Archive for the Bolivia Category

22 de enero: Historias cruzadas

Posted in Bolivia, sexual violence on January 22, 2013 by eugeniadealtura

Today, the United States-based feminist blog Jezebel–in addition to a number of other international news sources–reported on the horrific case of the alleged rape of a woman on the floor of the Bolivian parliament meeting room. The purported rape, which was captured on video, was allegedly perpetrated by Bolivian congressman Domingo Alcibia Rivera after a holiday lunch meeting late last year in which the woman in question, ostensibly a janitor, passed out after drinking heavily.  For readers of English, see the Jezebel blog here; for readers of Spanish, see one editorial by Bolivian feminist activist Maria Galindo.

Even if you (understandably) prefer not to view the video of the attack, which has been broadcast on youtube and elsewhere, it is important to look this reality in the face.  I have noted in other posts the distressingly high rates of sexual violence that plague Bolivia.  What this story points to, however, is how normalized the phenomenon may be.  If a Bolivian lawmaker feels compelled–even drunk–to rape an employee of his own workplace at his workplace, which happens to be the seat of government, where the man must know all activities are videotaped, then how much can we reasonably assume he fears retribution or legal consequence?  How much can we even expect that he regrets what he did, or recognizes the monstrosity of his actions?  In Bolivia, where only about a quarter of complaints of sexual violence end in conviction, perhaps Alcibia has little to fear.  Unfortunately, women have a lot to be afraid of.

Postscript: In other news, today marks the 40th anniversary of the supreme court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, Roe vs. Wade.  Congratulations to U.S. women for 40 years of struggle!

12 de Abril: Arruinar tu vida

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women with tags , , , , on April 12, 2012 by eugeniadealtura

Last Monday, after his 16-year-old girlfriend told him she thought she was pregnant, 18-year-old Rubén T. R. strangled Ruth A. T. and buried her–still alive–in an empty lot in El Alto.  Asked why he committed the crime, T. R. stated, “I didn’t want to ruin my life.”

Even if this explanation weren’t horribly selfish and heartless–ie., he didn’t want to ruin his own life, so he took hers–it would still be senseless.  If Ruth had continued her pregnancy and had a child (since evidently, T.R. wanted her to abort), how could this event possibly ruin his life more than murdering the young woman and facing all of the consequences of that crime?

Toward the end of the article, we begin to see why: Justice in Bolivia for men who commit feminicide or femicide (a term women’s rights activists in the region are utilizing to describe the targeted killing of women) is far from just.  Many of these men claim “crime of passion” defenses, seizing on sexist norms that excuse male violence against women when these women do not act as they “should”–ie., when they get pregnant (or fail to get pregnant); when they have sex with other men (or when there is a rumor that they have done so); when they talk back, etc., etc.

La Razón’s article suggests that T. R. is planning a similar defense.  First, to establish an idea that he was just “out of his mind” when he committed the crime–despite evidence gathered by police that he planned it days in advance–T. R. stated, “I really regret doing it, I don’t know what was going on with me at that moment.”  At the end of the article, a government official is quoted attempting to “explain the causes” of the murder.  Citing scientific knowledge–which we all know, is fool-proof and “objective,” Marcelo Claros remarked, “Psychology reveals that an excessively euphoric behavior, far from the rational, can cause one to make decisions of this type (of one young person killing another).”  Another cause cited at the bottom of the article is the consumption of alcohol and drugs–despite the fact that T. R. seems to have been stone cold sober when he murdered his girlfriend.

If psychology reveals that “excessively euphoric behavior” can cause one young person to murder another, why does it seem that in Bolivia, it is always young men murdering young women, and not the reverse?  Sexism kills.  At least it killed Ruth.

29 de Marzo: Es una buena idea

Posted in Bolivia, HIV/AIDS, Latin America, reproductive rights, sexuality, women on March 29, 2012 by eugeniadealtura

Compañer@s: This is a good idea.

Today, La Paz’s La Razón reported that, in a recent forum that brought together young people from over 50 different organizations around the country, Bolivia’s youth demanded that individuals under the age of 18 be allowed to access HIV tests without the permission of their parents–and that this testing be free of charge.  This is a good idea.  On the one hand, recent studies reveal that rates of HIV in Bolivia are increasing most rapidly among the under-18 population.  On the other hand, my own research in La Paz and El Alto indicates that few adolescents feel comfortable talking with their parents about their love lives–much less sex, condom use, or STIs.

The demands of Bolivia’s youth, which were articulated at a forum on sexual and reproductive rights organized by the European Union, in addition to other groups, will be presented for government review on April 3–although it is unclear in what form.  At the same time, a municipal law is currently being considered to introduce HIV testing to a greater number of local health care centers, as well as to promote educational campaigns about the disease.

