This morning we woke to the usual sounds of barking birds and conversations down below our windows. The sounds of cars and motorbikes were noticeably absent. Jean Carla phoned to say that the city was shut down due to road blocks and demonstrations and that she’d call us back if it looked like it would let up, otherwise we should plan to stay around the hotel for the day and away from large crowds. We had planned to visit some Inca ruins with a well-known local archeologist. That seemed to be put on hold.
Over breakfast we watched the local news. Taxi drivers had blocked all of the roadways into the center of town in anger towards the proposal of a new law that would only allow certain license plates to drive on designated days. Seems the city is too small to hold the rising population and amount of automobile traffic. This of course would cut into their wages. I suppose the idea is similar to the one in Mexico City with efforts to cut down on congested traffic and pollution, an enormous problem in Mexico’s capital.
Cochabamba is no stranger to demonstrations and political movements. The current president of Bolivia is from outside of Cochabamba, the famous president of the cocaleros union. Evo Morales seems to be everyone here in Cochabamba, that is his imagine. In the 2007 election he was enormously popular with the campesinos, but as is customary those in power sometimes see their popularity wain in the face of reality. I’m told that the city here is accustomed to public demonstrations from national to local. Examples would be the Water War and the Gas Wars to marches by health care workers and teachers something I saw just yesterday. Bolivians are individuals active in their political world unafraid to take to the streets to make their voices heard over issues that impact them quite personally. You need not look to far to understand this. Bolivia is one of the poorest South American countries. Yesterday we visited a school out in the campos, a school that Amizade built classrooms. Why would a non-profit need to build public classrooms? A good question. Because the government doesn’t despite the fact that the people pay taxes that should go to the support of education. This is a common problem all across Latin America. As Raul, the driver for Amizade noted quite well, “We have culture, but we have no education.” A reality for far too many.
At 8:00am the news reported some rioting in the streets, blockaded intersections and the mobilization of the police. By 8:40am the roads were clear. I was amazed. Raul the driver and David the archeologist showed up soon there after and we were making our way through the heart of Cochabamba by 9am. We had the streets to ourselves. All was quiet. We passed parked taxis and overpasses with police milling around. Trash dumpsters were in the middle of some intersections. It was a bit surreal, but quite ordinary to the Cochabambinos.
Off we went to see some Inca ruins, the main grain stations for the 16th century Inca empire. Seems that Cochabamba, while on the periphery of the Inca realm was crucial to the production of food stuffs to maintain the Incan army and the empire. The people of the valley were intimately involved in the social, economic and political Inca world. One could argue that today Cochabamba remains important along similar lines.