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Bolivia's Major English Language Publication

Issue 37

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Editorial by Amaru Villanueva Rance

Water streams vigorously down from the glaciers of the Andes, running fast through the rivers of the Amazon. Warm and thunderous showers create a blanket of steam which brings life to the rainforest in the east, and rises up ghostly and thick across subtropical valleys creating a dense and impenetrable fog.

Strangely, the national identity is defined more by the absence of water than by its abundance. Water permeates through every layer of Bolivian history beginning, of course, with the loss of the sea following the armed Chilean invasion of 1879. Bolivia became a mediterranean island surrounded by an ocean of land, closed off from the world beyond our geopolitical borders. The ocean now exists for Bolivia merely as an absence, a void which has scarred and taken hold over the national consciousness ever since.

In 1932 Bolivia went to war against another of its neighbours, fighting Paraguay to defend the Chaco region in the south-east of the country. Campesinos from the highlands, largely illiterate and indigenous, marched south-east to defend a country which barely recognised them as citizens, to defend an inhospitable land they had never before seen. Yet scores of these soldiers didn’t die in battle but perished in the heat and dryness of the Chaco. As Miguel Navajo, a military officer, records in his diary: 'No hay agua' - 'there is no water'. Navajo is the narrator of Augusto Céspedes’ famous story El Pozo which follows a squadron of soldiers who spend months digging a well in the Chaco with no result. They dig 50 metres into the ground with no success. 'Will this end one day?... Digging is no longer about finding water, but to accomplish a fatal plan, an inscrutable purpose', Navajo explains. The soldiers are suddenly attacked by Paraguayan forces, who are also in the search for the precious liquid. Most of the Bolivian soldiers die either digging or defending the well which never yields anything but humidity, heat, and silence.

This was not the last time Bolivians were to fight for their water or die trying to find it. Fast forward to the dawn of the 21st Century, and we find people across Cochabamba taking up banners, sticks and stones to defend their right to have access to water. This time the adversary was not an army but a multinational corporation who, with the help of the government, had secured rights to distribute and sell the water in a region where it is scarce and therefore dear. Facing the prospect of not being able to afford the most basic of human needs, several protesters died in the defense of el agua. Yet unlike the martyrs of centuries past, the fighters of the Water Wars succeeded in claiming back what was theirs.

The beginning of March 2014 saw the yearly reappearance of water wars of an entirely different type. Most of the combatants were under 18, and battles were fought across city in broad daylight. Ambushes were frequent and no civilian was safe from the menace. We are referring, of course, to the carnival season water fights. Armed with water pistols, balloons and white foam (yes, chemical warfare takes place here too), it is that time of the year when thousands of people take to the streets to engage in some fun with a good dose of tradition-sanctioned violence.

Tragically, water has also claimed several victims over the past month. The northeast of the country has seen some of the words floods in decades, leaving over 60 people dead and thousands of families homeless. Some have described it is a natural disaster but others protest there was nothing ‘natural’ about it, arguing that with sufficient foresight and adequate infrastructure, these disasters are preventable. We take this view, and dedicate this issue of Bolivian Express to all the people affected by the floods.

Arte_para_web

Articles from the latest issue of Bolivian Express

Putting Shoes on their Feet

02 April, 2014, Alison Walsh

Zattaro is an organisation that works with small rural communities to create sustainable development opportunities through fashion products. Bolivian Express visits the women behind an initiative which aims to export shoes from the Bolivian highlands for the rest of the world. It doesn’t really look like a workshop. We clamber out ...

LOS COLORADOS DE BOLIVIA

27 March, 2014, Neil Suchak

If you walk around Plaza Murillo in the centre of La Paz, you will probably be struck by two things: the number of pigeons that inhabit the plaza and the presence of army officers clad in scarlet uniforms at the corner of the square, guarding the Presidential Palace. These are ...

AGUA = GUERRA

27 March, 2014, Alison Walsh

When water was worth fighting for In the year 2000, the streets of Cochabamba were turned into a battleground, as the city’s residents protested against the privatisation of their water supply, and met with brutal opposition from armed police. This demonstration of people power and the shocking realisation that everything, ...

THE CARNAVAL WATER WARS

27 March, 2014, Laura Van Antwerp

THWACK! I knew the minute I felt it hit my backside. I has just experienced my first globo attack. I spun around to find myself face to face with a grinning boy, no older than ten years of age, clutching an oversized water gun in one hand, a bag of ...

NO MORE HEROES

27 March, 2014, Alison Walsh

Eduardo Abaroa: Man and Myth In the centre of the main square of the Sopocachi district of La Paz there sits a man. Perched on top of his plinth, he is a Bolivian hero, a symbol of national pride and patriotic self-sacrifice. But this is no Horatio Nelson brandishing his ...

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27 March, 2014, Laura Van Antwerp

Making the Most of a Disappearing Water Source Loose rock and snow crumble beneath my feet as I struggle to keep up with David, my leader, who is gliding effortlessly up the mountain ahead of me. I’m wheezing for air, my lungs cry out for oxygen. My body craves that ...

The Beaches of Santa Cruz

22 March, 2014, Finn Jubak

Three New Developments Promise Seaside Living to Bolivians Who Are Willing to Pay for It ‘In five years, there will be a city there,’ Francisco Cibrián tells me from behind his desk, his eyes glassy with a mix of admiration and exhaustion.‘Right now, it’s difficult to imagine because there’s not much ...

Portrait of a Void

22 March, 2014, Neil Suchak

How has the loss of the sea influenced Bolivian contemporary art? To those of us who come from a country surrounded by the sea, the plight of a landlocked nation, like Bolivia, is almost unfathomable. To us, the sea is simply a banal blue mass at the edge of a ...

Our Cover

22 March, 2014, Roberto Unterladstaetter

Roberto Unterladstaetter - Paisaje 1 - Fotografía Digital - 2009 (from Neil Suchak's piece on the influence of the maritime loss on Bolivian contemporary art) Unterladstaetter portrays the malaise caused by the loss of the sea, which has had a profound economic, cultural and psychological impact on the country. This feeling ...