Bolivia: Historic Rally in La Paz Provides Opportunity for Journalism 2.0

Armed with a digital camera, cell phone camera, a notebook and plenty of desire to provide a timely and inside view of a Bolivian historical event, Mario Duran and his colleagues, Cesar Duran and Willmar Pimentel set off at 6 a.m. in the city of El Alto on Friday, July 20. Later that morning, a department-wide rally was scheduled to take place and there was hope that close to one million peole would join the cause. The massive concentration was set to voice their displeasure with a proposal to move the capital from La Paz to Sucre.

Duran announced this experiment on his blog Palabras Libres [ES]

El dia de mañana en La Paz, especificamente en El Alto se llevara a cabo el cabildo del millon en defensa de la sede de gobierno, es asi que con algunos amigos (publicare la lista de los mismos mas tarde)practicaremos periodismo 2.0 a traves del portal sobre la Asamblea Constituyente y Autonomias de Bolivia, donde subiremos a la red texto, audio y si se puede, video, con entrevistas a quienes participen de este evento, desde gente de a pie hasta autoridades, habilitaremos una PC en un cafe internet (se llama Akapana y esta ubicado en la Av. Raul Salmon frente a la PTJ en El Alto) para subir contenidos a la web cada 15-30 minutos.

Tomorrow in La Paz, specifially in El Alto, the million-person rally in defense of location of the capital will take place. With some friends, we are going to practice journalism 2.0 and work through the site Constituent Assembly and Autonomies of Bolivia, where we will upload text, audio, and if possible, video, along with interviews of those that will participate in this event We will talk to everyone from those in the streets to the authorities. We will use a PC in a local internet cafe (called Akapana and is located in the Raul Salmon Avenue near the Police Department in El Alto) and will upload content to the net every 15-30 minutes.


Left – Pimentel and Right – Duran

This experiment drew the attention of the local press and many were curious to see how this would go.

Recibi una llamada de un reportero boliviano que preguntaba la velocidad de conexion de el internet Akapana, queria uno con 1024 kbps… para enviar reportajes a un medio de prensa extranjero…Me pregunto si perteneciamos a Bolpress, se sorprendio cuando le respondi via celular que solo eramos un grupo de amigos…

I received a phone call from a Bolivian reporter that asked me about the speed of the internet conection of the cafe at Akapana. He wanted one with a speed of 1024 kbps… in order to send reports to the foreign press. He asked me if we worked for Bolpress (a Bolivian news agency) and was very surprised when I told him that we were just a group of friends…

During the event, Duran wrote his own reflections and observations on the day.

La Ceja de El Alto, escenario de rebeldía, dolor y alegría popular en Octubre de 2003 esta vez se viste de rojo, amarillo y verde, a una sola vez la inmensa marea humana grita: “la sede no se mueve”, pero los corazones vibran cuando se escuchan discursos de que “hay que preservar la unidad de la patria”. Un sentimiento de bolivianidad une a los participantes de este cabildo

The Edge of El Alto, the stage of rebellion, pain, and popular joy in October 2003, is now dressed in red, yellow, and green. In unison the human wave yells, “the capital will not be moved,” but it is moving to hear the speeches talking about “preserving national unity.” It is a feeling of “Bolivianity” that unites participants in this rally.


Photo by Duran

However, there were difficulties with the internet cafe and it was not feasible to return every 15-30 minutes and due to the slow connecton speeds. So, Duran called on his friend Hugo Miranda, who was located several hundred kilometers away in the city or Oruro. Sending the photos from his cell phone to Miranda's email acount allowed the photos to be uploaded soon after. In summary, Duran said, in an interview with Global Voices, “it is possible to practice a new type of journalism and it doesn't matter where you are in the world. This is important so that people learn how to show the reality in which they live.”

Another observer on that day was Nadine Levin, a foreign undergraduate student from the University of Chicago. She was received with mixed reactions from those attending the march and wrote on her blog Adventures in Bolivia.

Being one of only two white people walking through the streets of a completely indigenous community, I sensed an interesting mixture of curiosity and also hostility. People all around me were looking at me with such scrutiny that it was impossible not to feel subconscious. Some people would shyly smile, while others would snidely call us “gringas” under their breath. When one woman saw me with my camera, she grabbed my arm and started to yell at me in Aymara… I know that these people have an incredibly history of oppression, but it really bothers me that foreigners are consistently treated with such hostility. I guess I just don't understand how there can be such malice when we are clearly there to appreciate the politics and indigenous presence of the country.

Miguel Buitrago of MABB compares this show of numbers to similar numbers in past rallies in Santa Cruz, which proves that there is a deep division across the country. He wonders where other departments may stand.

