Archive for El Alto

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.

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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.

16 de Julio: Entre cumpleaños y el cambio

Posted in Argentina, Bolivia with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, while Bolivia celebrated its antiquity, Argentina led the charge for progressive change in Latin America.  Today, el 16 de Julio, marks the 201st anniversary of Bolivia’s revolution for national independence.  While citizens of La Paz marched through the streets to commemorate the date, in Buenos Aires, gay men and women and their allies celebrated Argentina’s July 15 legalization of gay marriage.  The confluence of the two dates makes me reflect on Latin America’s tumultuous history, and brings me hope for more positive changes to come on the continent.

This photograph of Argentina’s presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, was provided by a guest photographer.

Bolivia’s popular daily paper, La Razón, published a nostalgic piece on the anniversary of the revolution emphasizing the changing face of La Paz city and the tenacity of its residents.  La Paz, originally founded inside a giant bowl, has seen its neighborhoods creep up the bowl’s sides and spill over onto the flatlands above.  The settlements on the high plains, or altiplano, have turned into El Alto, currently the fastest growing city in Latin America.  The residents of El Alto–largely indigenous migrants from the mines and countryside–have been involved in some of the most important Latin American political mobilizations of the 21st century, such as the 2003 overthrow of neoliberal President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada.  Sian Lazar’s El Alto, Rebel City (2008) and Lesley Gill’s Teetering on the Rim (2000) offer insightful accounts of El Alto’s role in radical Bolivian politics.  Back in 1809, El Alto did not yet exist, but the region’s radicalism was already apparent.  On May 25, 1809, Bolivia’s city of Sucre hosted the first revolt for independence on the continent.

View of the “bowl” of La Paz from the city of El Alto, about 350 meters above.

Bolivia’s La Razón also reported on Argentina’s historic passage of gay marriage, making it the first country in Latin America to do so.  Argentina–likely the least Catholic of the nations on the continent–legalized gay marriage in a Senate vote of 33 “yay,” 27 “nay,” and 3 abstaining.  Mexico City, which also allows gay marriage, immediately followed by offering the first gay couple married in Argentina a free honeymoon in Mexico.  While in Buenos Aires 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the yearly gay pride parade, and was surprised at how small it seemed.  Fortunately, much seems to have changed in the last decade.

In short, today is a good day.  Working on issues affecting women in Bolivia, it is easy to become discouraged by stories about and statistics on violence, unwanted pregnancy, and death.  However, the “norm” is changing.  All over the continent, people are working to improve their own and other’s lives.  And lately, these efforts are producing results.