Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hemp in South America

Over the years I have received many questions about hemp in Bolivia. Most from well meaning people, but they are not serious enough to go to the seed cultivators with the data they need to get the right seeds - for instance, the day/night differential in weather for a certain area.

Recently  a more serious enquirer, who is hooked up to a Canadian university, showed deeper interest and is now at the stage of approaching Bolivian government officials, although he is not sure yet if it is lumped in with marijuana, as it has been in the US and elsewhere. Chile is growing  hemp profitably for seed oil already.

In the past Brazil wanted to cultivate hemp, as it was very needed for rope and fibre - it makes the best paper for instance - but Portugal did not want to allow its colonists too much power so did not encourage its cultivation. In North America its cultivation allowed the colonists to outfit an army and navy and be self sufficient. That is why North American states achieved independence before the rest of the nations in the hemisphere.

Hemp can today hemp bring about financial independence, if grown it can supply in a span of 90 days expensive, GMO free and highly nutritious oil - which, unlike fish oils these days, will also be free of mercury, cadmium and other metals with which man has polluted the oceans. The stems are a quick supply of cellulose, the ingredient of paper and so many other products; it makes a better paper than either tree or cotton pulp.

And another advantage to Bolivia especially is that it can be grown on the side of a mountain - indeed at high elevations as it is in Nepal - thus being useful as a crop that does not require prime farm land. In Bolivia, arable land is at a premium, being less than 5% of the total land mass of the country. So Amigos de Bolivia in New York will continue to support Pablo, a Mexican who is studying in Canada and presently working on an agricultural project in Viacha, Bolivia, with the hope that he can assist Bolivia in this enterprise.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Musical prodigy rocks in Bolivia

Recently we were discussing the possibility of mixing Andean music with jazz and blues. Then someone mentioned a young blind Bolivian pianist who is on the way to doing that, so here is an article from Britain's Telegraph about this prodigy:

Blind jazz prodigy takes Bolivia's music scene by storm

Jose Andre Montano Baina is just seven-years-old but already displays an incredible musical talent that has enabled him to play at some of the top venues in Bolivia.

Jose Andre Montano Baina is a rising star in Bolivia's music scene. But the promising jazz musician isn't a typical rockstar; he's blind and aged just seven years old.
At the young age of four, this musical wonder picked up the drums with astonishing proficiency and quickly moved on to the piano. By age five, he had already formed a jazz trio.
If his ample musical talent - unmatched by many skilled musicians two or three times his age - wasn't already enough, the fact that Montano Baina is blind just adds to his strikingly impressive resume.
Apart from being able to play any jazz song in the book with alarming ease and style, this Bolivian child prodigy has well-rounded musical taste and isn't limited to jazz.
"Blues, heavy metal, tango, bolero - I like everything," said Montano Baina.            
He has already performed in some of the top venues in Bolivia, including the Legislative Palace, and with famous musicians like Bolivian rocker Glen Vargas. In many other ways, Montano Baina is just like other seven-year-old boys.
"I do homework, I play music and they accompany me on the keyboard, I do math, English, gym class - everything," he said.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Small potatoes for big job in Bolivia

In the US they finance their campaigns by getting millions of bucks from banks that need favours, like a massive cover-up. In Bolivia, one candidate is getting her money grassroots, from the ground, literally; she is selling potatoes to get her campaign rolling. Felipa Huanca, of La Paz, will be selling chunyo - that is, dried potatoes, a staple in Bolivia - to get her message to the voters. 29 March is the date of the gubernatorial elections in Bolivia's nine departamentos, seven of which are already MAS districts (the two opposition districts are Santa Cruz and Beni).
The potato is iconic as it is an Andean member of the Solanaceae family which the entire world has appropriated, along with tomatoes. Come to think of it, these little tubers are big bucks.
So all the best to Snra Huanca and her papitas, Amigos de Bolivia here in NY salutes your efforts.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bolivia recoups stolen art from New York criminals

FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a stained glass window, broken by thieves according to the local priest, remains damaged at the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia. Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches, including paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry. Photo: Juan Karita, AP / AP
FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a stained glass window, broken by thieves according to the local priest, remains damaged at the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia. Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches, including paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry. (Juan Karita, AP / AP)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — The discovery that two paintings held by a New York couple had been stolen from a Bolivian church in 2002 has ignited a search for 10 other colonial-era paintings that were taken in the theft, one the largest such crimes in the country's history.
The paintings, "Escape to Egypt" and "Virgin of Candelaria," were found in the collection of Richard and Roberta Huber, who contacted Bolivian officials after learning the two large works had been reported stolen.
The paintings, each about 6 feet (2 meters) high and more than 300 years old, were among 12 ecclesiastical artworks stolen in June 2002 from the San Martin church in the southern city of Potosi. Wilma Blazz, a city prosecutor in Potosi, said Thursday authorities would reopen their search for the items and would seek help from Brazil.
The Hubers had purchased the paintings legally in 2003 from an art gallery in Sao Paulo and restored them. Their origin came to light in 2012 as the Philadelphia Museum of Art prepared to mount an exhibit of the couple's collection and checked lists of artwork reported stolen.
While the restoration work had altered the paintings' appearance, Huber said Thursday, "I felt that they were probably the same ones."
The process of working with various agencies to return the paintings has been slow, Huber said by phone in New York. While the couple awaits instructions from Bolivia on how to proceed, the paintings currently hang in the living room of their New York home.
"It's not our custom to keep stolen goods," he said.
"We bought them because we liked them and, so, we will miss them."
The San Martin church was built in the mid-1600s by indigenous slaves in Potosi, which was a key center of silver mining about 250 miles (410 kilometers) south of La Paz, and it became a museum for colonial-era art
"After the robbery (in 2002), we had to hang replicas on the walls," the Rev. Omar Barrenechea told The Associated Press.
Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches in recent years. They include paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry.
AP writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fernando Rivera pleads guilty in Ostreicher case

