A FAO Greenhouse

A FAO Greenhouse
One of the members in my training group taking a look at a plot of lettuce

Another Visit With QBL

Another Visit With QBL
We visited the innaguration for a series of new chicken coops QBL financed in a small village in the low-lying andes mountains, 7 hours north of La Paz

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Violence and Tensions

This is an email I sent out to some friends and family- explains a bit of the tensions right now and thought it might be helpful in understanding some of the situation.....

It's getting exciting. If you're at all interested in latin american studies, democracy, or a host of other academic issues, this is the place to be! Just thought I'd write because it seems things here are heating up a bit. There's been violence, autonomous votes, referendums, blockades, demonstrations, miners blowing up buses, miners taking over tax offices, etc. etc. since I arrived in January. It's become almost like second nature.

Recently, however, these confrontations between the government and the pro-autonomy groups in the eastern/ northern-southern departments ( that make a half moon "media luna" of the country) have become quite violent. More or less, in Tarija, Santa Cruz, Pando, and Beni government offices are being taken by civic and youth/student groups resulting in violence between the police and between supporters of the government who are for the most part campesinos (farmers, almost always with an indigenous connotation). So far 20 state offices have been taken over and 140 roads blocked. There's talk about Hugo Chavez's promise of military support for Bolivia against these movements but also that if Venezuelan troops came into the country, the Bolivian army would have none of it. Who knows, right?

Hundreds have been injured and I heard today that 8 ( that number has since been raised to 14 which is growing) were killed in Pando, 32 injured and a number critically injured many from gunshot wounds. I'm sure there were other deaths in other conflicts and unfortunately we might assume that number will increase because of serious injuries.

Essentially what happens is that autonomous, largely urban groups sack an office or are out in the streets, then campesino associations or sindicatos grab sticks, stones, or farming tools and head to town to protect them/ to assemble. In Pando there are different versions of what happened but the government says the prefect Leopold Fernandez, (almost like a governor), and his functionaries/ members of his administration met a group of campesinos who were going to assemble in town. While the media hypes things up, it still referred to the place where this occurred as a "battle zone," and that the campesinos were "ambushed." Indeed both sides had guns, sticks, stones, and machetes. The presidential representative reported that some of the autonomous civic groups had machine guns and leaders of the campesino groups said 15 of their group were kidnapped by the Civic Committee (again, autonomous).Of course, the other side claims it wasn't their fault and they were responding to the first blow.

From what I've heard the autonomous groups are better-armed with guns. Both sides are very much ideologically aligned although the issues can be deeper than that (race, exclusion, economic interests, etc). Still, the biggest issue, as always, is the return of the IDH a national revenue generated from oil/natural gas and the recognition of the autonomous votes. Some rumors even talk about how the army/government positioned fewer and ill-equipped soldiers to defend state offices in Santa Cruz in hopes that the pro-autonomous groups would kill a soldier, giving the green light to reciprocate or to open up the possibility of martial law. Don't know if I'd go that far, but I don't know if I'd rule it out.

Evo Morales, the president, ordered the American ambassador, Phillip Goldberg, to leave because he claimed he was supporting those autonomous groups and/or fighting against democracy. The US government reciprocated, kicking out the Bolivian ambassador.For the first time I've heard people legitimately talk about the country breaking apart. There have been whispers before, but never people saying "this is point of no return." I've also been told by a couple Rotarian friends that I should keep a lower profile in the coming weeks in La Paz where, until now, things have been relatively violence-free.This, of course, is great news because I had been planning on doing a speaking tour to the other departments of the country during the first two weeks of Oct before heading out.

Now, I highly doubt I'll be able to do that- not only because most airports and main roads are blockaded but because it might get more violent. And for the first time since being here I've seriously thought about what would happen if I had to leave the country a bit early.For now, nothing has happened in La Paz and I hope nothing will. No matter what, if they could just hold off bringing the conflict to La Paz until my classes end Sept. 27th that'd be delightful. Also I've come to really enjoy a great ice cream place on the Prado called "bits and cream" where you get a mountain of ice cream with toppings and caramel for a couple bucks. A guilty pleasure- SO GOOD ( although last time I was ordering there a couple weeks ago some guy pick-pocketed my cell phone).

Things like this have happened frequently in the past few years- in Oct. 2003 the government fell and the president, Sanchez de Lozada "goni" had to flee the country to Miami where he reportedly took with him millions of dollars in briefcases he essentially took from the money he positioned for himself in the transition from state-run to privately owned enterprises. In Cochabamba there have been deadly clashes over water rights and there have been injuries over land rights in the eastern provinces.

