Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bolivia in Crisis

I wanted to share this editorial about Bolivia that was published in the New York Times last week. It was written by an ex-pat who lives just up the highway from us in Samaipata. Hopefully it will give you some insight into what we have been going through recently.


Op-Ed Contributor
Poor Little Rich Country

Published: June 11, 2005
Samaipata, Bolivia
MY taxi is stuck behind Indian roadblocks. Three hundred farmers, many of them Quechua in colorful ponchos, just took control of the only highway near this small town in central Bolivia, right below a jaguar-shaped Inca temple. I can escape neither east to the sweltering boomtown of Santa Cruz nor west toward the windswept Andean capital, La Paz, where tens of thousands of Aymara Indians are on the march. I get through, but only after abandoning my taxi and making my way on foot.

For three weeks, the country has been paralyzed by blockades and protests; a few days after my experience at the roadblock, the uprising forced the president, Carlos Mesa, to resign. The protesters want to nationalize Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves, South America's second largest; BP has quintupled its estimate of Bolivia's proven reserves to 29 trillion cubic feet, worth a whopping $250 billion. The Indians are in a showdown with the International Monetary Fund and companies like British Gas, Repsol of Spain and Brazil's Petrobras that have already invested billions of dollars in exploration and extraction.
Many are calling the remarkable past five years in Bolivia a war against globalization. In a limited way, they're right. McDonald's closed its outlets here, unable to lure Bolivians away from their saice and salteñas. Demonstrators in bowler hats forced out Bechtel and Suez water privatizers; blocked an income tax urged by the mighty I.M.F.; and ousted President Mesa's predecessor, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozado, who spoke Spanish with a heavy American accent, over his plan to export Bolivian gas to California through Chile.
But this is not about walling off a Wal-Mart-free utopia; it's more of a struggle over who has power here. An American Indian majority is standing up to the light-skinned, European elite and its corruption-fueled relationships with the world.
You might say that Bolivia has colonized itself. When the Spanish Empire closed shop here in 1825, the Europeans who stayed on didn't seem to notice - and still don't. Even within Latin America, the region with the greatest wealth inequality in the world according to the World Bank, Bolivia is considered one of the most corrupt, per Transparency International's annual index of political dishonesty. It's also divided along a razor-sharp racial edge.
Highland and Amazon peoples compose almost two-thirds of Bolivia's population, the highest proportion of Indians in the hemisphere. (It's as if the United States had 160 million Apaches, Hopis and Iroquois.) And while native people are no longer forcibly sprayed with DDT for bugs and are today allowed into town squares, Bolivian apartheid - a "pigmentocracy of power" - continues.
I've been here for three years as an aid official, and exclusion is part of life. Indians are barred from swimming pools at some clubs, for example; they are still "peones" on eastern haciendas little touched by land reform. In La Paz, I was walking through the fashionable South Zone beside an Aymaran woman, Fátima, when another Bolivian viciously pushed her off the sidewalk. She wasn't shocked by the sentiment, but she was amazed that the man had been willing to touch her. Meanwhile, Bolivia's energy-rich eastern states are agitating for "autonomy" in a thinly disguised effort to deprive the poor Indian west of oil and gas revenues.
What is to be done to prevent a collapse in Bolivia? The answer, of course, must begin with Bolivians themselves. Elites here must recognize that the country's dark-skinned social movements are stronger than any political party or president and will not go away. Any lasting solution must shift real power to Bolivia's poor majority.
We'll see a lot of political maneuvering in the coming days. Some of the roadblocks have been dismantled in the wake of Mr. Mesa's ouster and the installation of a new interim president, Eduardo Rodríguez, the former head of the Supreme Court. But sustained stability depends on movement toward more equality, not just cosmetic changes, starting with speedy national elections and a constituent assembly with the full power to rewrite the Constitution and decide who benefits from Bolivia's petroleum.
Solving the crisis, however, depends not just on ending exclusion, but also on how the rest of the world relates to Bolivia, South America's poorest country, particularly through economic policy.
The United States and the international community have a vital role. In a speech this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was right to acknowledge Bolivia's democratic deficit.
But beyond lip service we must accept that democracy means, well, letting people decide what to do with their own resources. Existing contracts with foreign oil companies were signed by corrupt Bolivian leaders, without the approval of Congress. Even if nationalizing petroleum may be a growth-zapping bad idea, we need to let Bolivians themselves decide.
Moreover, our own ideas for this region are not always so fabulous. Bolivia was the testing ground for the I.M.F.'s "shock therapy" liberalization in 1985. This stringent recipe has made millions for oilmen and industrial soy farmers here (neither sector creates much employment) but has not reduced inequality; 20 years later, Bolivia's income levels are stagnant or worse, and half the population lives on less than $2 a day.
BESIDES taking a respectful hands off, the world should contribute one vital thing toward a more democratic society that embraces Indians: debt relief to the reforming government. Bolivia's debt load has risen to 82 percent of gross domestic product, sucking up a mind-boggling 40 percent of fiscal expenditures. This is a recipe for more poverty and turmoil.
Meanwhile, the Indians, distrusting Mr. Rodríguez's promise to call elections and talk to proponents of nationalization, are keeping some of the roadblocks in place, a tactic that costs millions of dollars in lost commerce, hurting the Indians themselves most of all. But as one Quechua told me as he crossed his arms in front of trucks here in Samaipata, vaguely evoking Tiananmen Square: "Our cultures have been blocked for 500 years. This is our only voice."
William Powers is the author of "Blue Clay People" and a forthcoming book on Bolivia, "A Natural Nation."

