Saturday, December 05, 2009

election weekend!

It's election weekend in Bolivia and tomorrow's vote will decide whether or not Evo gets to stay in office. We went to a rally for the opposition party in Sucre's town square the other night, and it's like Obama came to town: Manfred is the next big thing!
Fun fact: Bolivians aren't allowed to buy/have alcohol for the 40 hours leading up to voting! NO DRUNKIES IN THE VOTING BOOTHS, POR FAVOR.
As we spent long days in the desert last week, our driver Sergio and I passed the time in the freezing Altiplano talking about the government (strange thing about a second language: I can carry on a detailed Spanish conversation about politics but sometimes forget how to tell a simple joke. Oy vey). Our first night, as we huddled next to an open stove in an adobe hut, Sergio told me in his slow, round Bolivian drawl about how so many campesinos, including his mother, didn't have a national identity card until Evo mandated that they be free of charge. With that, she joined the masses of poor workers, previously disenfranchised, who put him into office four years ago.
Great deal, right? I always thought the story of Evo's election in 2006 sounded like what politics should be: a poor Aymara campesino makes good, and uses his trailblazing presidency to unite a country in a more equitable system and remind Bolivians that the Quechua and Aymara have significance as well. Oh wow. I'm so idealistic sometimes. As usual, politics are WAY more corrupt and human nature WAY shadier than I want to admit.
My Spanish tutor JuanJose just rolls his eyes when Evo's name comes up, and he is fairly indicative of the even divide between "city Bolivians" and "country Bolivians." Yes, as Sergio told me before, Evo did provide free carnet cards to the campesinos who didn't have them before, but he also did it illegally, since many of them were given double cards. He also traded the identity cards directly for votes. In the villages, elections were not a private affair, as campesinos had to hold up their vote for public review after casting it in the booth. If they didn't vote for Evo, they were punished; for example, public beatings with a belt. And with such measures, he naturally had a landslide victory with the previously disenfranchised villagers. "He has also succeeded in dividing those in the city and those in the campo," JuanJose said with disappointment. "He wants to change the constitution, and when city-dwellers protest (as they did in Sucre recently) they are beat down. Three people died here and many more were injured, but Evo never once acknowledged it or apologized for what happened. People in the city don't like him at all, for good reason."
Later, I chatted with Marisol about the same thing and she shook her head sadly at the unjust government that is just "otra cara de la misma moneda"-- another side of the same coin. She also mourned the lack of education outside of the cities that prevents the majority of Quechua and Aymara villagers from seeing beyond charisma, as well as the placation measures that give them the false sense of progress (for example, a new 50 boliviano monthly stipend for pregnant mothers. 50 bolivianos is about $6: "that's not help! That's an insult!" Marisol cries. But because it's 50 bolivianos more than they got before, they are deceived into thinking the government is progressing).
Voting is on Sunday, and emotions are running high in Sucre.

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