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Foreign Correspondent

Being the Ongoing Tales, Triumphs, Struggles (mostly struggles) and Occasional Adventures of Freelance Foreign Correspondent Shawn Gerald Blore, based in Rio de Janeiro

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bolivia - in Search of Headlines and the $$ to pay for them

Bolivia - in Search of Headlines and the $$ to pay for them

Monday, June 20, 2005

Got back from Bolivia on Friday. When did you leave for Bolivia, you ask? (Go ahead, ask). For me it all started on June 7.

For Bolivians, it started either late in May, when protestors began putting up blockades on highways around the country, or several hundred years ago, when Francisco Pizarro’s brother came in, and subdued what remained of the southern Inca empire, and installed a white/criole government that has lasted more or less intact ever since.

The proximate cause of the crisis was public dissatisfaction with a new energy bill brought in by President Carlos Mesa, a former journalist and former vice-president, elevated to high office only after the much-despised quasi-gringo elected president Carlos Sanchez de Lozada was turfed in 2003.

Those manning the blockades - Bolivia’s labour unions and indigenous groups mostly - were demanding full nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas industry. Mesa’s bill only increased taxes on foreign oil companies operating in the country. That was not going to be enough.

These, however, were but short term demands. What the protestors really wanted was a constituent assembly with powers to re-write the constitution. Because those doing the protesting and blockading are nearly all Aymara or Quechua Indians, and what they really want is to take control of Bolivia’s government. Given that they make up some 65% of the population, it’s not that unreasonable request. It’s just not one the non-Indian elite are too keen on.

So, did I know all this June 7? Was I a long-term student of Indigenous movements of resistance in colonial Andean societies in the post modern world of the Washington Consensus?

No. But I knew a story when I saw one.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday June 7 I got a call from a colleague who works for a European radio network. It looked like the Bolivian government was going to fall. Her network was pretty sure it was going to send her to cover the chaos. Did I want to come?

It was a generous offer. She is a long-term student of Indigenous movements of resistance in colonial Andean societies in the post modern world of the Washington Consensus. She hangs out at smoke-ridden left-wing klatches. She has oodles of contacts in Bolivia.

So why bring me? We work well together. We’re both alternatively pushy and extravagantly charming. Two of us lets us switch the good cop bad cop roles. And besides, I know how to fix her computer.

My question, the immediate question of any reporter lacking the essential social safety net of an unlimited expense account: could I make this pay? And if not that, can I at least cover my expenses and break even?

A quick call to Varig. Flights from Rio to La Paz are US $575. TAM and cheapo Gol don’t fly. US$600 it is. Factor in $50 a day expenses. I’m going to need some markets to pay for this.

Rapid fire emails to every outlet I’ve ever written for- are you interested, how many pieces will you take? Newspapers – The Globe and Mail, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle. Magazines – Macleans, The Walrus; TV – never done TV, but I email a reporter friend at CBC and ask if they want a stringer and who to contact. Radio – email an NPR show I work for and CBC’s the Current. Then I email all my CBC radio contacts and ask for the news editor there.

It’s now late Tuesday. A few No’s come in. The Monitor has someone there already (but it’s nice to hear from me again, they say – always polite, the CSM). The Current is interested, maybe, but no commitments. Do I have contact numbers there?

Loads of emails from CBC friends have established the TV and Radio news editors. Emails to TV go unanswered. Fuck him. Phone call to the radio news desk reveals the editor is home for the day. Maybe tomorrow.

My Euro-colleague hasn’t got the final go-ahead from her editors. Next day’s early Varig flight is out. Maybe the LAB flight in the afternoon?

Wednesday Morning. June 10. The Globe still hasn’t responded. What’s going on? I write for them intermittently from SA. They at least know me. Maclean’s – nothing. Quelle surprise. Retirees in Moose Jaw not interested in Bolivia. The Walrus – also nothing. The Walrus readership is likely interested, but it’s a long lead-time mag, with an editor notorious for slow email turn-around-times. I knew when I sent it was a long shot.

NPR editor is leaving on vacation. Cannot take anything for two weeks. By that time crisis likely over.

CBC radio editor is encouraging, in that you’ve never worked for us so you cannot fully be trusted but since the government long ago slashed us to Toronto-based Timbit of our once world-spanning global donut I suppose we must at least give you a try kind of way. Gives me the FTP address and password, tells me to limit it to 1’30’ hits. Okay. Rate for that is $45 a piece. Hmmm. 45 is to 600 as Timbit is to.....Michael Moore? Mass of glutinous carbs? The similie won't come. I consider not going.

Get a nice email from a producer at the current. Asks me when I’m leaving. I tell him I’m not sure I am. Everyone says they’re interested maybe. No one willing to commit. He says he’ll see what he can do.

CBS radio calls. My emails to friends and friends of friends have circled the world of cyberspace, bouncing from Toronto to Vancouver to Baghdad to the 212 zone of New York city. The producer on the line says they’re looking for a Brazil based stringer. But no, they have no interest in Bolivia, ‘not unless a lot more Americans die.’

I call friend and tell her I’m likely not going.

Wednesday. PM. Globe editor finally emails. Sorry, he says. My spam filter put your emails in the trash can. Yes, he says, we’re interested. If the crisis lasts we’ll take 6 or 7 pieces. At $250 per piece, that’s enough to cover expenses.

I call Euro-friend and tell her it’s a go. Her editors are still hesitating, but she’s willing to say fuck it and go without permission. LAB’s afternoon flight still a possibility. Except that it just got cancelled. LAB won’t say why.

I walk down the beach past the Copacabana Palace to the Varig office. Plunk down the plastic. US$583, taxes included. As far as the pretty Varig bunny knows, flights to La Paz still flying.

Back home to pack. The Current emails. They can offer a live radio debrief. $425. I may even make a profit on this trip.

Thursday, 7am. Flight takes off normally. Lands in Sao Paulo. We’re told to exit plane. This is abnormal. We de-plane, circumnavigate departure lounge in search of new gate. Load up and take off. On landing in Bolivian city of Santa Cruz we’re told the flight to La Paz has been cancelled. The airfield is closed. The air traffic controllers have gone on strike. Or the army has taken control of the airport. No one’s completely sure.

We are stuck in Santa Cruz

----to be continued ----

I have used up the one hour I allot to blogging at any one time. Further notes on the Bolivia trip when I next get an hour free.


At 12:58 AM, Blogger Prod UA said...

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