2013 International Year of Quinoa event at Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)

The GT’s own Dr. Maria Bruno is organizing a fantastic event about quinoa at Dickinson College tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to learning more about quinoa agriculture from Andrew Ofstehage and Pablo Laguna, and I’ll also be speaking about why Quinua is “good to think.”  Here’s the official flyer!

Dickinson Quinoa Event_2013

Blaming vegans, ignoring celiacs: an update on quinoa quarrels

Slate has jumped on the quinoa media bandwagon, with Ari LeVaux telling us that it’s ok to eat quinoa.  Overall, I think his article is a well-written corrective to recent media negativity.  I want to focus on one of his points:

Interestingly, the Guardian story seemed as much a hit-piece on vegetarians and vegans as on quinoa eaters. (“Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods … However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places.”)

I completely agree with LeVaux on this point — what originally caught my attention about the Guardian piece was its “blame the vegans” tone.  This struck me as strange, given how few Americans are vegetarians: about 3% of adults, with 0.5% being vegans.  (Numbers in the UK appear to be similar.)  Of course, these are still large absolute numbers; U.S. vegetarians alone are almost as numerous as the entire population of Bolivia (7.3 million vs. 10 million).

But there is an interesting omission here, too.  Another group that touts quinoa consumption, and has gone unmentioned in all the media stories I linked to my last post, are those following gluten-free diets, such as those with celiac disease.  Diagnosed celiacs in the U.S. number in the tens of thousands (many more are undiagnosed) and gluten-free foods are a $5 billion/year industry.  (I haven’t seen any good statistics on how many people actually maintain a gluten-free diet, although I would love to see those numbers.)  But this has not attracted any mention, unlike vegetarian/vegan consumption of quinoa.

I suspect this is because U.S. readers place those two forms of eating into different categories — food vs medicine — even though the boundaries between them are fuzzy.  Despite the fact that much quinoa in the U.S. is marketed as “gluten-free,” this aspect of its market appears to be beyond criticism.   Given the focus of the media on health issues and the latest life-extending weight-dropping fad diets, it is unsurprising that the quinoa critiques would focus on vegetarians (who supposedly avoid meat by choice) rather than celiacs (who must eat gluten-free for medical reasons).

If the purpose of a medically-recommended diet is to extend one’s life and improve its quality, however, then the distinction between vegetarian and gluten-free diets become far less clear.  Vegetarians often point out the health benefits of their diet (as well as the political, environmental, and ethical benefits), but we still see this as a diet of choice rather than one of medical necessity.  (Note: I say this as an unapologetic omnivore.)

So why blame the vegans?  Again, quinoa proves itself to be good to think about the patterns and politics of food consumption in the west.

Quinoa in the news as “good to think.”

There has been a spate of articles over the past year telling American and European consumers that their love of the Andean grain quinoa is detrimental to those who grow it in Bolivia and Peru.  The general narrative is that rising quinoa prices in the United States and Europe mean that Bolivians can no longer afford to eat quinoa themselves.  This idea has been floated by the New York Times, The Independent, NPR in two articles, The Economist, CBC News, and the Guardian, among others.

There have already been numerous well-researched responses to this narrative.  Mimi Bekhechi comes to the defense of vegans, who are called out by the Guardian, by pointing out that beef production in industrialized countries is far from ecologically or socially sound.  Documentary filmmakers Stefan Jeremiah and Michael Wilcox take issue with NPR on the basis of their work with Bolivian quinoa farmers, who are, unsurprisingly, still eating quinoa.   Emma Banks at the Andean Information Network offers much-needed in-depth historical perspective on the issue of agricultural policy and its relationship to food consumption.  To quote her at length:

In past decades, quinoa’s popularity declined among the upper middle classes in favor of wheat and rice that they perceive as more “sophisticated” and “upwardly mobile.” Ironically, the valorization of quinoa in North American and European markets has caused many up-scale Bolivian restaurants to begin serving quinoa and the middle and upper class to consume more of the grain.

Banks correctly points out that it is misleading to imply that the decline in Bolivian quinoa consumption began with the rise of a quinoa market in the United States and Europe.  The situation is far more complicated.  