This just appeared in The Yeshiva World. As I told on this blog come time ago, the corruption was at the local level and not in La Paz. The government is going after those who treated Jacob Ostreicher badly, and this whole situation would have turned out better had not clowns like Sean Penn gotten involved, some accusing the La Paz administration for the local problems.

A Bolivian judge has sentenced to three years in prison the most senior government official known to be involved in the extortion ring that preyed on U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher. Fernando Rivera was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to abuse of authority and racketeering. The former Interior Ministry legal affairs chief has been in jail since November

He is the eighth former official, including three ex-prosecutors, to get a reduced sentence after pleading guilty to roles in the ring that fleeced Ostreicher while he was jailed for 18 months in a money-laundering probe. Ostreicher fled Bolivia in December 2013 after corrupt officials bled dry the $25 million rice-farming investment he was trying to salvage. Prosecutors never presented evidence that the New York man was laundering money - See more at:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mile high transit over Bolivia

Bolivia Revolutionizes Urban Mass Transit: From the Streets to the Sky

How a spectacular urban cable car system and a new municipal bus program are revolutionizing mass transit in La Paz and El Alto, with the help of some political competition.

Emily Achtenberg 12/26/2014
(Emily Achtenberg)(Emily Achtenberg)

Those searching for revolution in Bolivia may find it in unexpected places. On the streets and in the sky above La Paz, the nation’s capital, and the neighboring indigenous city of El Alto, a genuine transformation of the urban public transportation system is taking shape, against the backdrop of a political competition that is working to the benefit of local residents.
On December 4, President Evo Morales inaugurated the third line of Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car), the spectacular new cable car system launched last May between La Paz and El Alto. With its Red, Yellow, and Green Lines (the colors of the Bolivian flag), 11 stations, and 427 gondola cabins spanning more than 6 miles at 13,500 feet, it is the longest and highest urban cable car system in the world.
Around 100,000 passengers each day—more than 1 out of every 5 commuters between the two cities—are now riding the teleférico to work or school, to buy or sell goods in the local market, or to enjoy family leisure or tourist activities in one location or the other. Compared to the grueling, unpredictable journey in a packed taxi, minivan, or microbus that is the customary mode of local transit, the popular teleférico offers a quick hop in the sky between sleek, modern terminals, with spectacular vistas along the way and free internet at the stations. While the fare of 3 bolivianos (43c) costs more than a minivan ride, passengers who are elderly, disabled, or students pay only half, and the commute takes less than 20 minutes instead of the usual hour.
Morales points to the teleférico as a showpiece of Bolivia’s modernization, made possible by the past nine years of economic prosperity and political stability under his MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government. It is also being touted as a symbol of integration, breaking down social, economic, and geographic barriers by connecting distant neighborhoods of indigenous migrants to the city’s commercial center, while opening up opportunities for tourism and investment flows to El Alto. As a political project, the teleférico epitomizes the campaign themes of progress, development, technological advancement, and national unity that propelled Morales and the MAS to an overwhelming victory last October.
While the cable system was constructed by the Austrian firm Doppelmayr—one of a handful of companies in the world with the necessary technical expertise—it is also very much a domestic initiative. The $235 million project cost has been financed entirely by Bolivia, with funds amassed largely from hydrocarbons revenues (taxes and royalties) accruing to the government. The construction workforce is largely Bolivian, and Bolivian engineers and technicians are being trained to operate the system.
The teleférico’s capital cost is expected to be amortized in 25 years—earlier than originally anticipated—through a combination of passenger revenues (75%) and commercial income (25%) generated from retail space and billboard rentals at the stations. (Fortunately, no commercial advertising is permitted on the cable cars, which are decorated instead with messages about important Bolivian laws, and, occasionally, with civic symbols such as soccer balls.) While experts remain skeptical, since virtually no public transit system in the world operates in the black, Morales has predicted that profits from the teleférico will soon be used to subsidize the government’s cash transfer programs.
Morales has pledged another $450 million to construct 5 more teleférico lines starting next year, more than doubling the range of the system. Unlike cable cars built in cities like Caracas and Medellin, which reach only a few isolated hilltop neighborhoods, the La Paz/ El Alto teleférico is uniquely envisaged as the core of an urban mass transit system—a “subway in the sky,” as The New York Times has dubbed it. Austrian president Heinz Fisher will travel to Bolivia to sign the new contract on January 22, the day Morales is sworn in for his third presidential term.
