to catch, no hotel destinations booked in neighbouring countries to respect. Lucky them!
And yet other privileged tourists were in constant email contact with worried families back home. Not even a postal strike to interrupt communication or cut telephone lines. Modern times, no such isolation is possible.
In the face of so many complaints from abroad, Goni ordered his swashbuckling Minister of Defence, Sanchez Berzain to take immediate steps and rescue the poor, beleaguered backpackers before the reputation of the country was irredeemably tarnished. Or maybe Berzain personally volunteered to prove his fidelity to his leader. Either way, the valiant Berzain suddenly materialised in the sky above Sorata at the controls of a heliopter he had commandeered. Behind him followed truckloads of troops. The peasants blocking the routes in prudently made themselves scarce for the moment, leaving the soldiers free to dismount and laboriously clear the obstacles, ranging from jagged rocks to boulders, out of the road. Helicopters are not machines that function very efficiently at altitude, so how the Minister negotiated the high plain is anybody’s guess, but his contraption was making one hell of a din as he circled the town looking for a site to land. Berzain selecting a convenient field near the center, ignoring the fact that a football game was about to commence. One might have thought that the goalposts, twenty-two players in colourful shirts and the assembled spectators would have indicated to any sane observer that the spot was occupied, but Berzain was on a mission, had higher goals in sight and so with typical pluck, Berzain chose to ignore local sensitivities and land on the pitch, which had been recently mown in preparation for the game.
The chopper descended spraying all alike with lawn clippings, assorted trash and occasional clumps of dog shit. Nor is it any wonder that the surprise entrance was distinctly unpopular and rather than giving the speech he had prepared for the occasion (about how he has arrived to assess the situation on the ground, before attempting to restore the reputation of a vital touristic resource, etc. etc.) Berzain found himself involved in a fist fight with the Mayor.
Our krew avoided all this unpleasantness not from a dislike of football but because they had invented their own mission in the nearby community of Pocobaya, where various of las Maravillas had assured them they would surely receive news of Jim. No further information being provided, this would be their last chance to verify the matter. Taking care to skirt protesters at Ilobaya where the sheer face of a cliff made the road vulnerable to attack from flying rocks from above, Koff, Geordie and Sandy began their excursion first halting by the gigantic statue of Christ with outstretched arms which the good citizens of Sorata had raised to protect them against such times as these.
“Ignatz would approve,” said Sandy, embracing the sandal-clad feet. “But he seems almost irrelevant out here. Let’s be quick. I don’t feel we have much time left.”
“Patience,” advised Koff. “This could be where Jim displays his hand.”
Geordie just guffawed.
Eventually they slid down a side-track into Pocobaya that revealed the community nestled below amid a verdant sea of crops.
“How will we be recognized as Jim’s friends,” ventured Geordie. “The damned tourists are unpopular. They’ve brought so many problems to this town already.”
“I’ve already thought this problem through,” announced Koff, unfurling a rough sketch of Jim’s personal herbstalk emblem that Huascar had shown them in the Island of the Sun. “If this doesn’t prove our friendly status, we’re on the wrong track anyway.”
And sure enough, as they wandered through the various crops, the beans, the towering maize stalks, even the occasional coca plantations, in search of Jim’s prized harvest, local youths approached them, nodded at Koff’s crude poster, and their surly countenances somehow became more relaxed. “Like Jim always said, ‘Keep that freak flag flying, what?’ Can do no harm,” Geordie remarked. And eventually Sandy was able to engage a band of Pocobaya’s youth in conversation about Jim.
“Finally,” said the girl who spoke up for the group, “he introduced us to a crop that we could sell at a profit to visitors and be free of our parents’ obsession with cows and donkeys. Wanna buy?” and she withdrew a plastic bag from her school satchel and offered it to the tourists. “You see,” mused Koff. “All Jim’s efforts were not just pipe dreams.” General laughter. “Not all gone up in smoke!” And to prove their goodwill, the next generation of Pocobayan peasantry shared a righteous pipe-full and advised the visitors to make themselves scarce before the troops arrived and fighting began in earnest.
Vindicated in their confidence of their good friend’s influence in fields they had hardly dared imagine, the krew scuttled back to the town centre where three luxury coaches had been assembled to ferry those willing to run to safety under the watchful custody of a dozen army trucks, where soldiers pointing their rifles aggressively out from the back were urging tourists and other local solid citizens to take this one chance for salvation and get on board the buses. The Flying Fox, Berzain, bloody- nosed after his altercation with the Mayor, was in vehement mood, allowing no back-pedaling or doubts among those fortunate few he had selected for survival. Then he was aloft again in his chopper, promising all the back-up and firepower that his troops could provide, departing to cat-calls and booing from the spectators still ranged around the football pitch. A final comment from the Mayor who was determined to brave the storm on home territory, come what may: “Oh stupid Berzain, don’t forget what happened to the last dignitary who put his faith in flying helicopters!” He was referring to the fate of the late, unlamented President Barrientos the man responsible for conniving in the murder of Che Guevara. Barrientos received his come-uppance when his helicopter was blown-up by a jealous husband whose wife Barrientos had installed as his latest and last mistress. The games played by Bolivia’s power elites (as recounted by Jim in Chapter 8 of tha’ nameless book.)
“I don’t feel good about what we’re doing,” sighed Sandy while entering the air-conditioned bus. “These thugs look ready to blast away anyone in their way.”
“Right,” agreed the boys but they were already too nicely stoned to consider alternatives seriously, and anyway they could see flames spiralling skywards from the hotel of the ex-Nazi .
“No choice. Off we go!”
But how much they lamented their decision when they observed some of their new friends picked off by army rifles at the Pocobaya road-block and even worse when the convoy was surrounded in Warisata, the proud home of Bolivia’s first indigenous teacher-training college, where the panicked troops opened fire quite randomly and managed to shoot an innocent young girl peering out of her window.
And all the while, the Flying Fox supervised the massacre, darting around in his ‘chopper like a demented hornet, gesticulating wildly from above in his brown pilot’s jacket and encouraging the soldiers to continue their awful tasks.
No wonder the krew reached La Paz well after midnight, shaken and aghast at what had been compelled to witness, distinctly unstoned.