First, quinoa consumption in Bolivia is not — and never has been — uniform.  There are large differences in cuisine based on ecological zones, class, and level of urbanity.  Where quinoa is produced, is it certainly consumed.  In urban areas, quinoa is consumed in smaller quantities and in specific culinary contexts.  In La Paz, for example, quinoa consumption has been declining for decades  among the non-indigenous middle class as a result of national agricultural policies, U.S. foreign food aid, the association of quinoa with poor indigenous peoples, and other factors.  In short, talking about “Bolivian consumption” of quinoa is inherently problematic because the nation is not the scale to productively consider this question.

In the altiplano village where I did fieldwork, quinoa was produced and consumed in small quantities.  Although valued, quinoa and closely related cañahua were grown as secondary crops.  In this region, these crops are subject to hail damage, which makes it impossible to rely on them exclusively.  They also require large amounts of labor to thresh and clean before cooking.  Local restaurants, while they would purchase many ingredients locally, tended to purchase pre-cleaned, ready to cook quinoa from city markets.  Local producers grew quinoa for private use, but restaurant owners preferred to purchase the grain (at higher costs) rather than spend the needed time to clean it.  

The local staple in this area, as in many parts of the altiplano, is potatoes.  Potatoes are a native crop, domesticated in the Andes, and found in some form in almost every meal.  While quinoa is valued and appreciated, it does not make up the majority of the diet.  Nevertheless, it was valued and eaten.

But let’s consider for a moment why this narrative of quinoa is the one that has been picked up by U.S. and European news media.  Why is it such a “story” to say that foreign love for quinoa is detrimental to the Bolivians who grow it, despite the fact that the Bolivian government and producer associations are actively trying to promote quinoa exports?

It seems to me that this media attention is actually maintaining the image of quinoa that makes it “good to think” for western consumers.

For my non-anthropologically-trained readers, a quick explanation.  “Good to think” is a reference to the work of  structuralist anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who coined this phrase.  He argued that while foods are “good to eat,” they also carry symbolic value. Food is never just food; we never eat just to gain calories.  That’s why in the U.S. moms making pancakes in the morning emotes maternal care, why roast turkeys are served for holidays, and why we tell our kids they can’t have dessert before they eat their vegetables.  These are not universals; they are cultural norms about what foods mean.  When those norms are broken, interesting things happen precisely because food is symbolically important.  And you can try this at home: serve your kids roast turkey and cranberry sauce for breakfast on a school day and see how they respond.  (There are more examples of anthropologists breaking such culinary norms in this book I co-edited.)

Now, back to quinoa and why it is “good to think.”

It is the fact that quinoa is less consumed in Bolivia, ironically, that propels its image abroad.  We all eat potatoes; many of my undergraduate students don’t even know these are native to the Andes.  But there is little attention paid to this fact when potatoes are sold in our supermarkets.  Quinoa, in contrast, because its consumption is largely limited even in Bolivia to the rural indigenous communities that produce it, fulfills the role of the “lost crop of the Inca,” and is regularly referred to as “ancient.” 

Let’s think about that for a moment, the connection between quinoa and the past that pervades its marketing in the west.  Most news articles label quinoa as the “lost crop of the Incas.”  This may seem normal to my U.S. readers, but consider for a moment if your bread was labeled as being made with the “lost crop of the Levant” or “ancient wheat.”  Wheat is an ancient crop, in the sense that it was domesticated thousands of years ago.  There are in fact groups interested in growing and cooking with lesser-grown varieties of wheat, but this is not a widespread marketing technique for wheat in general.  If you type “ancient wheat” or “ancient bread” into Google, you’ll be sent to websites with agricultural news, specialty diets, and recipes.  Type in “ancient quinoa” and you will be sent to buy quinoa, largely because of the “Ancient Harvest” label used by the U.S.-based Quinoa Coporation.

Quinoa is not ancient because it was domesticated further in the past than other crops.  It is “ancient” because its western consumers associate it with traditional indigenous populations untouched by modern industrialization — people they think about as being in the past.  (It should go without saying that this is a western fantasy.)  

