Monday, February 09, 2009

Bolivia's new constitution: photos... and a gringo in trouble

The UK's Bolivia Information Forum sent out a link to some spectacular photos of the recent constitutional referendum and related stuff, from the Boston Globe.

Here are some of my own pictures from the referendum:
Our niece, Tina, was a citizen observer -- it's like jury duty.

Rocío's voting station.

Rocío signs up to make history.

Her ballot joins those of her compatriots.

The purple ink on her finger shows that she's already voted. A defining moment in Bolivian history, and I helped make it happen!

I wrote earlier about the analysis we were doing in the Colectivo Rimarikuna regarding where potentials for violence may exist as the new constitution is implemented. Well, Sunday President Evo Morales declared the new constitution to be in effect, and top ministers, military officers, and others swore a new oath to uphold it. And now, it appears that perhaps some conflict will indeed arise over land in the Eastern pampas. The AP has this article about a gringo rancher whose land is apparently being confiscated over the treatment of Guaraní Indians in his "employ."
The man at the center of Bolivia's raging land wars is an improbable figure: a tall, folksy Montanan whose vast lands have been ordered confiscated on the grounds he treated workers as virtual slaves.

Ronald Larsen, 64, calls the claims unfounded and vows not to give up without a fight. For four decades, he says, he has fed and clothed workers who would otherwise live in squalor — even educating their children.

"They've singled me out as an American," Larsen told The Associated Press on Saturday. "We're not just going to walk away like a bunch of sheep."...

...Human rights groups say an estimated 4,000 Guarani still live in "virtual slavery" in the Chaco, tending cattle or working fields of corn, peanuts and sugarcane for wages as low as $40 a year. Tribal leaders last year claimed that 12 families on Larsen's ranch lived in servitude.

Larsen insists he is not among the abusers, and alleges that former workers accusing him of indentured servitude signed statements under duress.

"We're way over the minimum wage" of $81 a month, he said in a telephone interview from the eastern city of Santa Cruz...

...Twice in the past year, government agents raided Larsen's ranch seeking evidence of servitude. In the first incursion on Feb. 29, they were widely reported to have been met by hostile, rifle-toting men including Larsen, who allegedly shot out their tires.

Asked about the incident, Larsen sidestepped the question.

"My lawyer said, 'You've got to stop talking about those measly tires,'" he said. But he did allow that one of his workers used a sharp tool to puncture the tires of two government SUVs so agents couldn't flee before neighboring ranchers confronted them.

In fact, it was widely reported at the time that Larsen took a government minister for land reform hostage, preventing the government from investigating conditions on his ranch. The end of the article gives a little insight into Larsen's attitude toward the peasants who work his land and that of his neighboring ranchers:
Larsen is also upset that the government recently began giving out food in Guarani communities — to break the people's dependence on him for employment, he says.

"These people, their main thing in life is where they're going to get their next bowl of rice," he said. "A few bags of rice buys a lot of support."
Seriously?! If this guy loses it all, he should go back to the U.S. and hang out with the bank CEOs who don't understand why ordinary Americans are opposed to giving them 7-figure welfare salaries for being greedy failures.

PS In the third picture, that's a kid with a Spiderman mask pushed up on top of his head -- not a Spidey yarmulka.

1 comment:

Brian Wrightson said...

Un-freaking-believable. It seems like we're inundated every single day with stories of greed that are absolutely disgusting. Too bad.

On the flip side - nice voting pictures!

Hope you're doing well.