Otto agrees

Adding on to my recent post about LatAm media coverage, where I said:

“…Hugo and Evo are hugely popular in Latin America because they’re good for Latin America”

Apparently Otto agrees in his recent post about the Bolivian economy, saying:

“A once and future coca leaf grower runs countries better than teams of dumbasses in suits (you know them by the name ‘economists’) with multisquillon dollar eddycations…”

My only issue with that is that Otto narrowed it down to economists, instead of the more general rich old guys in suits. Whether it’s Alan Garcia or Jack Welch or Al Gore, be leary of rich old guys in suits who profess to know what’s good for average Joe. Far too often said rich old guys in suits have made big bucks robbing said average Joe blind.

Visit to Copacabana, Bolivia!

We had some trouble getting back from La Paz to Cusco due to the transportation strike in Cusco last week, so we spent a day in Copacabana waiting for the next bus back to Cusco. In my opinion this was the best part of our trip to Bolivia. Copacabana is a touristy spot on lake Titicaca, with fantastic scenery and a lot of laid-back little bars and cafes. We took a nice boat trip on lake Titicaca and visited the “Isla del Sol” where you have great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The same afternoon we crossed the border back into Peru and took the bus back to Cusco…

– Ward Welvaert

Visit to La Paz, Bolivia

We made a trip to Bolivia last week to pick up my new Peruvian visa at the Peruvian consulate in La Paz. Archaic government rules mean that a visa typically grants permission to travel to a country, so in most cases you have to pick it up outside of the issuing country.

We took advantage of the opportunity to take a little vacation, stopping in La Paz, Copacabana (Bolivia) and Puno (Peru). La Paz is a fairly typical large Latin American city, located in a canyon made by the Rio Choqueyapu. The center of the city is at an elevation of over 3,600 meter (~12,000 feet) above sea level, but the outskirts of the city reach over 4,000 meter (13,000 feet) in El Alto. I’m not a huge fan of big cities, so I enjoyed Copacabana more than La Paz.

In Bolivia poverty is more visible and widespread than in Peru, and right now there is also civil unrest between the middle class and the poorer ethnic Indian population. La Paz is a stronghold of support for the ethnic Indian president Evo Morales, while the richer cities in Bolivia such as Santa Cruz are more opposed to him. Support for “Evo” is very visible in La Paz, on billboards, grafitti and public demonstrations.

– Ward Welvaert

“La hoja de coca no es droga”

I recently read that Evo Morales, the populist president of Bolivia, is having some success at convincing farmers to grow other crops beside coca leaves. While Morales remains president of a powerful coca growers union, he is providing incentives for farmers to grow other crops as well to better deal with the recent increase in world food prices.

As I’m writing this I’m sipping a cup of “mate de coca”, green tea made of coca leaves. When I’m in the US often get asked about coca tea, since the coca leaf is also the base ingredient of cocaine. As the title of this post says: “The coca leaf is not a drug”, and there are no stimulating effects when you drink coca tea.

The coca leaf has historically had many uses here in the Andes region, it is practically worshiped for the natural healing qualities it is believed to hold. Native people chew the coca leaf, similar to chewing tobacco, and us gringos are offered coca tea when we first arrive to Cusco to help deal with the effects of the altitude. When I was ill earlier this year Tio Miguel (that’s Patricia’s uncle Miguel) gave us some healing lotions, which felt really good when I had pneumonia.

The US government has financed coca eradication programs from Columbia to Bolivia for decades, in an attempt to stop the flow of cocaine into the US. Since I moved to Peru I’ve become convinced those programs are akin to the Prime Minister of India coming down to Texas and telling the ranchers to stop raising cattle because it’s sacreligious.

The problems with the US programs are that they don’t recognize the value of the coca leaf here in the Andean cultures. In addition, they involve methods like spraying pesticide from airplanes. Not even my old pilot buddy Ralph Feather – who could barrel roll a loaded Convair 240 – is good enough to spray fields at night and not hit any people as well.

I wouldn’t pretend to have an easy solution to the drug problem, but it seems like Evo Morales is on to something not half bad in this case.

Ward Welvaert

Update: read about our trip to Bolivia.

"Evo SI" billboard in La Paz, Bolivia

'Evo SI' billboard in La Paz, Bolivia

Typical Peruvian countryside

Typical Peruvian countryside