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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Perspectives from El Alto Youth

My name is Eugenia Robles, I'm currently the Team Leader for the "Zebras for a Silent La Paz project", but also in charge of managing Guided Learning and Action Friday activities in this cohort. I'm a political scientist, passionate about sociology, photography, dancing and many others. That would probably explain the reason why I wrote this post. Here we go.

We just passed through Bolivia’s Presidential Election day. For the next five years or so we will have the same president with us, Evo Morales. For anyone that comes from another country, this name suddenly becomes familiar. If you haven’t heard about him before, by the time you leave Bolivia, you’ll have a pretty good insight into who he is and what he’s done.

Why is this man staying for 5 more years in power? And what made him get reelected once again? There are many things that we could consider important, but I wouldn’t  want to bore you with a deep political analysis about it, so here we go, in simple words -  Evo Morales promised a change (“El Cambio”) that would turn the political power pyramid upside down. From an economic perspective, he promised to give all natural resources back to the country, instead of giving them to all the big transnational companies that, at the time, were taking most of the money from them. He also put a lot of emphasis on creating a new economic system that would finally put an end to  neo-liberalism or imperialism. He would always claim rights for indigenous peoples , saying that, “Finally, brothers and sisters, our time has come after 500 years of oppression”.  His speech has had a great impact in society, and considering that approximately 60% of Bolivia’s population is indigenous, he got massive support in every election.


We recently had a cultural exchange activity for one of our Action Fridays where we went to a High School in the city of El Alto, located just right above La Paz. The idea of doing this was to share ideas and perspectives on controversial topics that we realised differ particularlybetween the UK and Bolivia: Family, Alcohol, LGBT, Professional aspirations. El Alto is the city where Evo Morales gets more votes than anywhere else in the country. It is a “warrior” city whose  economy relies on informal commerce, and which takes a lot of pride in its indigenous Andean roots, due to the fact that 70% of its population has migrated from rural areas. For me, it was essential to have UK volunteers hear what El Alto’s youth had to say, but also, even more, to have them listen to what youth from the UK thought.

The debate started, throwing in 4 questions to be discussed in two large groups (UK and Bolivia) - we started to share. Perceptions differed, and in a way, we opened a space of reflection. For our friends in El Alto maybe, this was the first time in their lives where they were actually interacting closely with someone from another country. While they were presenting their ideas, they mentioned Evo as part of the change in perceptions regarding topics such as LGBT , thanks to the antiracism law he implemented, that has also changed the perception of them as an indigenous city. They are now much more empowered.

 It was nice to break some of the preconceptions that we usually hear about people that come from overseas. Having UK volunteers talk about what they thought on the different topics made them realise that, despite some noticeable differences, there were also many similarities in  the perceptions they had. Being European or North American does not make you “neoliberalist or imperialist”. In fact, for these intercultural experiences, you have to be able to open up your mind and take those tags out. Otherwise, it would never be possible to empathise and understand where the other person comes from. 

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