Week # 21 perhaps:

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the cafeteria of the Cinemateca Boliviana, La Pazs arthouse cinema, watching Slavoj iek sign autographs for Bolivian undergrads. Shortly after I managed to bundle into the small lecture room along with the fortunate few to hear him raise some laughs with his comments on the use of veiled obscenity in Titanic and Casablanca, as well as its flagrant employment in the daily discourse of army barracks life.ieks arrival in Bolivia had been eagerly anticipated by student and intellectual circles in La Paz for some time. As probably the best-known current thinker of the radical left, and given his flamboyant presentation style and joke-cracking ability, the Slovenian philospher is quite a hot ticket. Unfortunately I missed the big gig of the previous night in which iek discussed the Bolivian political process with Vice-President lvaro Garca Linera, which I expect was rather more interesting than his somewhat predictable comments about Avatar. 

However the event did encourage me to actually go to the cinema shortly afterwards, one last trip to the Cinemateca before leaving La Paz. Tambin la Lluvia (translated for an English-speaking audience as Even the Rain, though Im not sure when/where you might be able to see it in the UK) is the kind of film of which I expect iek would approve. The true story of direct citizen action and victory against powerful a multinational corporation certainly is anyway.

Tambin la Lluvia, starring that other hot ticket Gael Garcia Bernal, tells the story of a Spanish film crew who come to Cochabamba in Bolivia birthplace of Vice-President Linera to make a feature film on a tight budget (hence Bolivia) about the arrival of Columbus, the treatment of the locals by the conquistadores, and the dissent at that treatment by two Jesuit priests. As the shoot progresses, so does a major public uprising against the attempt to sell off Cochabambas water supply to a private company, Bechtel of the US. Having hired locals on the cheap in place of professional actors, Bernals Sebastien, the director, finds his project falling apart under his feet when their lead actor, Daniel, is arrested for being a ringleader in this peoples rebellion. The distance of the Spanish film crew from the local indigenous population involved in the struggle, plus the story of resistance against a very 21st century kind of imperialism, allows for some nice interweaving commentary on a range of themes. Juan Carlos Aduviri as Daniel also outshines the rest of the Spanish cast by quite a margin.

These events in Cochabamba really happened. In 2000 a Water War was fought between the people of this city in central Bolivia and local and national government forces after the then conservative government signed the deal with Bechtel as part of an arrangement with the World Bank. Its a classic tale of economic globalisation and poor governments forced into corners, selling out the best interests of their population for the benefit of overseas corporations. The peoples victory in Cochabamba has become a famous hallmark of resistance for economic justice campaigners famous enough for a major Spanish feature film to be made about it (and there are many more documentaries and reports out there besides).

I particularly wanted to see Tambin la Lluvia as last week I moved to Cochabamba. This will be my new home for the next six months at least. There has been very little rain since I arrived. The wet season now coming to an end, this city of eternal spring has been doing its best to live up to that reputation with a succession of beautifully warm and sunny days. Which is ideal for my early morning walks up to Cristo de la Concordia, the largest image of Jesus anywhere in the world, which stands with arms wide open looking down over the Andean valley in which Cochabamba lies sprawled.

Ive moved here to work for The Democracy Center, an organisation that supports citizens to carry out the kinds of campaigns like that of the Cochabambinos against Bechtel. Indeed it did have a very active role in supporting that campaign in 2000, particularly in kicking out Bechtels attempt to claim $50m compensation. In the end the corporation settled for 2 bolivianos, around 20p.

Ten years on not all is rosy with the water supply situation in Cochabamba, and a large proportion of residents still dont have full access to running water and proper sewage infrastructure. Bolivia is still an economically poor country, but by many standards it is rich in genuine democracy.