That is the association quinoa has in Bolivia as well, where the highest levels of quinoa consumption are seen in rural areas and among indigenous urban people.  Since the 1950s, deliberate policies that promoted the consumption of wheat, bread, pasta, and rice have reduced the consumption of native potatoes, quinoa, tarwi, and other crops.  Those foods, however, also became marked by class and ethnicity, such that quinoa came to be seen as indigenous rural food.  That class/ethnic association has been exported to the U.S. and Europe with the grain.

 The process of foreign interest spurring high-end Bolivian restaurants to serve quinoa is similar to what occurred with the consumption of llama meat (which I wrote about here and here).  In La Paz in the early 1990s llama meat was available only in indigenous urban markets, but now is offered in touristic establishments (but still not in most restaurants that cater to the Bolivian middle-class).  The reason quinoa has been picked up by high-end establishments — while chuño (freeze-dried potatoes), generally, has not — is not just about taste but about the narrative the grain has of isolated survival, pure indigenousness, and rarity.  Quinoa is “good to think.”

I agree that quinoa should be available for all Bolivians to consume, and that higher prices may make that difficult for some.  It is something to be concerned about.  But these higher prices are spurred on by specific kinds of foreign interest, grounded in the idea that quinoa is ancient, lost, indigenous, and underappreciated.  The idea promoted by the media, that foreign interest in quinoa could destroy its very authenticity, confirms the reasons the grain was “good to think” for westerners in the first place.  This media narrative suggests that quinoa cannot be in both temporalities at once — if too many American vegans are eating it, it will cease to be the “lost crop of the Incas.”  It suggest that quinoa cannot continue to be truly “indigenous” if it is successfully produced for a commercial export market.  

We absolutely need to be considered about ethical access to food, promoting fair labor practices, regulating capitalist systems that undercut food security, and promoting good nutrition.  But to suggest that the solution in this case is either for foreigners to stop eating quinoa, or to grow it in western countries (which would undercut Bolivian farmers by destroying their export markets), is both simplistic and unethical.  Quinoa can be “good to think,” “good to eat,” and also profitable for those who export it.

The biggest cocaine factory bust this week

I am deeply skeptical when it comes to claims of success in the U.S. [international but U.S.-led] War on Drugs, and not because I think illegal drugs are a great thing (I don’t).  In this, I have lots of company.  Those publicly opposing the U.S. [U.S. Support for the] War on Drugs include Noam Chomsky, Walter Cronkite, Ron Paul (remember him?), and organizations such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the ACLU.  Even the U.S. Drug Czar doesn’t really want to call it a “war.” Also see the article by Joe Conason at Salon.com.  This is by no means a complete list.  Opposition to the War on Drugs is growing along with the evidence that it is failing.  It simply does not achieve its own objective, which is the most damning kind of failure.

In addition to this “War” not reducing the supply or increasing the price of street drugs (its actual purpose), the collateral damage has been heavy, in the U.S., Colombia, Peru, and of course Bolivia.

Given all this, when I saw the BBC’s July 6, 2009 article stating:

Drug enforcement officials have raided what they call the biggest cocaine laboratory ever found in Bolivia.

The facility, said to have the capacity to produce up to 100kg (220lb) each day, was discovered in a rural area of the department of Santa Cruz.

I cynically wondered how many times such an announcement had been made.  Luckily, we live in the era of the Internet, so I don’t have to guess.  I typed <<“biggest cocaine factory” Bolivia>>, and some variations thereof, into Google and found:

March 27, 2009.  Fox News:  “Bolivia’s interior minister says police have uncovered one of the country’s biggest known cocaine processing factories.”  (Plane found with 300kg of cocaine)

May 31, 2007.   ABC:  “Bolivian police have found the largest cocaine factory ever discovered in the South American country, with a daily production capacity of 100 kilograms.”  (Note this is the same daily production as that reported in the July 7, 2009 story.  Also reported at WCBSTV.)

Oct 8, 1988.  LA Times:  “Police and U.S. drug agents raided and destroyed a huge jungle cocaine laboratory that produced at least $50 million worth of drugs each week, Bolivian and U.S. officials said Friday.”  (Produces 3.5 tons of cocaine a week — or about 508 kg/day, far more than any of the busts announced above.)

