Dancing and merriment as Carnival comes to Oruro; Morales defends Bolivia’s battle against drugs; continuing floods leave 9,000 homeless; and public sectors see wage increase of 10%.
Bolivia celebrated its largest cultural event of the year this weekend as thousands thronged to the city of Oruro for the world-renowned folkloric festival, which marks the beginning of Lent.
The carnival has its roots in Andean mythology, re-enacting the victory of Pachama (mother earth) over the Tío Supay (uncle/god of the mountains), good over evil. However, in an intriguing melange of Uru custom and Spanish Catholicism, the costumes and choreography frame the classic battle as one between the Virgin Mary and the devil.
Legend has it that the Virgin appeared in a mineshaft in 1748 and since then a festival commemorating the miracle has been held in honour of the Virgen del Socavón (Virgin of the Mineshaft). Bolivians appeal to the Virgin, believing she can grant wishes to the devoted.
On the political front, Morales has been under attack from the United States over the arrest of the former anti-drug police chief, René Sanabria. Supposedly one of the leading figures in Bolivia’s fight against drug trafficking, Sanabria was arrested in Panama on 24 February. He has since been extradited to the USA where he stands accused of smuggling 144 kilos of cocaine.
Morales has rejected claims that the arrest demonstrates the failure of the country’s drive to combat drugs, stating that the case was a matter of one bad apple rather than an overall rot in the system. He backed this up by rejecting the possibility of a return of the US Drugs Enforcement Agency who were expelled from Bolivia in 2008.
Floods and landslides continued this week across the country leaving an estimated 9,000 people homeless and in urgent need of emergency aid. Beni, Cochabamba and La Paz have been struck the hardest. Morales blamed the disaster on global climate change saying, ‘the problems which are affecting the planet are not random, they are the aggressive backlash generated by irrational industrial development’.
The government responded to increasing social pressure to protect the population from rising commodity prices by raising salaries in the education, health, police and armed forces sectors by 10%. The minimum wage was also raised by 20%. This worrying development suggests prices and wages have begun to chase each other. This frequently results in high inflation rates which could hinder much-needed foreign investment.