Friday, October 16, 2009

Presidents, Presidents Everywhere

Presidents, Presidents everywhere and not a juice to drink.

The Presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua are all headed into Cochabamba this afternoon, along with a host of other diplomats from Latin America’s left, for a two-day summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos (ALBA). We have a team covering it and will have more news about the politics of the summit coming soon.

But first, here is how it went down this morning in Plaza Colon.

When I heard the loud crying it sounded like someone’s child had been hit by a bus. I walked faster to see what had happened but saw no child, only a ruckus in the middle of the street around the familiar cart of a woman I pass and talk with every morning who sells fresh squeezed fruit juice in the corner of the tree-lined plaza. Her oranges and grapefruit, all carefully peeled just after dawn, were strewn across the pavement.

The cries were coming from her as she scrambled, with little assistance, to gather them up before they were splattered and destroyed by the morning traffic. Two young policemen in blue uniforms were pushing her along.

After helping her gather up the last of the fruit from the pavement, dodging turning trufis and cars that seemed to pay no heed, I tried to find out what happened. Why was she being moved? Why were the police so eager to get this humble Quechua woman with just one eye away from the corner where she ekes out a tiny living each day pouring juice for passers by?

It didn’t take long to figure out the answer to that question – the summit.

“We are just following orders,” one of the young policemen told me. “They want the juice sellers cleared out of the plaza. I guess they don’t think it looks good.” In their haste to follow those orders the police had managed to push the old woman into such a frenzy of fear and traffic that she tipped her cart and spilled her fruit. This made it her fault, I was told.

So there it is. Somewhere in the bowels of government – perhaps in the Cochabamba’s conspicuously corrupt Mayor’s office or in the stratospheres of national power in La Paz – some bureaucrat or politician decided that this woman in a straw hat and long skirt turning fruit into juice was not a suitable image for visiting dignitaries to see.

What? Did someone in government fear that President Hugo Chavez might be sent into an epileptic seizure at the sight of a peeled grapefruit? Were there terrorist concerns, that perhaps she might throw discarded rinds at a President’s head or suddenly run her bent metal cart into a passing motorcade?

What else might these heads of state and their entourages find offensive? The guy downstairs with the nut cart? He’s a little shifty. The maracyua ice cream at Dumbos? That orange is a weird color. To be honest, I am not entirely sure that the socks I put on this morning match all that well. Should I be cautious about crossing the “offensiveness” line if I pass by the Hotel Diplomat today on my way to lunch? Seen at a close distance, the socks could induce President Ortega of Nicaragua to have a heart attack, possibly.

Let’s talk about what all these leaders evidently will not take offense at. They apparently are not offended in any fashion by the periodic loud passing of rifle-carrying police on motorcycles who are burning up the streets of Cochabamba today. Similarly, we are to find no offense in the fleet of smoked-windowed SUVs and late model sedans that are evidently the required transportation for those in power.

This is democracy’s real cancer – the arrogance of power. Let us be clear. This mental illness that allows those in power to hustle humble juice women off the street, or have nurses shot on rooftops, or any of the other offenses that come with it is not monopolized by any ideology or any nationality. There are people who suffer from it spread across the across left and right, and the north and south. And they are drawn to power, as the saying goes, “like flies to shit.”

Here is what I think should happen. I think that we should find out who made this decision and do the following. We should tie them for an hour to the footbridge in the middle of Plaza Colon and let the women who sell juice in its four corners pummel he or she with peels and the occasional whole grapefruit. Then that person’s name should be placed on a list of people who will never be allowed to wield public authority again, ever, in any country.

Oh yes, the ALBA summit is about much bigger things that one poor woman tumbled with her fruit in the street in downtown Cochabamba. There are trade accords to negotiate, declarations on Honduras to make, discussions about environmental destruction and dolaraization of the region’s economies.

But politics and political power begins with how it treats the most humble. If it can’t get that right then it isn’t likely to get the rest right either. Based on that criteria and the scene this morning in Plaza Colon, this summit doesn’t look to be getting off to a good start.

Answers to Last Week’s Bolivia News Quiz

1. None, it was a trick question.

2. Residents near the Kara Kara city dump blockaded the entrance to demand the dump’s closure due to the contamination caused to the local environment and water.

3. President Evo Morales announced (through the Vice President) that he will not debate any of his opponents in the December Presidential vote.

4. 47% is the current level of voter support for Morales reported in a recent national poll. 17% is the support level reported for his nearest opponent, former Cochabamba Governor Manfred Reyes Villa.

