Airline travel within Bolivia requires one to have a lot of patience. Between flight delays and cancellations, I spent a lot of time on layovers in the El Alto International airport. Fortunately, one of the local bloggers, Mario Duran on two occasions graciously agreed to meet with me over a cup of mate de coca tea at the airport. During those chats, we talked about his interest in blogging, how to increase blogging in under-represented areas, and how he sees the political outlook in Bolivia.
Currently he blogs at Palabras Libres [ES], but also is active in a community site called La Constituyente [ES], which allows Bolivians to participate in the debate regarding the ongoing Constituent Assembly. Duran also contributes to Jacha Marka [ES], which provides news from the city of El Alto and Diarix [ES], which is a literary fiction site.
GV: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MD: I was born in Corocoro in the province of Pacajas, which is a mining center that is close to being reactivated by Evo Morales. I came to El Alto during the relocation process during the end of the 1980s. I graduated from the Industrial School of Pedro Domingo Murillo with a degree in Chemical Industrial Engineering. I’ve also been a student university leader, and became Executive Secretary of the Bolivian University Confederation. In 2004, I was invited to participate as a candidate for city council of the Municipality of La Paz, but I was disqualified because I did not have my military service booklet. Presently, I am part of one of the 560 neighborhood unions in El Alto and I am a fanatic of web 2.0.
GV: Tell us how you started to use blogs and other internet communication tools.
MD: In Bolivia there are controlling groups for everything and one of them is the media. It was no use in sending stories to the newspapers, so I started to send them to web pages abroad. The newspapers here started to copy my articles that appeared on the website www.rebelion.org. What was interesting is that they thought I was this “grand analyst” and they copied the articles, but I simply am a citizen. With that, I thought about creating my own page, and looking through the web I found the blog phenomenon and the rest is history.
GV: Since you first started publishing your articles online and in the newspapers, how has your life changed or how has your view towards Bolivia changed?
MD: When one first publishes, one assumes a great responsibility with this global conversation. One must measure what one says or gives an opinion. I see my country with its never-ending problems and its politicians worried about becoming rich.
GV: How do you think blogs or citizen participation through the internet can change all of that?
MD: For the fact that it allows any individual citizen, without regard to social class, race, etc. give their opinions freely. For that reason, it is important that the government assumes responsibility to increase the access of ICTs.
GV: Have you talked about the use of Internet technology with your neigborhood group?
MD: Yes, but the problem is with the connection. Where I live, we are lucky to receive cellular phone signal. Connection is very expensive via the phone line, they should reduce the costs.
GV: You have spoken to me in the past about your plans to teach others to use this technology and increase the number of Bolivians that know about blogs. What are your current plans?
MD: I have presented proposals to some rural municipalities to teach young people to use the internet and create blogs, but sometimes to them it sounds like something from another planet, so with my own funds I want to start to give these classes.
GV: Do the municipalities see this as something useful or something as a waste of time? Has there been a municipality that has received you with open arms?
MD: For them, the first order of business to is to learn how to use PCs. The government installs computer centers, sits the farmers down for the photograph and they don’t worry about training.
GV: How do you see the future of blogs in Bolivia in the next five years?
MD: I read many Bolivian blogs and I have noted a growth in the number of people that use it as a form of expression, even though they don’t “maintain” the site on a regular basis, they publish something once a month and then, who knows? But all the youth in Bolivia use MSN and IRC, but they have not discovered blogs as a social tool, but it may be different in the future.
GV: You have also used podcast technology. How did you learn and what do you make of it?
MD: Traditional media doesn’t give space, so one must become creative. If one does not have access to radio, make your own station. If one does not have access to TV, then make your own TV program and that’s what I did. Looking online, I found the program Audacity and learned to use FTP. I now host my podcasts at archive.org. In Bolivia, there are limits on bandwidth and that limits creativity.
GV: What do you think are some of the misconceptions of El Alto
MD: Well you must be referring to the fact that they call El Alto a “combative city”, revolutionary, blockading, etc. Those are prejudices, but El Alto is the 2nd most industrial city in Bolivia.
GV: There does not seem to be too many bloggers in El Alto. Do you feel like an ambassador for your city for others in the country and the rest of the world?
MD: I wouldn’t consider myself a blog ambassador, but through Google many people think that I am one of the few Alteños that has an opinión.