June 27, 2012

by reganhale

Those moments when you feel as though you are in a movie, or book, or photograph – anything but reality.  Do you know them?

If so, perhaps you can identify with my morning.  If not, maybe you should come to Bolivia.

Before I can describe it, however, a bit of background is necessary.  Yesterday, I mentioned the TIPNIS marchers, though quite briefly.  This group is comprised of over a thousand people who have been marching for over two months to protest the building of a road through protected jungle land.  Most of the people are indigenous people, native to the jungle region affected by the planned change.  The issue is not only one of environmental ethics, but also human rights and government corruption.

However, this march is far from the first of its kind.  Shortly after I arrived in Bolivia, I received a safety briefing from Emma that included the explanation that “In Bolivia, decisions are not made in Parliament, they are made on the streets.”  Last fall, the same group of people completed a similar march that eventually led to the creation of this so-called “protected land,” a seemingly successful win for the indigenous people.  That is, until pressure from a Brazilian company and coca growers served as the genesis for the road project authorized by Eva Morales.


What has made this demonstration particularly interesting is the fact that a strike by the Bolivian police began about 2 days prior to the march’s scheduled arrival in the city.  Though ironically traffic flows more smoothly and crime rates decrease when the police stop working, the strike meant that there would be no protection for the marchers against opposing forces such as the president’s guerrillas.  For this reason, the “marchistas” decided yesterday to postpone their entrance into La Paz and camp on the outskirts, hence the opportunity that the Mendozas saw to visit the camp and donate such things as toys and blankets.

This morning saw the end of the police strike as well as the demonstration’s entrance into the city.  And so I went, with Emma, Bell, and Rolando to welcome the marchers into La Paz.  After the drive into the city, we took a taxi to meet the marchers where we applauded and raised our “Bienvenidos a La Paz” and “Gracias marchistas” signs.  Bell and I became quite the attraction, probably something to do with the fact that she is 9 and I am quite obviously a “gringa” or foreigner.

Shortly after this took place, we began marching alongside them.  Much as David and Bell had been the night before, I was struck by both the number of children present as well as the condition of the people marching, many of whom had either no shoes or flip-flops.  As we continued the march into the city, I learned various chants including the following:

“Pacha Mama, Pacha Mama,

No se cuida, no te llama”

“TIPNIS – si!

Coca – no!”

“TIPNIS no se toca para planta más coca!”

A good way to learn Spanish…eh?  Actually, last night, Bell explained to me that it was through marching that she had learned Spanish curse words.  The comment reminds me of the competition my older sister and I once had at a similar age about the most efficient way to learn bad words. I claimed it was through books; she, school bathroom stalls.  So, naturally, we counted up what we knew and… she won.

However, the march not only provided an informal Spanish lesson and cultural immersion opportunity, but also thought-provoking inspiration.  I have mentioned the two months of marching and the lack of proper shoes, but not yet the fact that the march very well could amount to nothing.  The president left the city the day before they arrived to avoid meeting with them.  Furthermore, the land for which the marchers are fighting to protect is not owned by individuals but instead, the collective group.  Sixty-five days and three hundred fifty miles of marching with a mere hope of affecting change on behalf of a community.  Not to mention the fact that they relied primarily on food and other resource donations throughout the duration of the march.

Lesson of the day: Big change requires genuine passion.