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Posts Tagged ‘Bolivia’

Linking the Living and the Dead by Paul Koudounaris

In anthropology, religion, society, sociology, South America on July 30, 2014 at 16:57

From: Linking the Living and the Dead: Skull Worship in Bolivia by Paul Koudounaris, United Academics, www.united-academics.org

In a corner of the interrogation room of the homicide division at the police headquarters in El Alto, the largest barrio of La Paz, Bolivia, two skulls sit in plexiglass cases on a table top. Respectively known as Juanito and Juanita, the latter has been kept in the room for over thirty years, while the former has been there for perhaps a century. They are not evidence in some unsolved murder, however, nor are they reminders of some grisly local slaying. Instead, they are there to solve crimes, the same as the detectives who use the room to question suspects. While it might seem unlikely that these silent crania can provide much assistance in criminal investigations, they are credited by Colonel Fausto Tellez, a retired commander of the department, with helping to solve hundreds of cases during his tenure. He even refers to Juanito as “longest-serving officer on the force.”
Identically dressed in knit caps and wide-band sunglasses, Juanito and Juanita are surrounded on the table top by various offerings. These include coca leaves, cigarettes, votive candles, and candy, all left by officers in thanks for services rendered. On difficult cases, homicide detectives traditionally write requests for information on slips of paper, which are placed in the shrines of the skulls. If need be, prayers may also be offered to the pair. Tellez estimates that the use of the skulls cuts investigative time in half, and notes that they also assist in interrogations. “They are brought in during the questioning of difficult people,” he explains, “and even if they want to lie, they cannot if the skulls are present. When the skulls are involved, people always tell the truth.”
To an outsider, this all sounds at the least unusual, if not downright bizarre, but it is not so here. Juanito and Juanita are ñatitas — the term literally means“the little pug-nosed ones,” but specifically refers to human skulls which house souls of the deceased, and act as protectors, helpers, and intercessors for the iving. While the veneration of these crania is little known outside Bolivia, within the country, and particularly in La Paz, their powers are renowned. Juanito and Juanita are merely two of thousands of similar skulls, found in homes or offices, their shrines familiar enough to be quotidian. Here, high up in the Andes, where traditional belief systems were never fully eradicated by European colonization, the ñatitas provide a unique insight into the bond
between the living and the dead.
Not every human skull is a ñatita. Those so designated are ones which have been adopted by individuals, families, or groups, who then perform rituals to honor the soul housed within the skull. The ñatita, then, is not simply the skull, but rather the  combination of the skull and a spirit which uses the skull as a locus, and provides various forms of supernatural assistance for its benefactors. Treated as close friends or family members, many ñatitas are passed down over several generations — it is not uncommon to find people who report that a skull has been with their family for many decades. In some cases, such as that of Juanito in the homicide division of the El Alto police office, a ñatita’s history of service may stretch back an entire century.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

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On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother

In business, community, ethics, human rights, society, South America on September 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Water is arguably the substance most important to maintaining life on earth. At the mountainous center of South America, Bolivia’s complex struggles with the scarcity and commodification of water captured worldwide attention at the turn of the twenty-first century. Symbolizing the denial of a basic human right, privatization of water provoked mass mobilization and dramatic social reform throughout the country. Today, Bolivia’s lingering water scarcity reveals instability in the wake of the ‘Water Wars,’ and the ongoing challenge of resource allocation that the Morales Administration currently faces.

Rising water prices precipitated the conflict by denying basic human rights protection to vulnerable communities. In 1997, the World Bank refused to renew $600 million USD of debt relief to Bolivia unless the country agreed to privatize water. World Bank decision-makers reasoned that putting water in the private sector would help to broadly stimulate the Bolivian economy. [1] Shortly thereafter, officials in the city of Cochabamba sold its municipal water company SEMAPA to the transnational consortium Aguas del Tunari, controlled by U.S. company Bechtel. Bechtel increased water rates for SEMAPA customers to $20 USD monthly, a 35 to 50 percent increase. The new rates were exorbitant to many Cochabambans, who made an average of only $100 per month. [2] Tensions rose even higher when a local law extended Bechtel’s control of water resources to the city’s southern expansion and surrounding rural communities, regions outside of SEMAPA jurisdiction.

A diverse group of civilian protestors coordinated their response to these unjust policies in a historic movement that framed water privatization as a violation of basic human rights. Citizens of Cochabamba and surrounding communities formed an “alliance of farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middleclass professionals in opposition to water privatization.” [3] Early leaders of the movement included activist and writer Oscar Olivera who earned the 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize for his role in the protests. [4] Evo Morales, then an organizer of rural workers in Chapare, traveled to Cochabamba with a coalition of activists to support civic strikes, roadblocks, and vast popular assemblies. These protests expanded to include issues of unemployment and the economy, causing President Hugo Banzer to declare a “state of emergency” on April 8, 2000. [5] At the height of civil unrest, a citywide strike disrupted transportation, news media, and industry for four days. The Bolivian government offered La Paz police officers a 50 percent pay raise to encourage speedy and aggressive crackdowns on the demonstrations. Throughout the protest period, 110 protestors and 51 policemen were injured, and 200 demonstrators were arrested. Nine violent deaths were attributed to the social unrest. [6] The privatization of water in Bolivia incited these protests by making access to water, and therefore to life, conditional on wealth in a district overwhelmingly known for its poverty.

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere

In human rights, law, North America, society, sociology, South America on June 12, 2013 at 08:37

From: Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere: A Special Online Edition of COHA’s Washington Report on the Hemisphere by Research Associates Gabriela Garton, Suncica Habul,Darya Vakulenko, Aleia Walker, Kathleen Bacon and Jade Vasquez, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Marita Verón: A Catalyst in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking in Argentina

On April 3, 2002, twenty-three year-old Marita Verón was kidnapped in the northeastern Argentine province of Tucumán. Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, has been looking for her ever since. Ms. Trimarco’s relentless search has not only raised wide scale awareness for a nation previously ignorant of its brutal and growing sex trafficking industry but has also led to significant advances in anti-human trafficking legislation in Argentina. Even though the nation has progressed considerably in the struggle against this modern form of slavery, Argentina still has much room for improvement, especially as it faces major corruption and cooperation issues.

By: Research Associate Gabriela Garton

Guyana’s Unacceptable Stance on Human Trafficking

Guyana is a major source country for the trafficking of men, women, and children in the prostitution and forced labor industries — an illegal business widely characterized as a form of modern-day slavery. In order to understand the magnitude of the human trafficking problem in Guyana, one must identify the groups that are most vulnerable while considering how the Guyanese government has thus far tried, and failed, to address the issue.

By: Research Associate Suncica Habul

Closer to Home: Human Trafficking in the USA

As the self-anointed human trafficking police force, the United States has often forgotten to trafficking is a major issue within its own borders. Recent examples of child sex trafficking just outside the nation’s capital have led the country to reconsider the complicated definition of human trafficking and the stereotyping of victims.

By: Research Associate Darya Vakulenko

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

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