Posts Tagged ‘tension’

A foreigner’s view of living in Bolivia during political unrest

Friday, September 12th, 2008

In case you haven’t heard, Bolivia is going through some political tension right now. If you go to Google News and search Bolivia you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Headlines include “Bolivia’s tax disputes lead to blocking of gas wells, highways”, “Bolivia crisis cuts natural gas supply to Brazil by half”, “UPDATE 1-Brazil says it won’t tolerate overthrow in Bolivia”, “US ambassador given up to 72 hours to leave Bolivia”, “Chavez Expels US Envoy to Show Support for Bolivia (Update3)”, “Eight killed in Bolivia clashes, US tensions rise”, “Brazil held to 0-0 draw by 10-man Bolivia” (oh yeah, that last one was the result of the latest football match). Anyways, here’s my impression of what the country is like to live in right now.

I won’t get into the reason for the unrest and protest, you can read about that in the articles above if you like. But in general what has happened here as part of the protests is people block roads. They do that to disrupt basic services in order for their protests to be noticed higher up. So there is no transport of fuel, food, and other essential things. For the last week or so, you could buy gasoline in the morning, but by the afternoon every gas station was empty. Now I am told that there is no more gasoline in the city; in my case I got 3/4 of a tank so I am okay for about a week or so, but once that runs out I’ll be looking to get myself a bike!

Then there’s food. On the weekend I took someones advice and stocked up on water and some canned goods, but because I was hearing mixed impressions of what is going to happen, I never took it too seriously and didn’t really stock up. Today I was told that supermarkets are pretty much empty, haven’t been there for myself to see but I believe it.

Then there’s the rioting. When blocking roads is not enough to get the attention of the federal government, people in this city went ahead and stormed, burned, destroyed, and in general took over every government run building. This included the national phone company (we use that company at work, and after the raid for half a day our cell and work phones did not work), tax agency, and others. This made for some great TV footage, but it’s mainly isolated to specific locations, and the rest of the town is just like normal, you wouldn’t even know anything is up.

Now another reason I didn’t really stock up on food was that our company has an evacuation plan for expats and foreigners in case things get hairy. I expected that if things get as bad as they are now, or as bad as people predict it will be, we’d be on our way out. Well I just found out today that won’t be the case. We are staying in Bolivia for whatever may come. I’ll admit at first I was a little annoyed at that, I was expecting the company to take us away before we had to stock up on food, water, gasoline, take care of where we go, put up with a military presence, etc. But now for me it’s actually an opportunity to really live and experience things like a local, not have an easy way out, and put up with the annoyances that everybody else must put up with. So for me it’s okay.

However, for some others it’s not that great. Some other expats who have family and pregnant wives have expressed concern that the company is making the entire family stay, not evacuating the families that have no business purpose to stay. This I must agree with. And evacuation is something that is still possible now (only by air, rail and road transport is blocked as mentioned above), but even that may not be possible later as airports get ‘taken over’ or fuel shortages prevent planes from refueling. Already American Airlines has stopped flights to Bolivia.

So what’s every day life like? Not much different. A few interesting things happened at work today. Some of the more important people were given radios to be able to communicate in case things got worse still and phones stopped working. But otherwise things are normal. There was a company dinner planned tonight. I went swimming at 8:00 pm. I went to a friend’s barbecue at 9:00, had good food and beer, a normal day. At 12:00 midnight we were told that the city had been, or is about to be, “militarized”, or have military deployed, and so we all went home right away. But there was no military on the roads that I could see.

So every day life is okay. The place I live is a fairly safe neighborhood (the only down side being that several important political figures live there, with a potential for trouble from people looking for them). But otherwise I am going to work tomorrow, there is a try-out for the Brazilian BG Energy Challenge on Saturday. Life is as normal.

So that’s about it for the current update, should anything major break I will do my best to write about it and let you know.