In my opinion, this latest cabildo only reinforces the idea that the country is deeply divided along regional lines. Clearly we can observe the two regions being able to get over a million people together. Considering that Bolivia has 9 million inhabitants, these two demonstrations have been able to gather almost a quarter of the population. That, in support of two different causes. What I am wondering at this moment is that the middle region is not saying anything so far. Right in the middle of the conflict lies Cochabamba, the third largest city (formerly second) in the country. The question is: which side will they pick?

Miguel Centellas of *Pronto wonders how feasible such a move would be, and whether there is much support from residents in Sucre.

For the record, I think moving the capital is a great idea in theory, but a completely unpractical project. In theory, there’s no reason why La Paz has to be the capital (it’s only the capital due to a historical “accident” of sorts);1 and one could make arguments for moving the capital to a more central location (perhaps Cochabamba?). But moving the capital would cost large sums of money the government doesn’t have, not to mention the economic displacement of thousands of government bureaucrats who live in La Paz (a recent report suggested that government was the largest share of La Paz’s GDP). Plus, I doubt Sucre wants to become the new marchodromo (I suspect its experience w/ protesters & the Constituent Assembly may have soured many sucrenses from their desire to reclaim the capital).

In La Paz, Estido of Cronicas Urbandinas [ES] was moved by the sheer number of people and their corresponding emotions towards national unity.

En fin, hayan sido dos millones o doscientas mil personas, quedó claro que La Paz no quiere que la sede de gobierno sea trasladada. Pero más importante aún –según mi punto de vista– quedó demostrado que los paceños expresan un sentimiento más nacional que regional; digo esto por un hecho sencillo, y sin embargo relevante: de entre esa muchedumbre reunida en la Ceja, la bandera que más flameó fue la boliviana; luego, la paceña y, después y muy pocas, la wiphala.

Si el año pasado me preguntaban sobre este tema, con seguridad hubiera respondido que preferiría que la sede de gobierno se trasladase a otro departamento.

In the end, wheter there had been 2 million or 200,000 people, it was clear that La Paz does not want the capital to move. However, in my own opinion, the most important point was that the people of La Paz express a more national, than regional sentiment. I see this for one simple, but relevant fact. Among the large crowd assembled in the Ceja (area that links La Paz and El Alto), the flag that made the most appearance was the Bolivian flag, then the La Paz flag and later, and very few, the wiphala.

If you would have asked me last year about this issue, I surely would have said that I would have preferred that the capital be moved to another department.


Photo by Duran

However, Andres Pucci did not buy that this rally only had national unity in mind. He was bothered with an advertisement that sent a mixed message [ES].

También vi en canal 7 una propaganda, en la que se le pregunta a la gente de La Paz, si va a ir al cabildo, obviamente, el 100% de los preguntados dijo si, pero hubo uno que me llamó la atención, uno que dijo: Viva La Paz y nada mas. No era un programa al vivo, era una propaganda, editada, producida, etc etc.

I also saw an advertisement on Channel 7 (the state-fun channel), where they asked the people of La Paz whether they would go to the rally. Obviously 100% of those asked said yes, but something that grabbed my attention was when one said, “Long Live La Paz and Nothing Else.” It was not a live broadcast. It was a produced and edited advertisement.

Del Quintacho su Rincón [ES] wants to keep an open mind, but hopes that the movement in Sucre can explain why such a move would be beneficial to the country as a whole. One of the few bloggers in Sucre gave his own opinion on the matter. A committee of that city released its slogan supporting this change of capital site. Ariel Cristian writes:

“Un cabildo de los bolivianos, para los bolivianos” decía una refiriéndose a que en el Alto, estaba Bolivia y otro añadía que “Bolivia quiere que los poderes no se muevan de La Paz”. Entonces, ante este tipo de autonombramientos ¿Que nos queda a los que no somos paceños? ¿No somos bolivianos? ¿Somos extranjeros? ¡No lo creo! Bolivia somos todos y no solo La Paz.

“A rally by Bolivians, for Bolivians,” said a speaker in reference to that en El Alto, Bolivia was present and another said, “Bolivia wants that the branches of government not move from La Paz.” With these self-proclamations, what about those of us that are not from La Paz? Are we not Bolivians? Are we foreigners? I don't think so. We are all Bolivia, and not just La Paz.


Replica of flyer being distributed in Sucre. “Because Bolivia Calls For It… The Capital Can Be Moved.”
He adds that perhaps to gauge the attitude of the entire country, and not just La Paz, that a national referendum might be needed. Finally, Carlos Hugo Molina of Agora [ES] wonders what comes next, but that it was surely a show of force and that anything can happen, but adds, “I don't feel like losing hope.”


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