Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

a brief update from La Paz

We´ve been laying low for the past day (a needed break), but we wanted to send a brief update about our work in La Paz (that is, the things we´ve done aside from meeting the president).

Since we started filming two weeks ago, we have been in close collaboration with several MST organizers and members.  One in particular, Eulogio, has been a critical part of our film and it is high time that we give him a nod.  Eulogio has been a part of the MST movement in Bolivia since it´s birth in 2000, and he has land (although still untitled) in one of the MST settlements, Tierra Prometida (which we have not visited during our filming).  He is a regional organizer and active member, and he has accompanied us on nearly every trip we´ve taken.  It is thanks to him that we were able to meet Evo Morales.  Additionally, he is one of the main ¨heroes¨ of our film.  He comes from a lowland indigenous background, and his parents were both slaves on a hacienda in the Department of Santa Cruz.  His father fought in the Agrarian Revolution in 1952, and Eulogio has carried on his father´s vision for more just land and labor policies.  He currently lives in a marginal barrio on the outskirts of Santa Cruz and has a long bus ride to the city center, where he has held numerous odd jobs trying to make ends meet.  Eulogio has been a good friend, a visionary for the movement, and our direct entree into the worlds of MST.

With Eulogio´s aid, we have interviewed numerous people in the land reform offices.  The first person we spoke with was Bienvenido Zacu, the General Director of Communal Land and the Vice Minister of Land for Bolivia (all government officials here have remarkable titles!).  Bienvenido was an organizer for indigenous land rights in the Guarayo Province of Santa Cruz, and he is now a part of the new indigenous face of Bolivia´s national government.  He spoke often of his humble background — he has a great deal of respect for the Morales administration for putting grassroots organizers in high level government positions.  During his interview, he spoke of the agrarian reforms as well as the challenges of dealing with the Santa Cruz agrarian elites and business community. 

We also interviewed Ramiro Llanos, the first legal advisor to the movement who now works for the national CEJIS office (an NGO that provides in kind legal support to indigenous people fighting for land rights).  He noted that, in spite of Morales´s support for MST, there are still many challenges at the community level that MAS (Movement Toward Socialism, Morales´s political party) has yet to address.  He is the only policy person with whom we´ve spoken who commented on the lack of critical resources in rural areas, such as the lack of medical clinics, schools, potable water, and other infrastructure.  While the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela have provided tractors, seeds, and other farm equipment to some rural communities, there is still much work to be done before these communities will fully prosper.  Llanos believes that MST leaders will need to continue to pressure the government to gain these services.

Our interviews with other figures in the central government reflected many of these same sentiments.  These interviews will provide a larger, political-economic framework for our film, but the everyday lives of the campesinos will be at the center.

Tomorrow night, we head back to Santa Cruz after another full day of filming.  Tuesday, we will be tying up loose ends in Santa Cruz as we try to gather photos and music to complement the video footage we´ve captured.  We pack up and head back to the U.S. on Wednesday.  We´ll do our best to update the blog and add photos as time permits!

Hope you are all doing well,

Niki, Kara & Emily

Pueblos Unidos: building a community

We recently took a trip to the Pueblos Unidos community in the province of Guarayo.  After spending 10 hours on the back of a large, flatbed pick-up truck (camioneta), we were welcomed by a sign that read ¨Welcome to Pueblos Unidos, a sustainable agricultural community.¨ We were also welcomed by compañeros who help us cross the small river separating the road from the community — they ferried us across in canoes that the community had constructed.

Arriving at Pueblos Unidos

We were warmly welcomed and community members provided us with a guest house, inside which we set up our tents.  Large expanses of productive, agricultural land served as the backdrop to the pueblo.  The village center consists of small homes made of motacu branches and the wood that is cleared to make way for the fields (chacos).  There was a warm, optimistic feeling in this community in constrast to the sense of sadness that lingered at Los Sotos (in the Gran Chaco region).  Pueblos Unidos has more water, has had more productive crop cycles, and more national and international attention and support than Gran Chaco.

We were filthy and exhausted after our trip there, and did not manage to do any filming during our first evening in the community.  However, we got up early the next morning (Monday).  First, we attended a community meeting to gain permission to proceed with the film project.  Some community members were a bit suspicious since they have experienced disappointment and unfulfilled promises in the past.  There was democratic and open debate in which people spoke individually, publicly expressing their opinions (some were doubtful while others were fully supportive).  In the end, the compañeros voted unanimously to allow us to film their lives, struggles, work, and histories.

We began filming immediately after this meeting.  People were bustling about — pumping several buckets of water per household for their daily use, riding bicycles out to the fields, and preparing meals and bread for the day.  We managed to interview five community members, three of whom requested that we film them in their fields with their crops.  They are very proud of the watermelons, soy, beans, rice, peanuts, lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce. 

Heading out to the fieldsDona Rosa & her daugher

Prior to the construction of this settlement, the members of this community had occupied the Yuquises hacienda for several months.  While living on the hacienda, they had grown a great deal of food, but paramilitary units came and burned their crops, homes, and community buildings.  They were violently displaced, and were living in public parks and under bridges in the northern region of Santa Cruz.  They now have legal entitlement from the Morales government to use the land at their new settlement, Pueblos Unidos.  The crops that they are so successfully growing represent hope for the future and the possibility of a peaceful existence with independence and dignity.

We spent most of the day on Tuesday with several leaders, touring the lands and hearing their plans for future development (which will possibly include eco-tourism). 

We headed back to Santa Cruz on Tuesday afternoon — loading ourselves and our gear back into the pickup truck.  Two campesinos who needed immediate medical assistance joined us on the trip back.  We dropped them off at a medical clinic in Chane, run by Cuban doctors who provide free care and free accommodations.  If not for our truck, it could have been months before they were able to get to the nearest free clinic.  Thank god for Cuban doctors.

After bouncing around the back of the truck for 12 hours, which Niki has repeatedly compared to a full body horseback ride, we were filthy, exhausted, and desperately in need of hot showers.  But the experience was amazing and well worth the difficult travel and filming conditions. 

Our mode of transport

Currently, we are in La Paz.  We’ll write more today or tomorrow.

Besos y abrazos,

Emily, Kara, & Niki