June Newsletter

Dear Friends and Family,

This is Vanessa writing this month. I can’t believe it’s been a year since we last saw you! Time sure has flown by. Not that it has been easy or anything at all like that, but I didn’t think I was going to make it. Life here in Bolivia has gotten a little rough the last couple of weeks. Not everything bad is happening right here in Santa Cruz, but mostly in La Paz and there are blockades in the main roads around us. Which is kind of sad since we were planning a family trip to Torotoro, a place were dinosaur foot prints and sea turtle fossils can be found up in the mountains. We are going as part of a team looking for evidence of Noah’s flood. Exciting, isn’t it!

Back to our ministry. Danny has been traveling to towns around Santa Cruz visiting projects and getting to know more about the people who manage them and the people involved in them. He has also linked Terry Waller (a fellow missionary of us who is a genius and has invented all these inexpensive and easy to handle agricultural machines and has developed a new water drilling technique) with the projects in San Ignacio, a town about 8 hours away by car. As you can tell my husband is always busy finding ways to cope with people’s need so they can see the Lord’s goodness and love. He is also thinking about starting a project of selling handbags in the US (importing). This would be a business that would help support mainly the lady groups and other projects already going here in South America (we are thinking big). So it looks like he and I will soon enroll with several other people in a sewing class.

For me this has not been a good month. I mean, praise the Lord for all His blessings. I just don’t like becoming good friends with people and then having to say goodbye just like that. I am saying this because we have recently had to say goodbye to a lot of people at our church, school and so on, who after the school year are leaving on furlough for a year or even permanently. It also depresses me seeing so much violence and poverty in the streets. It makes me think we will never accomplish anything here. But we cannot not rely on our own understanding. I know it is all in God’s hands. Writing these letters sure puts things in prospective for me. Thank you Jesus.

Other ministry news: This month we will host another Birthday party for the kids from the Talita Cumi home for the kids who have birthdays in May and June. And Danny is still very much involved with Cristo Viene (Christ is Coming) boys home in the chicken raising project. The kids are learning all about raising chickens and they eat some of them and sell the rest. We especially need prayer for this home. We are talking of about 30 little boys all the way between 3 to 13. Who in their majority were taken away from their homes due to abuse. These kids need tons of affection, and shoes too. They live in a rented house about an hour from Santa Cruz. The director’s dream is to have their own home with a big enough piece of land where they can plant a garden and raise animals for the boys to eat. So please pray to the Lord that He will provide for them both more love through more volunteers and more money.

Our beautiful and smart kids are out of school for the summer. It sure is different when they are here! Things get louder, more fun and interesting especially for Isaiah who chooses to stay home and play with them instead of going to his nursery school. Luciana and Nathaniel are both really busy practicing their violin and cello (poor neighbors). And we no longer have pet macaws. So sorry to those of you who were hoping to see them when you visit but they have all sorts of them at the zoo. We can take you there! They were just too messy and ornery and loud, ate the furniture, the phone, the neighbor’s lingerie and went to the bathroom everywhere. But now our backyard looks nice and clean and it is quiet too! I am sure my kids can tell you different though!

I have decided to not to teach at the school next year. I really want to enjoy being home with Isaiah during is last pre-school years and also that will give more time for some other types of ministry.

And last but not least I will give you a list of our needs and prayer requests:

Lift Nathaniel and the rest of us since he is leaving this July for a year with his mom.

Pray for the Cristo Viene boys home.

Pray for the B-day parties for Talita Cumi, that I will find enough gift sponsors.

Pray for the World Concern projects in San Ignacio, that they will be successful with their water and agricultural projects.

Pray all the street kids and moms in Santa Cruz will come to know Jesus and their life will change for ever.

Pray for protection for all the missionaries in Bolivia.

Pray we will have the Spirit of the Lord as we deal with people and ourselves.

Pray that you can come and see us soon!!!

We love you and send you lots of hugs and kisses and smiles,

In His Grace,
Vanessa (for all the Beams)

Mailing address:

Daniel and Vanessa Beams
World Concern
Parapeti #146 -- Casilla 3681
Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Office Telephone: 011 591 3336 3664
Home Telephone: 011 591 3352 9156