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A Year of Offline and Online Activism in Bolivia

Spraying the "Percy Flies" courtesy La Pública.

Spraying the “Percy Flies” courtesy La Pública.

The following post gathers and adapts information curated in a Storify by La Pública, a citizen journalism and digital activism platform in Bolivia, and is used with permission.

Throughout 2014, La Pública has been documenting key events in activism happening around Bolivia, both online and offline, related to protests, campaigns, and other topics of discussion in the digital space. These are some of the highlights from their Storify summary.

In Solidarity with Cartoonist

A cartoon (see the image here) by Alejandro Salazar (better known as Al-Azar) printed in the La Razón newspaper caused some discontent among social groups, mining cooperatives, and musical groups, forcing the local newspaper office in the city of Oruro to close its doors. Those offended demanded an apology from the newspaper because they felt that the cartoonist's drawing depicting tragic events that took place during Carnival when a foot bridge collapsed, killing five people, had made light of the situation.

The drawing depicted a Carnival band replaced by a band comprised of skeletons, which comments on how a festive occasion had become an event marked by tragedy. In the face of social pressure, the newspaper distanced itself from the drawing and issued an apology, a move seen by some as censorship or limiting freedom of expression. Other cartoonists and netizens began speaking out in support of the cartoonist. Bolivian artists joined the campaign, creating artwork in support of Al-Azar, which was collected in an e-book and a published version. The support also carried over onto Twitter (@TodosConAlAzar) and a Facebook page, which has since closed.

Todos Con Al Azar by La Pública – Bolivia

The Sexual-Harassing Mayor

Current Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernández had been caught time and time again on camera sexually harassing women and being unapologetic about his behavior. The latest incident took place at a ceremony in April 2014, where the mayor placed his hand on the knee of a female journalist.. When she removed his hand without drawing too much attention to the situation, the mayor insulted her and called her a tease, which was caught on tape.

The video was broadcast on the national news and led to an outpouring of support for the journalist, as well as a wave of disgust against the mayor. The hashtag #RechazoALosPercyMoscas (Rejecting the Percy Flies) made the rounds, drawing attention to this and other cases in which Fernández had behaved inappropriately. He eventually issued a public apology, and has announced that he is running for re-election.

Bolivian Health Minister Reveals Private Information on Government Opponent

In a December 2014 press conference, Bolivian Minister of Health Juan Carlos Calvimontes revealed the private health details, including the specific diseases, of a former judge considered to be an opponent of the government, who is now on trial, accused by the government of uncompleted duties. The judge (whose name will not be published here) said that the revelations were politically motivated and that the statements even caused some family members to act differently around the judge, since the family was previously unaware of the health status.

The minister defended his statements, saying that the public had the right to know in order to “protect” themselves from the former judge. Using the hashtag #FueraCalvimontes (Get Out, Calvimontes), netizens called for the Calvimontes’ resignation or for his removal by President Evo Morales, who later publicly expressed his regret over Calvimontes’ statements. Nevertheless, Morales reiterated his support for the minister.

Twitter user Orange (@vpmendi) wrote:

#Calvimontes dijo la verdad rompiendo la ley y destruyendo una vida. El presi lo ratifica y a mi no me cabe un milímetro más de asco.

#Calvimontes told the truth while breaking the law and destroying a life. The president stood by him and there's no room for a millimeter more of disgust.

Exposing Chauvinist Candidates

During the presidential and congressional elections, a series of questionable statements and actions by several candidates demonstrated a pattern of chauvinistic attitudes and behaviors. Most controversial was a declaration by senatorial candidate for the MAS Party, Dr. Ciro Zabala, responding to a question on how to stop the wave of violence against women:

Debemos enseñar a las mujeres a cómo comportarse para no ser objetos y que sea atractivo el objeto para producir muchos de los conflictos que se producen. Ciertos tipos de vestimenta, ciertos tipos de actitudes, a personas que se dedican al alcohol, personas que están borrachas, y lo vemos frecuentemente en muchos de los festivales y demás, van a ser obviamente, con mayor probabilidad atacadas, y van a cometer delitos con ellas

We should teach women how to behave themselves in order to not be objects and to not be the object of attraction that leads to many of the conflicts that take place. Certain types of dress, certain types of attitudes, people who are involved with alcohol, people who are drunk, and we frequently see them at many festivals and other events, they are obviously going to be attacked with greater probability, and they will commit crimes with them.

This was one of the statements that caught the attention of netizens, who started to use the hashtag #MachistasFueradelaLista (Chauvinists removed from the candidate list). Another candidate, Jaime Navarro of the Unidad Nacional (UN) party, ultimately resigned as congressional candidate because it was revealed he had been accused of domestic violence.

Just Say No to Nuclear Energy

When President Morales announced that Bolivia would begin a nuclear energy project for peaceful purposes, many netizens expressed their concern, calling for more studies and even a public referendum on the issue. Several public forums took place in major cities. A Facebook Page called “NO a La Energía Nuclear en Bolivia” (NO to Nuclear Energy in Bolivia) and a group “Digamos No a Central Nuclear En Bolivia” (Let's Say No to Nuclear Power Plant in Bolivia) updated followers with current news on the subject, including the announcement that a Nuclear Energy Agency had been created.

Presenting the Digital Agenda to Candidates

Through a collaborative effort on social media and other digital platforms, citizens put together a “digital agenda” that was submitted to candidates running in the elections held in October 2014. The initiative, which was a project of the citizen group Mas y Mejor Internet – Bolivia (More and Better Internet – Bolivia), collected proposals from all across the country submitted by ordinary citizens and housed them on an online portal.

These proposals included improvements in the Internet infrastructure, considered to be the most expensive and slowest on average in the region, as well as greater attention to how ICTs are used in education. Videos from the various public events were uploaded to YouTube, and updates were shared on its Twitter account (@AgendaDigitalBO).

The final document was presented officially to a variety of candidates in public ceremonies. In addition, the campaign asked netizens to “challenge” candidates by submitting a video and asking “Candidate, what do you think about free and open knowledge and technology?”

Other Campaigns

Other campaigns included #DespenalizaciónDelAbortoYa (Decriminalization of Abortion Now), which included a September 28 march and online campaign calling for the legalization of abortion.

Netizens in Santa Cruz were concerned that trees were being indiscriminately cut throughout the city. Also in Santa Cruz, protests over the planned use of the area surrounding the Christ the Redeemer statue by the MAS party for their campaign caught on among social media users with the hashtags #SePrendioElMechero (The Lighter Was Ignited) and #SantaCruzSeRespeta (Santa Cruz Is Respected), even though the same spot was utilized by other political groups in the past.

Events happening around the world also became a concern to Bolivians, with demonstrations and online communication in support of the people of Gaza. They also demonstrated in front of the Mexican embassy and displayed solidarity by joining in with the hashtag #AyotzinapaSomosTodos (We Are All Ayotzinapa). The urban art collective Arterias Urbanas produced this video from their protest in the main plaza of Santa Cruz in support for the families of the 43 disappeared students.

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