Bolivia reflections


by Nicole, 7/17/08 • We may be here in Quito, but that doesn’t mean that Bolivia is far from our minds. Quite the contrary; we spent much of this morning discussing the development of this research project and our work in La Paz/El Alto. The complexity of the relationship between social movements, grassroots organizations, female community leaders, discrimination, and the struggle for natural resources is evident in Bolivia, as it probably will be in Ecuador as well. How to process all that we’ve learned and begin to understand these complexities as we continue forward with this project? Here we offer you some photos of El Alto, Bolivia, as well as some reflections on our work there.

Paul and Nicole

This blog is written as its authors work on a new research project titled “Women on the Frontlines: Resource Battles, Popular Movements, and Gender Dynamics in Bolivia and Ecuador.” An Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) grant for innovative faculty-student collaboration supports Paul Dosh and Nicole Kligerman in an effort to craft a new model of faculty-student “complementary collaboration.” One way that they share their efforts is through a blog titled “Equal Footing: Collaboration at 13,000 Feet” ( This post is taken from their Equal Footing blog, with Paul’s writing in italics and Nicole’s in regular typeface.

The principal streets of El Alto are constantly lined with combis, communal vans packed to the gills with travelers. The pollution, altitude, and gentle roar of the daily commotion make for a very intense atmosphere. In this photograph, you can see the building of the Federacion de Juntas Vecinales de El Alto (the headquarters of the most powerful leaders of each of the 12 districts in El Alto), which is one of our case studies for our research. Right next to the FEJUVE’s buildings is the headquarters of the Central Obrera Regional (an extremely powerful organization that is a conglomeration of workers unions and organizations), another case study. Both organizations are key in mobilizing El Alto to demand more resources from the national government, but have very few female leaders despite the important presence in the mobilizations of October 2003 that overthrew the president. Female leaders within both organizations report rampant discrimination against women on the part of many of their male counterparts.

“No to the military!”

El Alto is fierce and not afraid to show it. A warning often uttered in conservative cities of Bolivia (such as Sucre and Santa Cruz) is “Be careful, or else the people from El Alto will come!” The majority of El Alto’s citizens self-identify as indigenous (I read a reported 80% percent), mostly Aymara. Most are heavily in support of current president Evo Morales and support his current project to nationalize Bolivia’s natural resources, although many people we interviewed wish he would make more radical change within the nationalization plan. El Alto mobilized in October 2003 (along with many people from the surrounding provinces) to protest the privatization of natural resources, resulting in a month-long standoff with the Bolivian military. Eventually, Altenos descended down into the streets of La Paz, resulting in the fleeing of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is currently living in Chevy Chase, Maryland despite several requests to the US government for his extradition.

“Thank you, Mr. President, for the thousand classrooms. Keep it up.”

El Alto is filled with graffiti in support of Evo Morales and against the privatization of natural resources. Evo has supported various social projects in El Alto and Altenos have a great sense of pride in him because he is Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Here we are with Norah, a woman who works at an NGO called “Accion Ciudadana” (Citizens’ Action) within a larger umbrella organization called Gregoria Apaza. Accion Ciudadana supports womens political involvement in El Alto. Norah was instrumental in introducing us to different female leaders (particularly the Colectivo de Mujeres) and became one of our closest friends in Bolivia as well. In this photograph, you can see the typical format of an interview.