Friday, August 17, 2007

Stop and Go

This evening I visited an interesting store. Called Stop & Go, it had a driveway running through it, kind of like a car wash. But either side was stocked with goods, from alcohol to butter, milk and yogurt, candy and gifts. Purchasers didn’t leave their cars, but told one of the employees what they wanted. They brought the order to the customer and collected the money, then watched them drive off. It seemed quite popular in the evening, as people picked up last-minute items on their way home from work. I thought it was a good idea, even faster than a convenience store.

The leadership of the Urcupina church doesn’t hesitate to link the religious festival with social, economic and political beliefs. Earlier in the week, they asked for national unity and integration and were disappointed when President Evo Morales didn’t respond. Yesterday they asked the virgin to look over migrants and their disintegrated families and blamed capitalistic and socialistic governments for not creating employment that could allow Bolivians to stay in their own country. According to the local paper, Los Tiempos, the parish of the sanctuary of Urkupina, Luis Saency, asked migrants to not forget their faith, to not destroy their families and to remember the education of their children. He also reminded the beneficiaries of remittances to be grateful for the assistance they receive.

While people brought photos of Bolivian migrants who had gone overseas to be blessed and remembered, many also brought figures of small suitcases as well as fake money, asking the virgin to fulfill their own dreams of migrating. They’d have the suitcase blessed, then look for a miner to extract a rock from the hillside. The larger the rock they extract, they believe, the greater will be the attention they’ll receive from the Virgin.

It’s understandable why so many people want to migrate. Salaries of 500-800 bolivianos a month ($63-100) are common in Cochabamba. The government has been unable to ensure that employers implement the labor standards enacted into law. I visited a pharmaceutical laboratory today, a professional operation with a strong capital base, that had all of its employees on a contract, rather than a permanent basis, as they should by law. This means they don’t receive the double salary they are entitled to by law in December. And should an employee become pregnant, she’d have a hard time getting her three month’s paid leave.

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