Still, this seems like it will get worse before it gets better. The civic leaders in Santa Cruz such as Branko Marinkovic have closed dialog and opened up possibility for more pressure. Perhaps people have let their steam off, but once two sides are formed and people are killed, it's tough to reconcile an already seemingly irreconcilable issue. On that note, I'm gonna get back to school work and try to line up going to a jazz concert tonight!Hooray! Below are some articles if you're interested in a reading a bit more-Saludos

Some articles

one example of past conflict, not entirely dissimilar to now:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E02E7D7123EF93BA25753C1A9659C8B63&scp=6&sq=sanchez%20de%20lozada%20bolivia&st=cse

a bit about how the U.S. has been involved in Bolivia besides anti-narcoticshttp://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/movies/26fore.html?scp=3&sq=sanchez%20de%20lozada%20bolivia&st=cse

Monday, September 1, 2008

Some Gardening Tips for Your 13,000 Foot High Greenhouse

I was going to try to make a list, much like the list of things I've eaten, but this might be easier.
Here are a few fun ideas / tid bits I picked up in the FAO training sessions ( see blog entry below):

*Fill plastic bottles with sand or water, paint them black, and hang them along the top of your tarp so they emit heat during the night time.

*Have at least 8 varieties of aromatic plants throughout your parcels to keep bugs and pests away.

*Use tires, thermoses, plastic bottles, and even used basketballs for your planters.

*Plant big seeds directly in your parcels. For smaller seeds first put them in your pre-planters, essentially a small little plot to get them started.

*Nutrient broth- buy two kilos of earth worms ( they come with soil too), put them in a plastic jute bag, and dunk them in 5 liters of water as if you were steeping a tea bag. Do this for two hours and sift the water. You now have an incredibly nutrient rich bath you can spray your plants with, focusing mostly on the roots when applying it. You can also use animal manure mixed in water, covered with plastic, and left to sit for a couple weeks to get deliciously nutrient-rich.

* put broken egg shells around your plant roots to keep certain bugs and pests away.

* Plant lettuce in the same plot with flowering (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) or fruit bearing plants (pumpkins, squash, etc.) to diversify your parcel. Don’t mix root plants ( carrots, potatoes, etc.)or leafy plants with other types ( lettuce is an exception).

*You need to spray the outside of your tarp with water so it doesn’t crack and dry reducing its life span from 8-10 years to 2 or 3.

*Wait for manure to dry and ferment for at least 15 days before using it. Don’t use the fresh stuff- mmmmm.

*Recipe for a natural pesticide:
Boil in 5 liters of water 4 garlic half moon thingeys- ground, 7 dried hot red peppers- ground, and one capful alcohol ( add after first boiling pepper then garlic for 15 minutes each).
Use this mix as a smoking agent- set up a mini stove and let the stuff boil into your closed tarp for 15-20 minutes. Then air everything out.

*Always rotate your crops if you’re going organic. Hydroponic don’t worry about it!

*You can grow lettuce in water! By filling a 10 cm deep box with water and placing already growing seedlings in holes in a Styrofoam board you can grow lettuce! All you need to do is add the right chemical nutrient solution and oxygenate the water at least 3-5 times a day ( by just moving it around).

*Your strawberries aren’t growing? It’s probably because you’ve let it grow new root sprouts. If that’s the case simply cut them off and plant them again to create a new plant. Because those guys are using up food too, your plant won’t flower.

*Grow onions in separate pots because they suck out the nutrients for the other plants.

*Don’t let your aromatic plants flower! Harvest them often and restrict their growth. We’re talking basil, oregano, mint, and tea plants. If you harvest often they’ll try to fight back by growing more. If they flower they finish their cycle and basically say, phew! I finally finished the race, I’ve raised some beautiful flowering kids, I think its time to retire and say goodbye to this beautifully smelling world.

*Don’t let tomato branches hang down and touch the soil, it will pass along sicknesses to them.

* Make sure your soil has AIR! To make sure you have air, make sure you have some sand mixed in there. To know if you have some sand, rub some dirt next to your ear and listen for the sound- or water it a little bit and make a sausage roll with the mound in your hand. If it continues to roll roll roll and doesn't break apart, it doesn't have enough sand.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

FAO urban agricultural project( soberania alimentaria)

This past week I had a great opportunity to visit some of the FAO’s star projects which they’ve implemented in a number of other countries. The idea is for families to grow their own food with family green houses. The context here is urban, something I haven’t experienced yet ( I have visited a number of rural greenhouses). The program is truly fascinating. Working with the local mayor’s office, families can apply for and receive all the materials for the construction of a green house. They also receive free training and technical support. The benefits are obvious- you remove yourself, at least partly, from radical global changes in food prices, you know the quality of the product you eat, you can create a small surplus to sell to neighbors or in the market, and you drastically better your diet by having a variety of vegetables.