Initiatives such as these are sumamente importante in a country such as Bolivia, where many women reach menarche, and even become pregnant, before they have even learned what a period is.  Social attitudes toward contraception, pregnancy, and courtship in the country are certainly changing, with an increasing proportion of parents speaking with their kids about sex.  However, sexual behaviors may be changing even more rapidly.  A number of medical doctors in Bolivia commented to me during interviews that, over the past 15 years, they have delivered a greater number of babies to adolescent women than ever before.  With kids having sex younger and younger–and yet, still not feeling comfortable speaking with their parents about these experiences–Bolivia’s youth should have the right to take care of themselves.  I sincerely hope that this & other laws allowing minors to access contraceptives and STI testing without parental approval–and to assume control of their sexual and reproductive lives–pass.  It’s the right thing to do.

15 de Junio: Cuando la “promiscuidad” forzada deja indefensos a los más vulnerables

Posted in Bolivia, sexual violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by eugeniadealtura

Readers… if you still exist… I apologize for the long hiatus.  Work responsibilities have not allowed me to post to the blog as frequently as I would like, and time limitations will continue to prevent me from commenting in much detail on the posts that I am able to make to the blog.  So, today I write to you humbly with this brief reflection.

Some years ago, when working on a research project on Bolivia’s 1952 national revolution, my interest was piqued by the revolutionary party’s constant complaints of the “promiscuity” of the nation’s rural indigenous populations.  And no, I do not mean sexual promiscuity–although I think the deliberate choice of the word “promiscuous” to describe traditional one-room living quarters was indeed designed to raise concerns about children’s unwitting exposure to their parents’ “marital relations.”  In political pamphlets of the 1950s and early ’60s, journalists and commentators of the nation’s ruling Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) party would frequently denounce the deplorable “promiscuous” living conditions of the poor rural majority, in which parents and children lived in one-room homes in which kitchen and bedroom were one and the same.  In part, revolutionary-era authors complaining of promiscuity revealed sincere humanitarian concern over the  poverty of rural dwellers; at the same time, however, MNRistas often used these complaints to highlight the party’s role in “saving” indigenous populations from their poverty, denying the agency of Indians themselves.

Today, the issue of “residential promiscuity” has come back to haunt us.  Readers in the U.S. and Europe may be shocked to discover that in most of Bolivia’s prisons, the state forces prisoners to live in “the most deplorable promiscuity” with one another–and also allows the live-in presence of inmates’ wives & children.  Institutions such as La Paz’s San Pedro prison and Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison constitute virtual “prison cities,” where wealthier inmates are able to lease comfortable cells & where less fortunate inmates sleep in the halls of the jail.  Inmates, who may have “jobs” inside the jail–making and peddling food or providing other services–circulate with relative freedom inside these prison cities.  Children and their mothers often leave the prison gates in the morning to attend school or go to work, only to return in the afternoon or evening.  Although sixty years ago members of Bolivia’s ruling party denounced the “promiscuity” of non-criminal rural peoples, now the state allows women and children to live in close quarters with convicted criminals.  Sure, some of those guys are innocent, and some of them were convicted of tax fraud.  But some of them were convicted of rape.

Palmasola Prison, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Courtesy of Infosur Hoy.

Case in point (for readers of Spanish).  This week, Cochabamba’s Los Tiempos newspaper reports on the case of 63-year-old Sabino Paredes Condori, an inmate of Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison who was lynched last Monday night by his fellow inmates.  Paredes allegedly sparked the fury of a mob of inmates after gloating over photos he’d recorded on his cell phone of two naked female children and of unspecified sexual acts.  The two children were daughters of a fellow inmate.  Paredes was in the process of serving a 25-year sentence for rape.  Once inmates were able to steal his cellphone and examine the images, they subjected Paredes to an hours-long ordeal culminating in his hanging.

Despite his heinous crimes, Paredes’ lynching is, of course, horrible.  What concerns me more, however, is the unchecked “promiscuity” of Bolivia’s prisons, in which adolescent girls and boys and their mothers rub elbows in the “city streets” of Palmasola and San Pedro.  Although Los Tiempos alleges that this case has “reopened the old debate of the voluntary presence of inmates’ wives and children in [Bolivian] prisons,” it’s unclear what, if anything, will change.  And funny, that–I thought that “promiscuity” was high on the state’s list of concerns.

21 de Noviembre: Y la violencia sigue…

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

For readers of Spanish, this article from La Paz’s La Razón newspaper explores the devastatingly common phenomenon of violence against women in the cities of La Paz and El Alto.

