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Demonstrations in Bolivia

In Bolivia, life is slowly returning to normal after almost a month of demonstrations. Thousands of mainly indigenous people -- from poor peasant farmers to miners have been demanding nationalisation of the country’s gas industry and calling for constitutional reform. The protesters are angry at what they see as the exploitation of Bolivia natural resources by foreign companies and governments. There's a long history of the country's rich natural resources being exploited by foreigners with little financial reward for the population, 60 per cent of whom are of indigenous origin. Many now hope the new president, Eduardo Rodriguez, may find a solution to the country's problems. Rebecca Hampson has been visiting La Paz and witnessed the protests.

"Put your hands over your ears!" shouted the boy in the hotel. A gang of miners was marching past the front door letting off sticks of dynamite as they went. A few minutes later the sting of police tear gas seeped under the door frame. That was three and a half weeks ago, then no one imagined that the protests and gradual shutting down of the country would last this long.

"It'll all calm down in a few days" people kept telling us. But we decided to avoid any further trouble and escaped, on what turned out to be one of the last buses, to Sorata, a small town in the beautiful Cordillera Real mountains.  Two weeks later the whole country had been paralysed by road blocks, and the only way we could get back to La Paz was to join a convoy of protestors.  Arrangements were made the night before with an official from the local Aymara -- the largest indigenous group in Bolivia. "You'll need to disguise yourselves with scarves and hats so that our brothers at the road blockades don't question you" he told us." and be here in the square at 4.30 in the morning". I had no idea how I, with my rosy complexion and short hair, could be mistaken for an Aymara woman with their bowler hats, long plaits and bright skirts with padded hips! But it was an offer we gratefully accepted.

Next morning we were eventually bundled into the back of a crowded bus. The few words of Aymara we'd picked up went down very well with our fellow passengers and the journey passed in jovial -- Spanish conversation. Eduardo, a high school teacher, explained how the local council leader had designated representatives from every organisation -- schools, hospitals, farms, tour agencies etc -- to go to La Paz to march. There was a long list of names, and anyone extra trying to sneak onto the buses would be kicked off. This list might also be checked at any of the numerous blockades between Sorata and La Paz. Our presence on the bus put everyone's integrity as dedicated protestors at risk so the warm welcome we received showed real generosity. Eduardo and his friends were very keen to start marching. "It's the only way to get the government to listen to us" they all said. They had two main demands -- first: nationalisation of Bolivia's oils and gas reserves "so that we can keep the revenue ourselves to improve health, education and reduce poverty". Second: a change in the constitution "to give equal rights and opportunities to us -- Bolivia's indigenous people." 

Halfway through the journey the bus stopped and everyone, except us, got out to have a rest and eat. An exhausted looking young couple with a baby boarded the bus. They were teachers from an isolated village and had been nominated to join the protests. They'd waited 4 days for transport and had finally walked the whole previous day to catch a bus. "we just don't want to go" said the mother, leaving us to mind her baby while she went to buy some food.

But they were being fined 50 Bolivianos each for every day they were not on a protest march and they'd already lost 400 Bolivianos -- at around 50 US dollars, that's more than a month's salary for many in this country. They'd also have to pay for accommodation and find their own way home -- once they had permission from their local official. It seemed not everyone shared the same level of enthusiasm for joining in the protests.

When we arrived in La Paz, there was still the boom of dynamite and stench of tear gas. The protestors were tired, the citizens of La Paz were tired, the markets nearly empty, it's been almost impossible to buy bread, prices have rocketed - the owner of our regular restaurant, one of the few to remain open, has been paying more than four times the usual for bottled gas, the streets are devoid of traffic, putrid rubbish is piling up at the road side. But through all this shared hardship and suffering, it seems the huge gulf in understanding between rich and poor, remains. As miners filed through the main street again on Friday morning and observed a minute's silence in respect for their colleague killed near the acapital the previous day, a neatly coifferred pale-skinned woman angrily said "They're still protesting then!" "They don't understand what we're struggling for" said the tiny old Quechua woman I'd been chatting to. The lives of these women are as different as the immaculate gardens of Zona Sur, the most wealthy suburb of La Paz, and the sprawling slums of El Alto, the township which perches high above the city. The new president will have more on his agenda than calling elections and deciding the future of Bolivia's natural resources. Overcoming the shocking inequality of life in this poorest country in South America in the most serious challenge, and it seems, the only way to ensure a peaceful future.








当我们到达阿巴斯以后炸弹爆炸事件和使用催泪瓦斯事件还是随处可见。游行者们都累了,拉巴斯的居民也累了,市场已经空空如也,几乎不可能买到面包了,物价也疯涨起来。为数不多的几家餐馆中的一家的老板说,他的进货价格已经增长了四倍。路上没有了车辆,取而代之的是堆积如山的垃圾。但是即使大家同样面临着这样的痛苦和困难,似乎富人和穷人之间仍然无法相互理解。当游行者于星期五再次经过主街道时,他们看见了大家在为前一天死去的矿工默哀一分钟。一个发型很整齐的脸色苍白的老妇人气愤地说:“他们居然还在游行!”同我聊过天的一个盖丘亚族妇女说:“他们根本不了解我们游行的目的是什么。”这两个人的命运截然不同,好像一个居住在完美的Zona Sur公园——阿巴斯最富有的地区,而另一个生活在乱七八糟的El Alto贫民窟中。新总统将会用大量的时间号召大家投票,决定玻利维亚的自然资源的未来发展。在这种严峻的考验下,南美最穷困的国家克服这种惊人的不平等,这似乎才是保障一个和平的未来的唯一途径。