5. Severe drought.

6. The Paraguayan government has objected to what it called hidden plans by Bolivia to purchase new military airplanes.

7. Miss Peru.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those black tinted SUVs belching carry people who say are in favor of the environment and against the evil multinationals that built those same cars and produced that same gasoline that allow their fat arrogant asses to go to their luxurious summit, sweeping as trash the "eyesore people" they supposedly represent.
No wonder even leftists in Latin America believe the left is in decline.

The funniest group of retards are those from some kind of "climate tribunal" who want the evil multinationals to pay their debt for supposedly contaminating the environment, all the while they're using Dell and Sony laptops and Hewlett Packard printers...just to mention a few of the evil multinational products they're denouncing.
I hope you wear your weird socks in la Recoleta, Jim.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope one day you devote a post to explaining in detail why you feel such distaste with Evo Morales and leftist politics, something more concrete than two stupid cops pushing over a juice stand please.

It would help inform everyone why you refuse to admit the good Morales has done for Bolivia and are too naive to understand that all the motorcycle police are present today in Cochabamba because every President participating in ALBA is considered an enemy by the largest militarist power on Earth, the United States. And one of them isn't even present because he was deposed in a military coup assisted by the US military base in his country.

Please get a grip Jim.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It cracks me up whenever commenters here declare that Jim is anti-Evo, from this post included. Did you just start reading this blog today? Most of the time people think this Blog is a MAS public relations outlet. Maybe you need to get a grip buddy.

And I take it you are in favor of police shoving around juice ladies, in some regimes but not others.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the previous commenter above (at 5:16): I noted that the Blog says that he doesn't know who ordered the city clensed of juice sellers but you seem to assume Evo did. Why is that? Do you know something about that? Thanks.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This ALBA meeting is B.S. at least the Business part of the Summit. I signed up to meet with the suposed international buyers and go to the Rueda de Negocios and when the meeting where supposed to start there was nothing i never got the company catalog, I never got anything when i spoke to the organizer they said they were randamoly choosing ocmpanies from the stack of insciption forms they had and sugesting these to the Buyers. Like usual a total lack of organization and Show for the media to mis inform everyone. They spent a bunch of money on comercials Banners renting out the place etc. and for nothing no results or just enoguh to keep the textile manufacturers content.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 5:16
The only real coup plotter there was Chavez

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One announcement made at the ALBA conference that should be of concern was Chavez's statement that Venezuela is working with Iran to mine uranium.
Last May an Israeli leaked document stated that Venezuela and Bolivia were assisting Iran in obtaining uranium. Much earlier Bolivia publically stated that uranium was a state secret. After the israeli claim hit the media both countries denied the claim and minister Quintana rideculed Israel publically. The question is now, when is Evo going to admit that he is cooperating with Iran on extracting uranium.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But politics and political power begins with how it treats the most humble. If it can’t get that right then it isn’t likely to get the rest right either."

Very good.

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if Alan Garcia, Alvaro Uribe, Felipe Calderon, and Oscar Arias fly in to Cbba to attend a rowdy political rally with thousands of Reyes Villa's followers in the Coronilla Coliseum -- all the while causing a media circus, paralizing the city, and shoving humble people around deemed as eyesores -- and firmly pledge their support and endorsed his candidacy? The Morales government would blanket the airwaves and literally choke with indignation for those foreign imperialist lackeys to dare infringe Bolivia's sacred sovereignty, meddle in its affairs, and the icing in the imperialist capitalist cake -- dare to sweep the poor Bolivian people under the rug lest it offends their foreign capitalist eyes! Reyes Villa would be branded a worthless and shameless traitor, only poodling up to evil imperialist intent.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To the previous commenter above (at 5:16): I noted that the Blog says that he doesn't know who ordered the city clensed of juice sellers but you seem to assume Evo did. Why is that? Do you know something about that? Thanks."

Jim, if anyone is making such an assumption it is you.

I also don't remember you chastising Obama's democratic politics for protesters being literally kidnapped in broad daylight by military personnel during the G20.

Putting things in perspective does help show who actually needs a lesson in democracy. I suggest you do so if you want to be taking seriously by anyone beyond the loons circling these comment sections like vultures.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference is that the G20 dudes don't spit and fart every 5 seconds their supposed inconditional love for the poor and humble as the ALBA dudes do.

Heck, with their constant professed "love for the people," all the eyesores swept under the rug by the ALBA police shoula been the VIPs in the luxurious Hotel Cochabamba.
Now THAT's perspective.

7:58 AM  

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