The words “Bolivia” and “unrest” go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it seldom even makes the international news when there are protests in the street and everything shuts down for the week.
Things are looking uglier and more serious this time around though as it is not unreasonable to predict that there will be two Bolivias in the near future. In an election where participation was required but half the population skipped it anyway, the big loser was national unity. Populist president Morales easily pushed his agenda through in the poor regions, while opposition candidates handily won in the wealthy regions. As the L.A. Times article linked above says:
The president’s electoral might was heavily concentrated in the four mostly indigenous western and central highland states, long his base, which he swept handily. But a majority of voters in each of Bolivia’s other five states apparently voted for Morales’ expulsion from office, according to one exit poll.
The upshot, according to many analysts, is that Bolivia is as divided as ever — perhaps more so, as hard-liners in the two antagonistic camps may now have the upper hand.
Morales thinks Cuba is a great economic model to follow and that Chavez’s nationalization of people’s private property has been a great idea in Venezuela. He apparently didn’t notice that most of the educated and wealthy people high-tailed it out of both countries as soon as the changes started. (Want to meet a college-educated Venezuelan? Head to Alberta Canada or Panama City.)
The business leaders in Bolivia don’t want to leave. They would rather secede and form their own country. The thing is, that’s where all the country’s natural resources are concentrated—in the parts that want to secede. Gasolivia perhaps?
Meanwhile, in all the confusion, the coca trade is going gangbusters. If you want to get a fascinating look at the cocaine culture in Bolivia, check out the book Marching Powder, about a prison in Bolivia where you have to buy your own cell, your family can live with you, and they make coke in a back room.
Bolivia is one of the world’s cheapest destinations and is probably the best bargain in South America for backpackers, but if you’re heading that way, keep a close eye on the news.