In October 2010, I spent 2 weeks in Bolivia learning about their food and agriculture. I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for out of the trip, including learning why the rainforest is being destroyed, how eco-tourism might save it, how Bolivia fits into the drug trade (and what the US does to try to stop cocaine production), and how global warming has already impacted Bolivia.
On our eleventh day was one of the best. We visited a La Paz suburb and checked out the (amazing) agriculture there. Then we had a delicious and very Bolivian lunch, and hit the town. Now that I wasn't suffering from jet lag and altitude sickness, La Paz was a kind of nice place! This diary is about the ousting of Bolivia's President Goni in 2003.
My trip was organized by Global Exchange and Food First. You can find out about future Food Sovereignty tours at the link.
Goni, whose full name is Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, was president of Bolivia from 1993-1997 and 2002-2003, representing the party of the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, MNR. As you'll notice, that second term was quite short. And it's because the people of Bolivia ran his ass right out of office.
The first I heard of Goni was on the road to Lake Titicaca, just after we passed the town of Achacachi. The road became very bumpy and our car had to swerve to avoid potholes - "criminal potholes" as our guide called them. ("Criminal" referring to any government that would allow such large potholes to remain in the road, not to the people who made the potholes, I am pretty sure.) These potholes, he explained, came from the ousting of Goni.
Goni was called "El Gringo" because he grew up in the U.S. and - so I hear - his Spanish was never very good (I wouldn't be the one to judge). He wasn't liked by the Bolivian people, but with the help of an American team of consultants that included James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum, he won with a plurality of 22 percent of the vote for his second term. The definitive documentary on Goni's re-election is called Our Brand is Crisis.
The road with the potholes was the site of a blockade, which I believe occurred in mid-September 2003. The blockade, apparently, trapped some tourists in the town of Sorata. On September 20, 2003, in the town of Warisata (between Sorata and Achacachi), a government operation to break the blockade in order to let the tourists pass shot and killed three people.
This wasn't the first or the last time Goni used force. In February 2003, he tried to impose tax increases, which resulted in protests, and suppression of the protests that killed 34 people. I believe it was then that the police were a part of the protest, whereas the military was on the side of the government.
The issue that took him down was a gas pipeline which was to go through Chile. Bolivians are still sore over a long ago conflict in which Chile took some of Bolivia's land along the Pacific Ocean. (Yes, at one point Bolivia was not landlocked.) So putting the gas pipeline through Chile without negotiating any access to the sea was a big enough deal to mobilize the population in protest. Or maybe it was just the fact that they had a government that was going against the will of the people one more time, and it wouldn't have mattered if it was a gas pipeline through Chile or something else that Goni did that they hated.
At any rate, following the September blockade and killings, in October, the people of El Alto really put the pressure on La Paz with a blockade of their own. La Paz is built into a valley with the city of El Alto built above it on the Altiplano ("high plain"), and going in or out of La Paz means going through El Alto. El Alto was in a good position to blockade La Paz and really make the city hurt. Imagine the shortages of food, fuel, and other necessities.
More people were killed in October 2003. Most were civilians but one was a member of the military. He was ordered at gunpoint by his commander to shoot the protesters and he refused. And he gave his life for it. This was a turning point because many in the military were indigenous and they had more in common with the protesters than they did with Goni and his neo-liberal policies that they were defending. And without even the military on his side, Goni was toast. He resigned, then stole what he could, and fled the country.
Ultimately, this led to a string of events that put Evo Morales in as President from 2005 to 2010, and a second term of 2010-2015. Morales, who represents the party MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) is Bolivia's first indigenous President. Today, Goni resides very comfortably in Washington, D.C. Bolivia wants him extradited back to Bolivia, and the U.S. won't do it.
This history is all very real and present to the people of Bolivia, who are no doubt proud of themselves (and should be!) for kicking a no-good jerk like Goni out of the Presidency and out of the country. (And here we've got Bush living happily in Dallas and launching a book tour!) Below are several pictures I took that are related to the ousting of Goni and Bolivian politics.
Bullet holes in the building from the military vs. police standoff
The Vice President's place, which was set on fire
Graffiti near the hostel which our Bolivian friend translated as "Goni Go To Jail Movement 17," which I believe is named for the events of 10-17-03, during the protests.
"From Monkey to Man... EVOlution," a pun on Evo Morales' name, showing each president getting less apelike leading up to Evo Morales, who is human. I took this picture at the public university in La Paz.
An ad for Evo Morales. I wish I got a picture of my favorite Evo sign that says "EVO: Defensor de Pacha Mama." It has EVO in block letters, and the O is the earth, with South America front and center and Bolivia highlighted in red. Pacha Mama is the indigenous term for Mother Nature.
A ballot from the last election, posted on the street in Chicani.
For English language news from the time of the protests, I recommend Amy Goodman:
October 9, 2003: 9 Killed in Street Battles Between Army Troops and Protesters in Bolivia Over the Past Month
October 16, 2003: Two More Killed in Bolivia; Opposition Leaders Reject President’s Offer on Gas Export Deal
October 20, 2003: Bolivian President Steps Down and Flees to U.S. Amid Mass Protests; VP Takes Over