World Pulse is the loudspeaker where my voice was first heard loudly back in 2009 and 2010. It is unbelievable that two years have passed by. Ever since I left the office of World Pulse in Oregon, I was asking myself if what I was doing was right, or else if I would be heard this loud ever again.
My awesome mentor, Yvonne Bryant, is the sculptor of my new path. She never gave up on me and helped me, in ways she will never know, to decide that I needed to go on and convert my voice in millions of voices. Of course, I didn´t know how I was going to get there either, but through her passionate advocacy on keeping up with me, I realized I could only do what I had learned in World Pulse: use the new technology to change the reality of my country.
By the end of 2010, facebook in my country was only used to say hello to some people. When I searched the web, I could only find 3 groups, one with 10 members, another with 30 and the biggest had 50 members. I also reached a page, www.eju.tv, which was not the only news page on Bolivian topics, but was the only one giving the opportunity to post comments. The rest, even the newspapers, did not publish any comments due to a law that had been recently passed, that condemned all media if they published comments that could be deemed as racist or discriminating, with the payment of fines and or the closing of their activities. It was not an easy scenario. All media voices were shut down. No one could speak up. Only government speech was rendered truthful.
On December 26th 2010, the government decided to raise the prices of gasoline. This was the first time that many of us got together online to stand up for our rights. Through our comments we pushed people to the streets. I was not the only one outraged by this unbelievable step taken by the government, so in a matter of hours, the online people made the transition to street people and forced the government to derogate de Decree that was doubling the price of gasoline. By 10 pm, on December 31st, the first Bolivian crew of online navigators had done the unthinkable: make the omnipotent Bolivian government take a step backwards.
But we could not make our voices be known quite yet, because the government was too powerful. Although it was hard, many people joined us online. When Ivan Arias Duran, one of the most renowned journalists in Bolivia contacted me to be part of a closed facebook group : “Chatting with Ivan Arias, a Devil’s Advocate”, he had a TV show on the air which was called “A Devil´s Advocate”, where four people from the government and four journalists or opinion leaders were confronted for one hour to talk about hot topics. It was my opportunity to make my voice heard. So I spoke. Loudly.
So loud I did speak, that when Ivan finally decided to open the group to everyone, I was named administrator by him. We began being 50. Now the group is reaching 3000 people. But what we achieved is a lot bigger than a number. From 2006, where the left wing government was installed in Bolivia, to January 2011, government interventions had killed more than 250 people, 1 400 people had asked for political asylum in neighboring countries, and it was impossible to talk about this in the streets, as people who voted for this government would easily beat you up or shout at you in very violent manners, urging you to be silent or leave the country. After January 2011, as our voices became louder through the web, thousands of people started to join the online waves. We encouraged many women to speak up, and Bolivians inside and outside the country began to gather.
Thanks to our voices, indigenous peoples marching to La Paz, who were cowardly stopped and beaten up by the police on September 25th , 2011, could not be murdered. In recent history, a police intervention in Pando in the northern border of Bolivia with Brazil (a district with an opposition governor), on September 17th 2008, resulted in the death of 15 people and 1000 peopled fled to Brasilea in Brazil. Government officers at that time imprisoned the opposition governor and did not release him until today, even though his trial could not even begin due to lack of evidence. This would not happen again. Our millions of voices stopped the killing of the marchers this time, as the government knew that we would not accept one death within indigenous peoples. Yes! We won! The people of Bolivia were able to raise their voices to stop the violence. And I am proud to say I was one of the leading voices that made the government think twice before killing people.
We would yet have another victory, when Judicial elections took place on October 16th 2011. Annulled voting was the winner of that election. It had never happened in Bolivian history, and I do not know of any unusual voting like that anywhere in the world either. The government put millions of dollars for propaganda to impose its judges to Bolivian people, but the people online would not allow such a farce. We voted because we were forced to vote. And almost 4 million people, out of 5 million voters, annulled their voting or voted blank. The government said that annulled votes could not win an election, but that is another story. It only shows how the government will not do what the people are asking for… until the people change the conversation again!
Indigenous people marching to La Paz waited until the judicial elections took place and only got to the city of La Paz on October 19th, 2011. This is how a TV station showed the apotheosis of the reception that the people of La Paz showed off on that beautiful day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB2bwOEup9w&feature=related This 8th Indigenous March has been a turning point in the government’s approach to indigenous matters. It obliged the government to pass a law forbidding a road in the TIPNIS, which is a natural reserve in the northern part of Bolivia, which preserves the fresh water reservoir for the earth, and where thousands of animal species will be killed if the road gets constructed dividing it in two parts. Coca leaf growers have colonized the surrounding land, so they need the land to grow more coca. This outcome (the overwhelming support of the people and the passing of law 180 forbidding the road) was outstanding, and our voices were heard again.
In recent months, the government passed law 222, which opens a first time ever consultation, to the indigenous tribes living in the forest, which is resisted by the original dwellers. The colonizers have even created new tribes, confusing the international organizations and making them believe they have a say in a territory that has never been theirs. So online activism is standing up against the government to uncover the unjust consultation, which should have been done before building two thirds of the road, and which includes the question of intangibility of the territory. Indigenous peoples will lose their territory if they say they don´t want to keep it intangible, and will die. And if they say they want the intangibility, the government will throw them out of their territory, and they will die. This is implied genocide. This consultation is meant to kill the indigenous peoples, original dwellers of the forest, and owners of the land they want to protect. Activists are on the rise once again, and our voices will be heard loudly pretty soon, to keep the land intangible for coca growers, and keep it tangible for original dwellers.
The humble beginnings of facebook groups is not so humble anymore. There are now hundreds of groups, political and non political, with millions of people commenting every day, but all of them are well oriented. People have learned to keep these places clean from mud, from trolls and from liars. We have all learned to regulate our online networks quite well, and the future is bright.
We have changed. This left wing government has turned Bolivia into the second world producer of cocaine (see http://www.eldia.com.bo/index.php?c=Portada&articulo=Bolivia,-el-segundo...) . But we now have subdued our worst enemy: fear of speaking up. The online activism has created millions of voices, strong voices. I am a proud online activist for non violence. We have reduced from hundreds of deaths, to only three people killed by the government interventions in the last two years. In Bolivia the conversation has changed. Now the people speak, and the politicians are forced to listen.