Dec 1, 2008

Finding the Story: Lobbying in Sucre (May – August 2007)
(versión en español sometido antes abajo)

At this point, I spent about four months sporadically in various Bolivian cities experiencing, observing, and reflecting on its complex realities. Since my first trip in 2006, I have been developing close relationships with the Afro-Bolivian communities in various cities and saw how the important issue of cultural preservation connected them all. Their history and culture has been eroding for centuries, and it is currently left hanging by a thread. That thread is called Saya, which is Afro-Bolivian music and dance, and it is the only part of Afro-Bolivian culture that is flourishing among them again.
During my second visit from May – August 2007, I was exposed to their blossoming political mobilizations. I was invited in May to shoot an Afro-Bolivian workshop, which focused on building political consciousness and achieving recognition in the new constitution. Since the abolition of slavery in 1831, Afro-Bolivians have never been acknowledged as a legitimate ethnic group in their country, which has in turn excluded them from receiving any governmental assistance for community development.

After the workshop, I immediately began to travel with them to document their lobbying process in the city of Sucre. In recording their actions and how they were received (or not received) by others in this political context, I realized that I had already begun to film my story. I was capturing a totally unique perspective on this constitutional process as it was unfolding, and I also began to understand how complex and somewhat contradictory this reform actually was.

One of the Afro-Bolivian groups in Junín Elementary School in Sucre, where the Assembly leaders worked on the new constitution.

One would probably assume that since an Indigenous president is now governing Bolivia with a mission to uplift the poor that it would mean helping all people of color including the Afro-Bolivian community, but that was not necessarily the case. There were many instances where the Afros were not being taken seriously by the “progressive” assembly leaders in Sucre - some would not receive them, while others would tell them that certain issues/rights applied only to the Indigenous, and not to them.
Protest for Afro-Bolivian rights in Sucre.

After four months of pressure and constant arguing during the drafting meetings in Sucre, the Afro-Bolivians finally managed to be included in certain articles that were crucial for them to receive official recognition as a legitimate ethnic group! It was a huge achievement, considering that they were nowhere mentioned in the draft prior to May. But it was not time to celebrate yet. The draft of the new constitution still had to be approved on August 6, 2007 by the entire Constituent Assembly, which included many conservatives that were determined to stall the process. The conservatives managed to successfully instigate a protest that resulted in major unrest for months, which forced the delay of the approval date to December 14th, 2007.Protest for Afro-Bolivian rights in Sucre.

Now that the date has been changed, the Afro-Bolivians had to work hard for the next four months to make sure that all of their work would not be altered under their noses. Bolivia’s struggle for a new constitution is not over yet.

Thanks for reading.