David and Lili's World Tour


August 2009, Copacabana, Isla del Sol, La Paz

We went to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca to visit Don and Tatiana. This is the original Copacabana, a word that means "a good place for a lookout." We enjoyed the peace, quiet, and great food on the Island of the Sun, a place where theft can be punishable by drowning the theif´s entire family in the lake. Some local woman wanted to throw us in the lake! ...

Last May, Don and Tatiana stayed in a nice hotel on the island where they paid 80 bolivianos per night for their room. They took us there. When Tatiana called to make a reservation, the owner quoted a price of 80 bolivianos per night per room. We stayed 2 nights. When we went to pay, the owner said, "No... It´s 80 bolivianos per night PER PERSON." This is a common scam. A taxi driver in Peru used the same tactic (taxis and hotel rooms in this region are never priced per person). We paid the fair price then we left but the owner followed us. On the boat back to Copacabana, she told her local friends that we had paid nothing! Their response: "Drown the gringos in the lake!" The police got involved and we ended up splitting the difference. Scams against tourists happen everywhere, so this episode shouldn´t deter you from visiting this lovely place. And no, they wouldn´t have thrown us in the lake without first having a community meeting.

Everyone we met in Bolivia had positive things to say about their new president, Evo Morales, their first indigenous president. They say Evo is the only president in their country´s history who is not corrupt. Bolivia's wealthy elite (descendants of the Spanish colonizers) apparently like to be in charge; they have tried to assassinate Evo multiple times, I'm told.

The media often criticises Evo because he is allied with Venezuela´s Hugo Chávez. But while the two leaders share the ideological goal of using their respective country´s hydrocarbon wealth to combat poverty and build infrastructure, their tactics and personalities are radically different. Evo is a humble man of his people, whereas Hugo is a loud-mouthed demagogue. I have been to Venezuela, and have seen Hugo speak in person. Hopefully one day I will return to investigate further, but for now I can say this: (1) The media lies about him on a regular basis. Example: "He is a dictator!" - No, he is Venezuela´s elected president, and his Bolivarian Circles / Communal Councils are extremely democratic. Example: "He shut down the opposition media!" - Not exactly; he blocked the network Globovision from promoting his assassination, an act of treason (and forced other stations to renew their licenses according to law); the opposition media is alive and well in Venezuela. (2) His policies do indeed help combat poverty, and so he has widespread support at home. Rich and middle-class Venezuelans in opposition generally get their news from media sources owned by the oil companies that lost huge profits when Hugo nationalized the industry. (3) Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone just released a movie called South of the Border, a portrait of Hugo free from the standard media bias.

Here are some of Evo's main policy initiatives to date:

1) The government is expropriating unproductive land from people with huge holdings and giving title to the landless poor; this has caused intense opposition from wealthy landowners.

2) After Bolivia´s Water War (the previous president attempted to sell Cochabamba´s water to Bechtel Corporation and retreated after massive protests and strikes), all of Bolivia´s water has been nationalized.

3) Evo also nationalized Bolvia´s extensive natural gas reserves as a way to raise money to combat poverty and build infrastructure.

4) There are new pensions for the elderly and single mothers.

5) Children receive 300 bolivianos at the beginning of every school year to buy their books.

6) Salaries for government employees have been capped.

7) The minimum wage has been raised.

8) I heard that Evo also wants to prevent speculation in the housing market and thus make homes more affordable by making it illegal to own more than one rental property.

9) Perhaps the most controversial issue is cocaine. To generalize, Bolivians do not use cocaine but they do drink coca tea and chew coca leaves. Evo has been quoted as saying, "Cocaine is for gringos; it´s their problem, not ours." As such, he supports coca production for export to Colombia. Obviously, this does not endear him to America´s drug warriors.

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