It was almost six years ago, in December 2004, that we began this “Blog from Bolivia.” Today is our last post.
The Democracy Center, and I, first began writing about Bolivia a decade ago as the streets of this city where we live exploded in the now famous Cochabamba Water Revolt. Despite the belief by some otherwise, I did not come to Bolivia to cover the Revolt, or to do anything political for that matter. My family and I returned to Cochabamba in 1998 (my wife and I had lived here in 1991-92 as volunteers in an orphanage) for reasons that were entirely personal. In 2000 when the Water Revolt happened I just happened to be the first foreigner on the scene writing about it.
In the Water Revolt our role was an appropriate one for foreigners. We helped draw global attention to what was happening here. We investigated and put a public spotlight on the foreign institutions that played such a central role – the World Bank and the Bechtel Corporation. Afterwards, when Bechtel sued the Bolivian people for $50 million in a World Bank trade court, the Democracy Center helped lead the successful global campaign to force Bechtel to drop its case.
What followed in terms of our role in Bolivia was a logical extension of that work. We continued to undertake serious investigations of the role of international institutions in Bolivian politics. We chronicled the role of the International Monetary Fund in Bolivia’s bloody Febrero Negro, pulled the curtain back on Enron and Shell’s massive altiplano oil spill, and traced the role of foreign gas interests in the country’s dramatic 2003 Gas War. We published these and other investigations in our 2009 book, Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization.
In our Blog these past six years we tried to offer coverage on a variety of issues – especially the turbulent world of U.S./Bolivia relations, the rise of President Evo Morales, and the sometimes violent divisions within Bolivian politics. In addition we tried to offer here some flavor of daily Bolivian life. Many readers still mention My Bolivian Commute as among their favorites. And of course there are our annual April Fools posts. A high point was last year when the Huffington Post and other news outlets picked up and ran as real news our post about Morales denouncing a U.S. plot to force Bolivia onto daylight savings time.
We have also continued to offer special reports that looked at certain Bolivian issues in more depth, such as our April report, Bolivia and its Lithium.
So why is this the end of the Blog from Bolivia?
The main reason, to be honest, is that I am done. A decade is a very long time to do anything and I don’t believe in doing something past the point where it has real quality and inspiration. Reporting on Bolivia is serious work. You need to be out in the field speaking with people from a wide variety of viewpoints. You need to follow the news closely. You need to feel like it is your calling. To be clear, I love living in Bolivia. I just don’t want to spend my best energies writing about it any longer.
Another reason is that the Bolivian scene has changed. When we began our writing about this amazing country the stories we focused on were ones that usually pitted Bolivian social movements against powerful foreign interests (Bechtel, the World Bank, the Bush administration, the IMF, etc.). It seemed appropriate, as a foreigner, to play a serious role in getting those stories out. Now the main stories in Bolivia are ones of complex domestic politics that often pit one “progressive” force against another. I just do not feel that it is my role as a foreigner to offer myself as some sort of interpreter of those domestic events.
Third, I have come to believe less and less in Blogging as a source of information. I realize that this goes against the grain of current trends, but hear me out. Books, for example, are very serious undertakings (I have written two and co-authored and co-edited a third). They force the writer to have a serious analysis and the reader to make a serious commitment to read it. Magazine articles (and we’ve done our share of those) are also serious, still requiring a significant amount of depth and commitment on the part of both writer and reader. Blogs, like many daily newspaper columns, are more in the mode of “feeding the beast” – driven too often by artificial deadlines rather than having something substantive to offer. When I found myself trying to think of something to write instead of being inspired to write, I knew it was over.
There was also a time when the comments section of this Blog was a genuine and diverse space for debate. A set of regular commenters, many with points of view quite different than those expressed here, offered serious analysis of their own. We valued that a good deal. In fact we asked one of our more fervent critics to review and critique a draft chapter of our book, which he did with great skill. But for sometime now the comments section has been an outlet for a handful of people who confuse analysis with insult, chasing everyone else away and rendering it all boring and useless as a serious forum.
Now, let’s be clear, the end of the Blog from Bolivia does not mean we are going away. Nope, all this is about a metamorphosis. It is about the Democracy Center taking our mission of “helping people build democracy from the ground up” and applying it to new challenges that build on all of what we have done, worldwide, since our founding nearly two decades ago. The end of one thing paves the way for the beginning of another. If you are interested in what that might be, stay tuned to this space.
And for those of you who come here in search of news of Bolivia, here are some suggestions of other sources you might give a look:
Jean Friedman–Rudovsky: Our colleague in La Paz who writes for Time magazine and others is a solid source of Bolivia news. This is a link to her Time articles.
Google News Alerts: You can sign up for this free service to receive daily listings of all articles in the English media about Bolivia, ranging from New York Times articles to personal Blogs.
Noticias Bolivianas: You can also sign-up for this service from COMTECO that will deliver you a daily summary (with links) to the major headlines from most of Bolivia’s daily papers (in Spanish).
Erbol: This on-line and radio news outlet offers solid reporting on Bolivian events (in Spanish).
Andean Information Network: Our colleagues at AIN offer occasional posts and articles about events in Bolivia, with a particular focus on coca issues.
Dan Moriarty, Missionary Man: Our friend Dan Moriarty, who works with the Maryknoll Language Institute in Cochabamba, offers an interesting and often entertaining Blog that covers both political issues in Bolivia and observations about daily life here.
Upside Down World: Another colleague, Ben Dangl, offers this solid Web magazine about social movements in Latin America, as well as frequent worthwhile reports about Bolivia.
The Bolivia Information Forum: The BIF, directed by a small group of academics in the UK, produces a regular newsletter on Bolivia that offers excellent analysis on current events and issues in the country.
Those are my suggestions, but there are certainly many other good sources and we’ll leave it to people to point readers to those in the comments section.
Let me end, finally, with a few thank yous. First, to the many Democracy Center colleagues who have shared this space with me over the years and offered our readers some amazing material – a video report about Bolivia’s melting glaciers, a documentary about Cochabamba’s Water cooperatives, reports on Bolivia’s (many) elections, and much more. It is an honor to work with so many young gifted people and they have surely made the Blog what it has been. Second, to the many journalists who have used our Blog as a source over the years – we have appreciated the confidence.
Finally, to you our readers. There have been somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 people daily who have read us here over the years, sometimes many more when Bolivia has been in the news. In my travels around the U.S. and elsewhere I have met many of you, an assortment of people who love this beautiful country and, whether you agree with our perspective or not, have tuned into our reporting and helped make the Blog a success for six years. Thank you.
I guess my message to you all can be summed up in a conversation I had on the street here a week ago. A young woman who has come to Cochabamba from the U.S., as part of a semester abroad program, recognized me on the street and asked:
“Are you Jim Shultz?”
“I used to be.”
Thank you again for your interest in our Bolivia reporting, and if you want to see what the Democracy Center is getting ready to be next, keep your eye here in a month or so.
The Democracy Center