Archive for the ‘Santa Cruz’ Category

Military March & Indigenous Parade

Each year, the Bolivian military holds a parade in a different department (a department is like a state) of the country. This year, the parade took place in the Department of Santa Cruz on August 7.  For the first time in Bolivian history, indigenous people, dressed in traditional attire, marched in the parade alongside of the uniformed military personnel.  In the past, the military has been used as a tool to convert and assimilate indigenous people into the nation state through mandatory conscription.  This year´s parade was a show of peace and solidarity among the many indigenous groups as well as between the military and the majority indigenous population.  Additionally, this year marked the beginning of mandatory military conscription for women and it was the first military parade in which women participated. 

As the many indigenous groups marched together, showing off their distinct cultures, costumes, music, etc., the Morales administration attempted to move the country beyond regionalist thinking and toward a more unified, pluri-ethnic nation.  And holding this event in Santa Cruz this year was symbolic, and sent a clear message in opposition to the autonomy movement.  This event is just one more indication of the broader political economic shifts that are taking place in Bolivia at the present moment.

The business community of Santa Cruz felt like the central government was trying to intimidate them, and noted in the national papers that the indigenous organizations were actually armed militias.  They spread rumors that the parade and consequent “Andean invasion” would bring violence to the city (although the event was entirely peaceful).

We attended this historic event and we will post photos to our flickr account when we are able to do so.  (We´ve been trying to write a post about this for nearly 2 weeks!  Better late than never!)


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

Bigwigs of Santa Cruz

After our trip to Pueblos Unidos last week, our bodies barely worked but we were fired up about our project.  We learned how difficult it is for campesinos to survive in el campo. We already knew that a small group of people (approximately 150 elite families) control vast expanses of productive farm land in the Department of Santa Cruz.  So, we decided that it was important for us to make a good faith effort to hear what the “other side” — the wealthy landowners and the business community that supports them — had to say about property rights and economic development in Bolivia.  We entered the CAO (a collaboration of agro industry bigwigs) and the regional civic committee (called Comité Civico), which is promoting autonomy (see below) for the Department of Santa Cruz. 

Upon our arrival, they all gave us time and were willing to explain their points of view on camera.  Throughout recent Bolivian history, the many mestizo residents in the eastern portion of the country have felt alienated from the national government. They spoke about the ways in which, they feel, La Paz and the western region receive more resources than the eastern region in spite of Santa Cruz´s large contributions to the national GDP. As well, they spoke about their desire to mirror the economic development policies of the United States, particularly with respect to private property and the extraction of natural resources.  We did not really mention MST in our interviews, but the people in the business community portrayed MST members as terrorists, as armed and dangerous, and as thieves who steal land from the “productive and hard-working” citizens of Santa Cruz.  They specifically pointed toward the Pueblos Unidos and the fight over Raphael Paz´s hacienda, Yuquises.

This set of interviews, which took place in modern, glitzy, sky scrapers, marked a stark contrast from the realities of life in the rural farming communities like Gran Chaco and Pueblos Unidos.  We are hopeful that allowing this community to speak for themselves will provide insight into the obstacles that MST faces in its continuing struggle for land rights.

[Aside: Autonomy would give Santa Cruz total control over the economic and natural resources that it produces, rather than redistributing them nationally.  Many of the other departments, particularly in the highlands in the western part of Bolivia, have been left with next to nothing after their mineral resources were forcefully depleted during the 20th century. Thus, autonomy would reap benefits for the eastern portion of the country and leave the rest (majority indigenous and poor) with very little.]

The Many Faces of Santa Cruz

Yesterday was an exciting day.  We got a lot done, but did a lot of running around in the meantime.  Our plans seem to change minute by minute.  In the morning, we got on a microbus headed for an MST organizer’s house, but had a change of plans (one of many) within about five minutes.  We leapt off of the micro (sometimes they sort of stop), dashed across the street, and caught a different micro headed in the other direction.  When that micro was moving too slow, we leapt off of that one and hailed a taxi.  Somehow, between loud cell phone conversations, we ended up at CEJIS, a legal office that provides in-kind support for land reform efforts.  We walked in, walked out, and jumped into another taxi.  Somehow, we found our way to Evo Morales’s presidential house in Santa Cruz, where we interviewed the Official MAS (Movement Toward Socialism – the political party in charge) Representative of the city, who serves in the Morales administration.  She was great – she has been involved with MAS and CEJIS for years and she had a great deal of information to share.  She is working to connect us to national government leaders in La Paz (our fingers are crossed for a short meeting with el Presidente) for our visit next week.  By this time, it was late morning and we headed back to CEJIS, where we did two short interviews.


Around 1:00 pm, we got back on track with our original plans and caught a micro that took us out to El Plan Tres Mil, a poor community on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, where one of the MST organizers lives.  We were able to get some footage from the window of the bus, which we’ll use to show the dramatic contrasts between downtown Santa Cruz and the unpaved streets of El Plan.  We ate lunch in the mercado at El Plan (pollo y arroz) and walked through the community.  We filmed the organizer during the walk, and he narrated as we passed different sites.  At his house, we were able to hear his stories about his family – his parents were slaves and his father was part of the Agrarian Revolution in the 1950s.  While many in El Plan rent the land that they live on, he and his family have managed to purchase their plot and build a three room house where they (he and his children, and some grandchildren) live together.  Many who live in El Plan do not have access to basic infrastructure – some do not have running water, all of the streets are rutted and unpaved, and there are major drainage problems throughout the community.  During our first visit to El Plan earlier this week, another MST organizer told us, as we walked from the bus to our host’s home, “This is the poverty of my country.”  Kara took lots of photos during our visit, particularly of the organizer’s grandson, who was wearing a Superman shirt and rubber police boots.  She also got many shots of his home and family.  Everyone was very warm and welcoming, and we will be spending more time with them during the upcoming week.

Later in the afternoon, we filmed in and around downtown Santa Cruz.  While in the plaza, we filmed Niki as she spoke to one of the armed guards about people’s right to demonstrate in front of the mayoral palace.  The guard told us that, of course, anyone can demonstrate on the plaza.  MST has been prohibited from doing so, however, and one organizer was brutally beaten there when he went to make a formal statement on the organization’s behalf.  We filmed and photographed lots of interesting political graffiti (pro and anti Evo, pro and anti autonomy for Santa Cruz, etc.), and on the way home we were lucky enough to have a taxi driver with a good sense of humor, who drove very slowly so we could film out the window.


We did more filming downtown today, and we head out to another MST settlement in the countryside tomorrow.  We will write more when we return in a few days.



Emily, Kara, &Niki