The latest from Bolivia

It has been too long since I have posted in this blog. Not that I haven’t thought about the issues that are confronting us…but it does get too overwhelming at times.

I am writing this from Bolivia, South America, where I have been for over a month now. Last year I wrote a long series of blog posts about the political climate in this remote and impoverished country. At the end of my 4 month stay, I wrote the following:

The social movements that toppled Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada are giving [President Evo] Morales the time and the support that he needs to govern. Two or three years from now, if his promises fail to materialize, it is difficult to predict what the political environment in Bolivia will be like. But, for the time being at least, Bolivia enjoys the political stability that it has craved for so long.

Now the situation has deteriorated palpably. The list of problems seems almost endless. The prices of all consumer products, especially the basics, like rice, sugar, and meat, have doubled, and even tripled in some cases. Yet wages have remained stagnant. Lines of transport vehicles and heavy trucks, often extending for several blocks from the gas station, can be seen along the edges of the roads, as diesel fuel has mysteriously become a scarce commodity (I have heard many reasons why diesel is scarce, but none of them has been extraordinarily convincing). Emigration remains an intractable problem, with some sources claiming that approximately 25% of the country’s population can be found in other countries, namely Argentina, Spain, the United States, and Brazil. The Constitutional Assembly has torn the country apart, with different political and social groups battling for regional autonomy and greater control over natural resources like oil and gas.

But, far beyond the very concrete examples of long lines, stagnant wages, and skyrocketing prices, is the overall malaise that one senses in the general population: despair, hopelessness…and complacency, an acceptance of conflict and impending disaster. Perhaps a fitting microcosm of the early 21st century, in a world that seems ever closer to spiraling out of control.

In many ways, I suppose the current state of Bolivia could have been easily predicted by an astute observer. I personally chose to focus on the continuity of Bolivia’s socio-political progression, rather than any dramatic breaks with the past. Corruption is still rampant, the mayor still arrives to work late and drunk, and people fight over petty personal differences in search of individual gain instead of looking for solutions that are of interest to the nation at large.

A simple, libertarian platform for Bolivia wouldn’t be all the hard to devise. One does not need to travel far to realize that the lack of good roads, from the vantage point of infrastructure alone, is costing Bolivia millions of dollars a year in unnecessary car maintenance, tragic deaths, and high transportation costs. And investments in schools and education always pay off in the long run.

I would like to see a Bolivian politician say this: “Yes, we have a lot of problems. There’s racism and discrimination and a historical tragedy that won’t leave us alone. But for the most part, government can’t do much about that. Let’s make an effort to be on time to meetings. Let’s stop stealing from the public treasury. Let’s focus all of our efforts as a nation on building the best road system in South America…well, err, okay, let’s focus on building the best road system in the Andes. For the WHOLE country, no exceptions. And let’s invest the rest in schools and education, for the WHOLE country, no exceptions.”

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?


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