The Rest

Dec 13, 2012

Old men worry in Bolivia’s new world order

Our correspondent ventures to high-altitude Bolivia to see how the revolution is going. He finds plenty of change -- on paper at least.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Sometime between the masked shoeshine boys, the round women in rainbow cloth and high-riding bowler hats, the faded cafes with their green carpet and wood panelling, the waitresses bustling in starched uniforms, the raw concrete shafts of half-finished buildings, shoved up against the old belle epoque mansions, the tiny talisman jars, filled with candy and lucky charms, the stationery stores with their shelves of open old vellum notebooks, the fotocopias under ponchos on the street, el alto stadio san isobel de catholica santa cruz shouted from a thousand minivans barrelling down the streets climbing the hill, the sulfurous waft of the sewer curling up at the intersection, the dried llama foetuses on sale in the witches’ market in the shadow of the San Francisco church, the sharp white pyramid of Huayna Potosí, the four-mile-high mountain, visible down cobbled streets, the mother on the street making jellies in cups from an enormous silver bowl, her daughter twirling cream into the top, the men in five-buttoned beige suits and banana shirts, two-tone caramel nehru jackets, the guys in leather jackets with the girlfriends in aymara dress on their arms, flouncy diaphonous yellow and blue skirts, the homemade ice creams steaming in the afternoon rain, the unique smell of corn, the art deco santa cruz cinema lit purple as evening comes on, and the thousand thousand lights going on up and around the walls of the canyon the city sits in … I reminded myself not to exoticise the place as some form of, ohhhh I don’t know, Shangri-La of the magically real.

So I won’t. I came to see how the revolution in Bolivia was proceeding, how the plurinational state was exploring new ways of constituting a society, putting the resources in the hands of the people. I signed into the hotel. I turned on the TV. There was a rally in support of Hugo Chavez being broadcast at great and sombre length on BTV. Then “senors and senoras — Sean Penn!”. And there he was, Mr Madonna, in a Venezuelan-flag track suit, looking like, well, a giant banana.

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6 thoughts on “Old men worry in Bolivia’s new world order

  1. Moving to Paraguay

    There is actually an Aboriginal legal theorist Christine Black who has been strongly influenced by the Buen Vivir movement in both Bolivia and Ecuador, making the same links that you do between pachamama and ‘country’. Her book is ‘The Land is the Source of the Law’. Wouldn’t it be good to have an active Bolivian voice in the Australian scene? How can we do that, minus the ponchos and pan pipes?

  2. Ian

    What’s wrong with ponchos? Seriously though what is happening in South America provides a glimmer of hope for us all.

  3. Tim Niven

    @Ian – that’s their real threat, isn’t it?

  4. Otto Wynton

    It seems that the first sentence in this piece may claim to be a record for a lack of a full stop in some 440 words. That’s OK generally except that reading it becomes boring at about the half way mark and the reader gives up.

  5. Guy Rundle

    MTP – thanks for the tip. will check out the book

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