Thursday, May 03, 2007

Life In Santa Cruz

Last week we had what could be considered cold weather in Santa Cruz, rainy, windy and chilly. It’s called the Sur, a series of winds that comes up from the Argentinian pampas, following cold chills in that region by about three days.

I haven’t been out of a 20 mile radius of Santa Cruz, which leads me to believe sometimes that I’m just in an isolated, developed and rather sophisticated Latin American city. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m actually not too far from Argentina. Nor am I too far from the Amazonian jungle.

I get reminders every so often, such as this Sunday, when I walked a few blocks to the grocery store. On the way, I passed by several beautiful, exotic (to me) birds, with rich brown or yellow breasts. A type of lizard I’d never seen before scurried under a fence. Even more surprisingly, in my upscale neighborhood, was the horned bull sauntering casually down the residential street, no owner in sight.

At such times I place myself – yes, I’m in the center of South America. But it still doesn’t seem entirely real as I move daily between my home, my office, and my daily activity.

Yesterday, I was reading an article in a local paper during Spanish class and I passed over a mention that Bolivian President, Evo Morales, didn’t finish primary education and has trouble reading.

“Is that true?” I asked my Spanish teacher, Oscar.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why doesn’t he learn?” I asked.

“Because he has power.”

“But precisely because he has power, he could get a good teacher and learn.”

“That’s why you think and what I think. But he doesn’t seem to care.”

“Isn’t it embarrassing?” I asked.

“Yes, especially when he represents our country overseas. It’s very shameful.”

He told me that in his opinion, Morales’ greatest weakest is the way he foments confrontation between the rich and the poor. “One can sense that he just hates rich people. And you know, a lot of people in Santa Cruz have money. So the people here feel like he just wants to take away what they have and give it to the poor. This gives more support to the idea of independence for Santa Cruz.”

Oscar believes that the greatest problem in Bolivia is the focus on keeping up with the Jones and the lack of thought, intellectual inquiry and new ideas. He seems quite troubled about this. He gave me an article to read that said all 36 universities in Bolivia are underdeveloped, lack research capabilities, and don’t get involved into social debate. He has set a goal for himself to study how Harvard and Oxford became world-class universities. “What do you need to do to get brilliant people to come out of there?” he asked.

Another local problem he told me about is the second hand clothing that comes from the U.S. I’m not sure how it is gathered or shipped on the US side, but tons of used clothing are shipped here every year. It’s sold cheaply on the local market, from one to two dollars per item, and is a good way for many families to get decent quality and low-cost clothing. But at the same time, because it’s so cheap, it prevents the Bolivian textile industry from developing. It can’t compete with the low prices.

So, according to Luis, President Evo Morales recently banned any more imports of used clothing. This caused the many families who earn their livings running used clothing shops to hit the streets in protest. And those who are linked to the local textile industry protested as well, in opposition.

There is always something to fight about.

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