My uncle Gordon Jones spent a long career with the State Department, serving as a diplomat in several South American countries as well as India. When my dad recently consulted him about my planned trip to Peru and Bolivia, he advised that I don’t go to Bolivia. It’s just too volatile right now, with much of the energy directed at the United States, which President Evo Morales suspects of trying to subvert his Movement Toward Socialism. Unfortunately,Morales is probably right, although I do think he goes too far in blaming a recent pair of hotel bombings by an American nutcase on the Bush Administration. That was one of the factors Morales cited in his recent decision to require visas of U.S. citizens (requiring advance clearance, a fee, and proof of where visitors will be staying, which makes it difficult for backpackers like me who planned to use hostels and stay flexible in my itinerary). Beyond Bolivia’s stance toward the U.S., it also has internal tensions, as National Public Radio reported yesterday, saying that backlash to Morales’ land and progressive reforms by the middle and upper classes could be leading the country toward the brink of civil war.
So, am I going to follow my uncle’s warning? I don’t think so. The historic nature of what’s happening in Bolivia is precisely what is attracting me to the country. The people’s movements that brought Morales to power are connected to resistance to American empire around the world — even right here in San Francisco — and the fate of Bolivia could portend the fate of poor and working class people everywhere. I understand that Bolivia’s struggle is unique to that country — which I’ve been studying as I prepare for my trip — but it’s hard to overlook the role Bechtel’s meddling in Cochabamba played in sparking the current revolutionary cycle started back in 2000.
So for now, I’m reaching out to the Bolivian government to try to get a journalism visa and watching the situation from afar. If things get much worse, I still may heed my uncle’s advice and instead do some journalism over in Pisco, Peru, where the Burners Without Borders group I worked with on the Gulf Coast doing hurricane cleanup is now helping Pisco cleanup and rebuild after a devastating earthquake there last year.
But Bolivia is really where I want to go. It just feels so significant, like there’s something very important happening that I want to document and convey to U.S. citizens. Stay tuned, I’ll let y’all know what I decide.