BOLIVIA: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
(Photo) Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolívia
New York City is not just a nerve plexus for the US, but for the entire world. A lot of what happens here affects everyone, including the Latin world.
Spanish Harlem, where Puerto Rican immigrants started to arrive after WWI, has seen people from every Spanish speaking nation. Daby’s grandparents arrived from Puerto Rico, and Cuba, his parents were both born in New York City.
New Yorkers had much to do with Puerto Rico’s annexation in the Spanish American War, there is a monument to the USS Maine at the Columbus Avenue entrance to Central Park (as testifies).
Cuba, with its consulate under police guard on Lexington Avenue, and Fidel Castro roaming around slaughtering goats in a Harlem hotel, also sent its share of immigrants to this city, mostly in the 1950s. Daby’s grandmother was one of them, and his mother was born in Brooklyn in 1952.
After Puerto Ricans and Cubans, the major influx was composed of Dominicans. Over the years every single Latin American nation has sent its citizens to New York, and ultimately, Spanish Harlem.
Mexicans and Ecuadorians immigration followed Dominican. Portuguese speaking Brazilians also arrived in this city; they were in fact the first wave of Latin American immigrants, with the Sephardic Brazilians arriving in 1654. They set up the first synagogue in the New World, Congregation Shearith Israel.
One of the last countries to send immigrants here was Bolivia. This state, one of only two landlocked countries in Latin American, is three times the size of the state of New York but the same population.
It therefore gets little attention, even among the ‘sisters’ as the Latin American nations are known. It might even surprise the reader to know that today, 6 August, is Bolivian Independence Day.
Which event is usually celebrated by an array of dancers, each representing the dozens of different local tribes. It is a display of sartorial eloquence and fantastic movement that demands to be seen; even if one has to go out to New Jersey to see it, which is where it has been usually held. Thanks to COVID 19, such pageantry will be on hold. Which is our loss. And also that of Carlos Reyes, who is a resident of Spanish Harlem. Reyes comes from Bolivia.
Now a New Yorker, he shares with us unique insights into his homeland and we thought it would be a nice touch to include them here. Though not as much fun to read as it would be to see a Bolivian parade, it will, I hope, at least enlighten the reader and pave the way for a better relationship with the US.
Bolivia’s Independence came about shortly after that of the US: Simon Bolivar was to Bolivia, and other Latin states, what George Washington was to the US. Thus in 1809 Bolivia started to break off from Spain in a war that was to last 16 years.
While the US maintained political stability, with elections every four years, and a stable currency with no hyper inflation era, Bolivia is noted for the coups, recounts and runoff elections. There are more than two major parties, and usually, the two candidates for president who get the most votes, but without a clear majority, must run against each other to determine the winner.
This trend was broken in 2006 when Evo Morales came to power with a clear majority in the first round.
His party was called Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) and allied itself with Cuba, Venezuela and Russia. MAS was not as left wing, however, as many left wing groups in the US wanted it to be, and he got little support most of the left.
His focus was on raising literacy, womens’ rights and those of the indigenous people. He was himself of Aymara stock, and was well loved by his tribe and the 35 other tribes that made up what he called the “Plurinational State of Bolivia.”
Morales’ state is noted for many things; but poverty is perhaps what it is best known for. MAS was able to turn Bolivia into the country with the highest economic growth rate in the region, and while this made him popular among his people, it made him enemies among those that had been taking advantage of Bolivia’s resources.
Poverty in a nation with vast mineral resources – including gold and silver – serves to illustrate the ironic juxtapositions that defined this landlocked entity. Half of all the silver in the world comes from Bolivia, most of that from Potosi.
The same might be said of tin. And next on the list might be lithium, of which Bolivia holds about 75% of the world’s supply.
Lithium deposits define the Salar de Uyuni, in the southwest. Lithium, the world’s lightest metal, floats on water. Used in batteries and some medicines. Many are the hands that wish to carry off this metal as was done with silver and tin. But Morales was not so quick to sell cheap. He insisted that whoever mined the lithium also develop the lithium products in his country. The British and the Dutch were willing to work with him along such lines, but many saw him as a threat to their profits.
In 2008 I happened to hear of plans to deal underhandedly with Bolivia and its new left wing policies. While infiltrating neo nazis for the Jewish Chronicle in London, I was able to gain the confidence of a top barrister known for defending Holocaust deniers: Adrian Davies, QC. He bragged to me about clandestine visits to Santa Cruz, the southeast departamento full of anti-Morales activists, many of whom had ties to neo nazis and Croat separatists.
Davies spoke Croatian; and knew many Croatian neo nazis. He also spoke Spanish. I let him confide to me what was going on, and then called the Bolivian Embassy in London where the military attache met me and took notes.
Not long afterwards, the Bolivian police found a group plotting to stage a coup and kill Morales. The group was based in Santa Cruz, and composed of neo nazis and Croatians. For those interested in more details, click here to read what was posted on David Toube’s London site by Melvyn Kohn in 2009:
The far right plotters did not get rid of Morales. A decade later, the Aymara was still in La Paz. But ultimately, in November 2019, his own supporters decided not to let him change the Constitution which he was trying to do to seek to expand term limits. The Constitution remained as it was, and the regime was what changed. This move sent him to Mexico, then Cuba, and finally on to Argentina.
Presently Bolivia is awaiting elections, which have been postponed a number of times. Whether this is due to COVID 19, or whether the interim president, Jeanine Anez, just wants to hold on to power, is a good question.
When elections are held, the man expected to win is the former finance minister of the MAS party, Luis Arce.
It is to him that a large part of the credit for Bolivia’s financial growth is due. Arce, educated in England, is viewed by the MAS officials as a left wing figure, while many see him as more of a moderate.
I see him as a good pick for president. He once came to New York to speak, and I was very impressed, writing on www.cuentasdebolivia.blogspot.com – click below to read:
Daby Carreras has over the years dealt with Bolivia in one way or another, including a very impressive deal he put together for Rio Tintos, a large mining company that Carreras raised money for. He has also joined the group Amigos de Bolivia which seeks to reach out to Bolivia and work with them in the future.
Which we hope will be good. Most analysts say that Arce will be the new president, and while some in the far right in the US might react negatively, there is no need for this. Reaching out to Arce, or to whomever is elected, is the correct move and Carreras will be in a position to do that for both the US and Bolivia.
And Carreras will be able to assist with other US-Latin relations as well. As a resident of Spanish Harlem, and hopefully the Assemblyman for the same, he
is well poised to deal with improving the relations that exist between New York
and the ‘sisters’.
Happy Independence Day, Bolivia. We look forward to working with you soon.