Equally popular in La Paz is the new municipal bus system, PumaKatari, (named for the cougar and serpent that symbolize strength and cleverness in Andean culture). Designed to serve the city’s remote and neglected hillside neighborhoods, the system is especially welcomed by poorer residents who live farthest from the center, and are often denied service or charged extra by taxi and minivan drivers. In some cases, angry residents have mobilized to demand the expulsion of minivan lines that provide poor service to their neighborhoods. The municipal buses, with fares of 28c during the day and 43c at night, may cost a little more than prevailing modes of transportation, but offer the same half-price discounts as the teleférico and the convenience and reliability of fixed stops, schedules, and routes.
PumaKatari is the brainchild of Luis Revilla, the popular La Paz mayor elected in 2010 on the left-center MSM (Movement Without Fear) ticket. Revilla supports the teleférico, but insists that it must be part of, and coordinated with, an integrated mass transit system for the La Paz metropolitan region that is efficient, safe, convenient, and meets residents’ needs.
The first phase of PumaKatari was launched in February 2014—just before the teleférico—with 3 routes and 61 buses manufactured by King Long Motors of China. Four new routes and 73 buses have been commissioned for early 2015, with another 4 routes and 60 buses to follow later in the year. The total $30 million capital cost, along with an initial $4 million operating subsidy, is being financed by the municipality, which in turn receives most of its funds from national sources (principally hydrocarbons revenues).
With Bolivia’s departmental and municipal elections scheduled for next March, transportation politics have become a major battleground in the hotly-contested La Paz mayoralty race. Revilla, forced to form a new party when the MSM was decertified after its poor showing in the national elections, collected more than 50,000 signatures in a week to secure standing for the new (Sovereignty and Liberty) ticket. has since acquired many adherents, especially among MAS dissidents such as former defense minister Cecilia Chacón and TIPNIS leader (and ex-presidential candidate) Fernando Vargas. The party is now organizing a slate of candidates to run for positions throughout the La Paz department, including ex-MAS education minister Félix Patzi for governor.
With Revilla now being mentioned as a potential future rival to Morales, the mayoral campaign and its related transportation issues have become even more competitive and contentious. At the recent official ceremony inaugurating the teleférico’s new Green Line, Revilla was snubbed in favor of La Paz city councilor Guillermo Mendoza, who is also the new MAS candidate for mayor. (Initially, the head of the state cable car company, César Dockweiler, was widely rumored to be in line to run for MAS.)
Tensions have also arisen over the selection of an interim mayor to replace Revilla, who is legally required to resign by the end of the year in order to run again in March. Revilla has expressed concern that the confirmed designee, a MAS-allied city councilor who recently voted against expanding the PumaKatari bus project (for reasons of cost), could work to undermine his transportation initiatives over the next several months.
Still, there are growing signs of inter-jurisdictional cooperation and coordination around transportation planning in the region. Teleférico stations are being coordinated with PumaKatari bus stops, and the first integrated transfer location was established with the new Green Line in December. The municipalities of La Paz and El Alto have signed an agreement to cooperate in implementing a regional mass transit system, and now meet regularly with representatives of the state cable car company as well as the Ministry of Public Works. El Alto’s counterpart to PumaKatari, the new municipal bus Sariri, is scheduled to start operations early next year, with two routes feeding directly into the teleférico.
The Morales government has also taken critical steps to contain opposition by the powerful MAS-allied transportista (taxi- and minivan-drivers) unions which have threatened to derail both the teleférico and municipal bus initiatives. Morales has guaranteed a $100 million loan from China to enable the La Paz and El Alto unions to purchase 2,000 modern vehicles from King Long Motors (the same company that manufactures the PumaKatari buses). The upgraded fleet will run on natural gas, eliminating the cost of federal gasoline subsidies. Additionally, the government will buy up the old minivans for scrap, and the unions will use the proceeds as a downpayment on China’s loan.
So far, Bolivia’s competitive urban transportation politics seem to be working to everyone’s advantage, and especially to the benefit of La Paz and El Alto residents. Having the resources from hydrocarbons revenues for major national and local projects certainly helps. Meanwhile, showcasing its shiny new cable cars and buses, La Paz has just been named one of the “seven most amazing cities in the world.”

Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Glenn Greenwald article on Bolivian election

Featured photo - What ‘Democracy’ Really Means in U.S. and New York Times Jargon: Latin America Edition
Dean Mouhtaropoulos
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition - a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. 
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorial expressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” - they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):
This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”
It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.
But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.
Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.
To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images