After a first day of visiting the large plot in the middle of the city where the FAO has their research greenhouses ( far larger than family plots and unfortunately in the process of being moved because the city is about to build a judicial building there), and visiting a couple families’ greenhouses in the periphery of the city, I absolutely loved what I saw.

So I signed up for a two day intensive training course on how to set-up and maintain your own personal greenhouse. A number of beneficiaries had their greenhouses built, but still needed training. This would be the last training session, so I was lucky to find out about it when I did. I tagged along and has an inspirational experience.

We learned two forms of planting- hydroponic and organic. Some of the themes included how to maintain humidity levels, when to water, what ingredients and ratios you need for your soil base, how to diversify crops, how to create organic pesticides, how to maintain heat in below zero temperatures at night, how to clean and maintain plants, and probably coolest of all how to use all recycled materials.

In the context of the altiplano which is cold, high, and barren, these greenhouses are beautiful. It does have its uphill battles- families don’t like the change in diet from rice, pastas, and potatoes to more veggies. It takes work to maintain your tarp and produce what you need. If you don’t like what your growing you don’t see the incentive to grow. But for the families who carry through with it, they have seen great results overall.

Flood Assistance Through The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

A Rotarian from Rotary Sopocachi, Einstein, presented a problem to the club a couple weeks ago concerning flood victims in Beni, a amazonian department north of La Paz. Between Jan, and March of this year they received a second year of record floods. They lost everything.

The FAO already has a project they’re working on there to rebuild houses and start up some basic turism. Still, they have many things they aren’t able to fund as their mandate/ mission restricts them. Therefore we’re working on a much more comprehensive and truly sustainable project which would include the building of schools, solar panels, improving means of communication including an early alert system, and looking into alternative economic activities besides livestock and farming. Finally I have a truly good feeling about this project- as mentioned I’ve work on a couple other projects that haven't moved past a proposal like one that would have created a youth technical training and academic tutoring program in El Alto through Gregoria Apaza. Unfortunately, I learned you need to find the right organization to take something from ideas to action.
With the FAO it’s another story. No more meetings cancelled at the last minute or simply forgotten- no more closed access to and/or entire lack of important information. It's delightful.
My role is translation, investigation of prices, hopefully a trip to the site, fundraising in the U.S. including contacting and presenting the project to rotary clubs.
Essentially, the only thing we need now is some strong Rotary backing, something I hope I’ll be able facilitate.

English is Growing on Me

My class has grown! I now have at least 15 regular students. After changing my teaching times to the afternoon students who couldn't come because they were in regular HS classes now can. Thankfully the director of the CRP ( educational resource center) was either fired or left. Although he was a very nice man, it was probably for the better. The new coordinator is definitely on top of things in comparison and even provided me with some good teaching materials like video and cassette listening activities. So now I will be teaching a two and half month intensive English class. I’m trying to focus on themes like pronunciation and basic conversation because the kids are of all different levels. Some have had one year, some three.
Needless to say its fun! Although they have yet to take me up on Friday “party”day where they can bring in English music with the lyrics so the whole class can practice listening/ pronunciation, I hope this upcoming week will change that.
As my time here comes to an end I thought I’d update a brief list of some of the more memorable moments among the Rotary Community. Among house dinners, regular meetings, small conferences, and workshops, these are a few I enjoyed the most

The President of Rotary Chuquiago Marka invited me one Wedneday for a day of offroading! He’s a member of a 4x4 group and they have excursions every once in a while. So around 10:00 on Saturday we left in a caravan of some 50 SUV’s of all varieties. We traveled up toward la cumbre which is a slowly fading glacier block. The region climbs from la Paz among jagged mountains that create a border between the altiplano and los yungos, a subtropical low-andes mountain region. A great day! I'll upload photos- hope the link works!

Children’s Hospital
With Rotary San Jorge I visited the burn victim and cancer childrens unit to distribute blankets for visiting parents ( who sometimes traveled over 6 hours to be with their children and had little to no family or friend contacts in the city) and to spend some time with the kids. We had a great time but hard it was to see how much they were in need/pain. At least we were able to spend one afternoon and from what I understand, they received frequent visitors. After talking soccer with a number of the kids and their parents, I established my minority status in favor of The Strongest, long foe of Bolivar. A great Saturday afternoon!

Children’s Painting Festival
For months Rotary Sopocachi planned a childrens painting course in one of this cities main plazas along with a midday cookout. I visited 9 schools to meet with directors about the event and make sure as many students as possible could participate. We hosted over 150 children and their families along with many Rotarians from other clubs.
Students competed in different age groups and all were up to win a series of prizes at the end of the day. I converted myself into the MC, announcing time changes, helped distribute drawing materials, answered questions, and selling food tickets for the cookout. With my Rotary sopocachi cap and two posters taped to my front and back I corralled lost children and recruited new participants, as well.