6 de Noviembre: La feminización del VIH/SIDA

Posted in Bolivia, HIV/AIDS with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

I’d like to apologize to my readers; lately, teaching and research responsibilities have made me unable to update the blog as regularly as I would like.  However, an article published today in La Paz’s La Prensa paper has prompted me to draft this brief post.  The article, entitled, “The La Paz resident with HIV/AIDS is young, male, heterosexual, a worker, and a city dweller,” explores the (growing) phenomenon of HIV/AIDS in the Andean city.  Despite the title of the article, it goes on to explain a trend occurring around the world–the feminization of HIV/AIDS.  Despite the fact that most known HIV/AIDS carriers in Bolivia are male, new cases of the virus are found just as often in women now as in men–particularly among younger generations.

Not surprisingly, local health department official René Barrientos noted that women are likely infected due to the infidelity (and sexual carelessness) of their partners.  “Generally,” states Barrientos, “women who complete domestic tasks are at home and are infected by their partners, since these also pursue sexual liaisons outside the household and then take the infection home.  In absolute numbers, 69 women who work in this area were found positive across the period [of study]…This is alarming because it places the household at risk” (all translations mine).

Barrientos also notes that life expectancy of HIV/AIDS carriers in Bolivia is considerably shorter than that of carriers in other countries, since people often do not know they have the virus.  In July and August of 2010, 38 new cases were discovered in the city of La Paz.  18 of these individuals already had AIDS.

Having spoken with a number of people of different social classes in the cities of La Paz and El Alto about sexual and reproductive health, I am convinced that few people seek testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  In general, the population seems to believe that STIs affect only “dirty,” “promiscuous,” or “sexually deviant” individuals–ie., not them.  Attitudes such as these do not reflect the realities of STI infection and transmission, and typically stem from abstinence-only education and an atmosphere of fear and shame around the discussion of sex.  This article is a good reminder that abstinence-only education, the shaming of sex, the lack of acceptance and availability of condoms, and people’s reluctance to seek STI testing, equal death.

26 de Septiembre: Hasta en las ciudades…

Posted in Bolivia, health care with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Earlier this week, the UK’s Guardian released a video chronicling the efforts of UNICEF representatives and their local allies to improve sanitation and access to clean water in Bolivia’s rural communities.  The video features interviews with Bolivian community members about the frequency of child death due to diarrhea and describes recent latrine construction projects in what looks like the country’s temperate and tropical regions in the east.  Sanitation projects in the area are being undertaken by UNICEF in an effort to speed progress on the UN’s “Millennium Development Goal” 7: to decrease the population lacking access to clean water and sanitation services by half by 2015 (the MDGs were established in 2001).

The infamous “camino de la muerte,” on which this truck is driving, carries travelers between La Paz and rural communities in the Yungas.

The state of sanitation services in Bolivia is undoubtedly the worst in rural areas, where lack of running water and sewer systems make illness frequent, even for the most dedicated of hand-washers.  If UNICEF truly wants to speed progress on MDG 7 in Bolivia, however, it would be wise to install potable water in city taps, and to support hand washing in cities, as well as rural areas.

In La Paz and El Alto, the majority of Bolivians buy their produce and other food stuffs in busy outdoor markets lacking adequate bathroom facilities.  Vendors and customers have to pay .50Bs to visit public toilets where, even if there is running water, soap is rare.  Market-goers then handle produce, passing whatever bichos they may have acquired at toilets on to consumers back at home. While it is standard practice in these cities to wash fruits and veggies before eating them, most use tap water to do so–a water that is so contaminated that it often emerges from the tap smelling of sewage.

This health care facility sits right above a public market.  The fact that hand washing is rare in both arenas provides ample opportunity to spread communicable disease.

Even more distressing, many hospitals and clinics in La Paz and El Alto fail to provide adequate sanitation services to patients and their families.  Over the past couple of years, my work has taken me for several hours each week to both public and private medical facilities in La Paz and El Alto. At the public hospitals I visited, neither public nor staff bathrooms provided toilet paper or soap to users. This means that not only patients’ families, but likely medical personnel had a hand in passing illness on to patients with vulnerable immune systems.  At one private clinic I visited in El Alto, three pans of blood and human tissue lay on the floor in the corner of the bathroom, ostensibly standing in for legitimate biohazard containers.  I was lucky to not have tripped over them and spilled them on the way to the toilet.

Poor hygienic conditions in Bolivia have often been explained in racist terms by policy makers and other professionals who pointed the finger at the country’s “dirty Indians” as vectors of disease transmission.  Arguments that indigenous populations were “naturally filthy” or resistant to personal hygiene were often promoted by western doctors attempting to push indigenous midwives and traditional medicine practitioners from the country’s health care scene.

The above observations, however, reveal a different truth: Bolivia’s western, state-run hospitals lack proper sanitation infrastructure.  Doctors, nurses, and patients alike are denied the tools they need to ensure their own and others’ safety.  And this is occurring not just in rural communities miles from the nearest “modern” clinic–this is happening in your mother’s, your sister’s, or your daughter’s hospital room in the center of La Paz city.

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