«Autocarros e bombas na Bolívia» & «O anarquista acidental»
COMO É QUE OS MINEIROS LUTAM, NA BOLÍVIA:
Buses and bombs in Bolivia
I was sleeping blissfully with my face smack against the bus window when a cacophony of increasingly loud Spanish voices woke me up. ‘Blockade, the miners are blockading the road! What are we going to do now?’ At first, the answer seemed obvious to me, wait until the miners let us through, which I’m sure would be in a couple of hours. It was 3am after all. But fifteen minutes later, as I stood outside the bus staring at the hundreds of vehicles lying motionless in front of me, I knew one thing only. That this was going to be a long night.
12 hours ago, I walked into La Paz bus terminal, ready to haggle for as cheap of a bus fare to Santa Cruz as I could get. Santa Cruz’s large houses, wide roads and tropical weather remind me of my home country Portugal and so I was happy to have scored a 70Bs (just over £9) bus fare that would give me a break from La Paz’ claustrophobic urban layout, congested roads, and cold, mountain air. Fun fact, did you know that the regional department of Santa Cruz is bigger than Germany? Well I didn’t, but that probably explains why the estimated journey time from La Paz was 14 hours.
Having been on a 35-hour bus from Lima to La Paz, I arrogantly scoffed at that figure, secure that I would arrive to Santa Cruz in time for a hearty Bolivian lunch. But 12 hours later, I was the one being scoffed at, this time by locals who had no time to explain to a naïve ‘chino’ why the bus drivers couldn’t “just talk to the miners”.
I soon found out why. As I walked past row after row of buses, all empty, it became clear that these miners had not merely put some cones up or organized a peaceful sit-in. I soon started to see huge pieces of rock, presumably from the mountains flanking the roads, strewn onto the tarmac, a mass of smaller debris surrounding them. I have never had the most logical of brains, so I thought to myself ‘these miners must be incredibly strong to be able to move those rocks.’
Before I could voice out my stupidity to a Bolivian family I was walking with, the sound of exploding dynamite made it pretty clear how the rocks had ended up on the road. I asked Elvis, a Bolivian on his way to Buenos Aires, if the mineros were blowing the mountain up in full certainty that there was no danger of civilian casualties. Elvis chuckles and said ‘Son, the miners are like the Taliban, get it?’
In Bolivia, miners are not affiliated to syndicates with a large membership like their European counterparts. On the way to La Paz airport a week later, a taxi driver by night, miner by day would explain to me that miners are usually organized into cooperatives, groups of 40-50 men who all work together in the same mine.
The daily toils which bind together such a collective mean that, in the driver’s words, everyone regards each other as their “hermano” or brother. This results in tight-knit organization, which facilitates coordination with other similar cooperatives, and a mindset which makes violent action easier to commit to, as the livelihoods of your “hermanos” are at stake.
The passengers could not care less about such considerations however, cursing the miners frequently throughout the night. This was understandable given that most of us would spend 5 hour walking uphill, in the middle of the night, just so we could get to a small village where there might be some taxis that could whisk away from this nightmare.
Speaking of which, it was interesting to see how some, well in reality just one, passenger adopted the miners’ hard-nosed form of protest. After arguing with multiple taxi drivers over their prices, a young but tough-looking Bolivian man decided that he was going to organize a “blockade” of his own. He then proceeded to pick up some rocks (about twenty times smaller than the ones blocking the buses), lay them on the ground and declare that he was blocking passage to all vehicles unless they accepted to take passengers with them, ‘women and children first’ he stressed.
Being halfway through Jon Lee Anderson’s biography of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara, I eagerly joined in, fantasizing for an opportunity to abdicate my middle-class privilege and die for some people who could not care less about me, exactly like Che. However, my martyrdom would be denied as soon as the first truck simply ran over our mini-blockade.
After finally getting to Cochabamba, taking another bus to Santa Cruz, I finally arrived to my destination around 10pm, where I was greeted by my Bolivian friend and her gigantic SUV. I suddenly felt an internal moral conflict. I took a glance at my Che Guevara biography then at the palms of my hand, which still beared the marks from the 3 minutes of blockade-building I engaged in. But then my stomach started rumbling and so I cut the crap and just got on the car.
But surely I may be excused. As French philosopher Montaigne said ‘I feel quite a different person before and after a meal’. After a large dish of piqué macho, a wonderful calorie bomb consisting of pork strips, sausage and chips, I was ready for another blockade. If only Santa Cruz wasn’t so beautiful, I would have fulfilled my quest for martyrdom by now. Oh well, I’ll just add it to my post-undergrad gap yah to-do list.