First weeks in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Feb 112009

It has been already three weeks!! I arrived to Bolivia with my family the 16th of january to work with the ICFJ implementing a digital platform that will entitle the journalists from rural areas to share their contents and stories. My partner in Santa Cruz will be Radio Fides, a networks of stations owned by the jesuitic company and considered to be one of the most serious and balanced in a country torn by a fierce political struggle between the capital, La Paz, and the capital of the eastern part, Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is one of the richest cities in the country, thanks to its oil and specially gas reserves and its intense trade with neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Argentina. It is also a big and chaotic city that has grown wildly in the last years; despite that, it still preserves some fine architecture from its colonial past, specially in the centre.

I arrived to Santa Cruz just a few days before the constitutional referendum organised by the government of Evo Morales on the 25th of January. That allowed me to test what I already sensed: that the country is heavily polarised between the mountains and the tropical regions, between the rich and the poor ones, between the cambas and the coyas, as they call them here. This makes journalism a difficult task: it is challenging to try to be objective at the risk of being accused of serving one side or the other.

Although Bolivia's poor socioeconomic indicators, the media landscape is very vivid. There are dozens of televisions, radiostations and newspapers, which can freely criticise what the government do or says, unless their editorial line forbids that. In big cities, the means are enough to develop live and spectacular news programs. The situation is quite different in the rural areas, where there is no Internet or, if there is, it is too expensive for people to use it. I would like to remember that a 2MB Internet connection costs about 300 dollars a month, which is prohibitive in a country where the average wage is about 150-200 dollars. The means in this stations are poor: one journalist to cover all issues, a situation that should remind us, journalists from rich countries, how lucky we are. I have had the opportunity to visit two of the provincial stations I will work with: Concepción, a nice village in the middle of tropical landscapes, and San Julián, a city that has tripled its population during last years due to the arrival of thousands of people from the mountains, a phenomenon that makes this city very conflictive due to the political struggle I have already mentioned. All these circumstances make me think that, before helping to create the platform, I will first have to concentrate on journalistic training.

These first weeks have been also devoted to adapt ourselves to a new reality: heat (tropical weather!!), traffic, bureaucracy and mosquitos. Due to wet season, there is an epidemic of dengue in the region. There have been about 6,000 ill people reported in Santa Cruz, and some deaths because of the worst version of this illness. Hope everything goes fine!