Rotary National Conference

In May we had a four day conference which had been the central topic for most of the weekly rotary meetings I had been going to since I got here. It was a national conference and representatives from every part of the country were present- over 300 people. It was somewhat unsure what the turnout would be considering the political situation dividing the country here but was a great opportunity to exchange ideas, for me to plan trips to make presentations all over the country and to listen to varied accents. It featured inspirational speeches from Rotary International's regional representative and a number of informational speeches about Rotary's programs. One day was the orientation for new officers and involved sharing ideas about the district's goals for the next year. Got an idea of the heirarchy of the organization and some of the successes / challenges that face clubs in the next year.

One of the best days was when they invited reprensatives from the UN and the head of the Museum of Natural History to make presentations on The Effect of Climate Change and Climate/ Health Policy in Bolivia. From there we spent the afternoon discussing projects from all over the country and ended with a "rain of ideas" ( the spanish version of "brainstorm") about creating a national agenda for addressing those issues. One table was to be only english speaking- a large contigent from California, Oregon, and Canada were in attendance. The rest were to be loosely topic based- waters projects table 1, education table 2, etc. etc. What happened, however, was that all the tables converged into the English Speaking table and we presented over 60 projects in English- I was the in house translator. Basically we just read a profile of the project- sutainable water projects, malaria eradication 5 year plans in Beni, health policy in schools, etc. It was a great exchange although I'm not sure about how and if they'll come to fruition- each project would have to apply through the Rotary international matching grant program in which co-sponsor clubs in the U.S. France Japan etc. and the foundation provide the bulk of the funding.

On saturday we had a "dia del campo" which was a big ole cookout. A beautiful day and tons of fun after all day everyday Rotary for four days- One highlight was the talent show. On one level it was formal in that Rotarians danced traditional dances in traditional clothing typical from each region here to welcome all the guests. The other part was open mic. For those of you who know me or of me, I couldn't resist. Indeed it was my ambasadorial role! So I sang John Prine's Paradise/ Muhlenburg county on guitar- it's been a while so I was rusty but it was an overall success. Bluegrass was something a bit foreign to many in attendance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How many Bolivias are there?

President Evo Morales won recently in what historically should be considered a landslide with some 67% national support for his administration through the Referendum Revocatorio.
At the same time many of his political enemies- the prefects of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando also won by a substantial margen, all over 50% with Costas from Santa Cruz winning some 70%

The biggest issue is the IDH or the tax revenue generated from oil/ gas which was “confiscated” by Morales to support his national social security system that gives about 240 bolivianos monthly to citizens over the age of 65.

In the macro, you see the battle between autonomy and nationalization. But the nuances sometimes aren't that easy to nail down and a long history of transitioning since 1996 from a national to a descentralized government has meanth new changes and new political dinamics. This transition has had support from the World Bank, the U.S. and others. Still, Hugo Chavez has been closely allied with Bolivia which has helped it's ability to create/ support health and education programs/ support for nationalization. It also means having leaders at least rhetorically against the U.S. and the "west." Still, although Venezuela is giving millions to Bolivia, much of it still comes through lones with interest. Nationalization is an ambiguous term as well because it still allows for private management that is essentially contracted out. Just like the "nationalization"of the largest telecommunications company ENTEL still allows for the management to remain and for non-state agents to run the business. As most issues here, the argument is over distribution of wealth.

Morales may have a political mandate but doesn’t appear to have a blank check.
Before the vote airports were closed by groups protesting against Morales in Santa Cruz, Tarija, and Pando. Now the prefects of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Chuquisaka have declared they will create blockades leaving the country to Argentina and Paraguay in protest of the IDH. There have been threats in the past weeks that civic groups including some newly "youth civic groups" will take state offices and departments. At times its hard to see these "youth groups" in a serious light. They have no respect for law - they've burned police cars in Santa Cruz anddon't appear to support an intellectual agenda usually forwarded by a "student movement."In Tarija the customs office was "taken"for a short period and groups alined with MAS have said they will defend state offices. Still, I need to read up on these youth groups and excactly who are the "civic groups."
Morales recently declared that if oil ducts, state oil field, etc. are taken or damaged, etc. they will confiscate all municipal funds if political leaders from those regions participate. That includes if people are injured.
Again, the issue is the tax revenue generated from Oil/ Gas revenues, the IDH. They want some 166 million dollars to be returned to their local governments that has been used for Morales Renta Dignidad plan.

We shall see how it goes. But the rhetoric is somewhat tense with groups being clear in not ruling out violence.