Sunday, July 7, 2013

Politics and Colonialism in Bolivia

You can't be in South America without taking note of the politics. It's written on the cracked concrete walls and ties every westerner, whether they know it or not, to history then and what is happening now. The world is connected in ways that we don't care to acknowledge because they are not the advertisement mottos of 'staying connected' or the social media promise of facebook.

The silver from a small unknown town in Bolivia was used to construct the wealth of Europe for over a century and is now left with nothing but arthritic miners and cheap dynamite. How strange it is to think that my beloved Spain has such a terrible and gruesome legacy - hundreds of years of exploitation of raw materials, slave labour, extortionate taxes, restriction of the rights of indigenous populations and tyranny expressed through the repression of so many insurrections.

Stranger still perhaps to acknowledge the tumultuous nature of Bolivia and Latin America's relationship with the United States. The propping up of dictators, the beyond violent war on drugs - a first world drug and a third world problem - the long history of the hard line neo-liberal policies imposed by American run institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Bank. Most recently the heinous detaining of Bolivian president Evo Morales in the search for Edward Snowden. Yet this history is intertwined with non government organisations, aid from the US (not without its controversies), volunteers, journalists and writers who seek to right wrongs and to see with clear eyes what is happening, what has happened.

It is these dichotomies in every country that exist just as in Australia. There are always dark chapters, there is always history sitting in a chair in a dark corner waiting for us to come home to reality after a night of light heartedness and oversight.

I am caught between my love for spain and my loyalty springing from my recent residence in Bolivia. It was only years ago that I so fell in love with the beauty and history of Europe and only now that I come face to face with Latin America, Spain's biggest ex-colony whose passionate and lively spirits were broken and forced to build the empire - an empire that has long since fell and a Spanish economy that is now in recession.

Bolivia, having such a distinctly colourful political and colonial history, now stands with another term of its first full blooded Indigenous president Evo Morales. And while back in Australia the Labour party has just voted to change the leader for the ex-leader who the now ex-leader ousted only a few years ago, just a few months shy of an election (pause for effect) - it still pales a little in comparison to the 200 attempted coups Bolivia has had in its political history.

I am drawn to the connections here between the past and the present, Europe and its colonies, Spain and South America, the Philippines and Bolivia, Australia and the United States. The present has so much to do with the past and there is nothing to do about history other than to learn from it, to delve deeper, to discover the riches that all the mistakes and events and heroes and villains from the past have to tell you. A cheat sheet that we still get wrong, that somehow we still choose to ignore. The present perhaps is just the freedom to make our own mistakes, to paint history with a different brush, a new style with the same old materials. People, power, politics. 

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