These aren’t all the articles on the drug war — just the ones I found with minimum effort that claimed to have made  huge drug busts.  My point here is not to take all this as straight data, but rather to point to the political purposes served by announcing such busts.  The details are left as an exercise to my very capable readers.

Power’s “Whispering in the Giant’s Ear,” reviewed

Whispering in the Giant’s Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia’s War on Globalization by William Powers.  New York and London: Bloomsbury. 2006.  305 pp.

This book, written by a U.S. international aid worker, is a well-written, honest, warts-and-all look at Koel Kempff and other Bolivian national parks in a context of growing indigenous political power and the increasing interest of international corporations in “carbon sinks” in the Amazon.  The book’s timeframe covers Bolivia at the end of the Goni Presidency through the end of the Mesa Presidency, foreshadowing the rise of Evo Morales to power.  Powers is sympathetic to the political struggles of indigenous groups at that time, yet pragmatic about his role at the Fundacion Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN).

Powers is not an anthropologist (although he is reading anthropologists and Bolivianists, including excellent works by Arturo Escobar, Kevin Healy, Leslie Gill, and Herbert Klein, — as well as, unfortunately, pseudo-folklorist Joseph Campbell).  Yet, he discusses many of the topics and themes that affect ethnographic fieldwork.

I was particularly touched by his on-going struggles to figure out how to be comfortable within widely divergent social circles: Bolivian NGO workers, Amazonian indigenous peoples, multi-millionaire ex-patriots, British Petroleum representatives.  I think most anthropologists would understand his anxiety as he decides where to take Salvador, an indigenous Amazonian Chiquitano leader who works with his NGO, for dinner in Santa Cruz.  People like Powers are not outside the local class structure, but they cross-cut it in ways that many Bolivians don’t or can’t.  Anthropologists are similar; they often move from poor rural houses with no water to city penthouses, from street fiestas to lavish embassy parties, from ex-patriot BBQs to university libraries.  Sometimes these gringos take Bolivians with them, and I can give a few examples from my own experience: I brought Tiwanakena assistants to work in a government archive in La Paz, welcomed rural visitors into my middle-class Sopacachi apartment, took rural Aymara to city hospitals and poor urban Aymara to movie theaters.  In Bolivia’s highly-stratified society, such movements were not unheard of (and certainly do not require gringos), but they could be uncomfortable.  I feel Powers captures this dynamic very well — the sense that not all public spaces are equally open to all members of society, and the tensions that emerge when people cross those invisible lines.

Powers also captures what I like to call “surreal Bolivia” — those moments where, at least as a gringo, something so… odd happens that it seems funny, deeply profound, and enlightening all at once.  Power’s account is littered with these moments: the local official who corners him to ask how he can be more like Bill Clinton (p. 198-199), scaring parrots (p. 169), U.S. embassy staff who can’t understand the connection between the War on Drugs and how Bolivians feel about the U.S. (p. 210), Power’s culture shock of returning to the U.S. to hyper-processed foods and hyper-materialism (p. 212-216).

There are also a few moments that might make an anthropologist cringe slightly.  Powers is very concerned with the category of indigenous people, not just as a legal or political category, but as a “real” group. When Salvador’s ethnicity is questioned in order to discredit his group’s claim to Amazonian land (p. 156), Powers seems genuinely disturbed.  Rather than see this as a legal ploy to justify the claims of loggers, he instead starts to pursue a “lost” group of indigenous people who are even more “indigenous” than the Chiquitano — the Guarasug’we. Later he gives us this strange analogy:

There’s a single tree, a hundred-year-old flowering tajibo, in the very center of BP’s Bolivia in Miniature…. As I touch its rough bark, I know that it is no longer the Guarasug’we tree tha holds up the world. It doesn’t emerge out of their animate earth or send its flowers into seven skies.  It grows out of and flourishes into globalization.  In a sense, the ground below out feet and the air we breathe have become global capitalism.  We live within Jamison’s “postmodern hyperspace,” where the great expansion of capitalism in our era internalizes the exterior world, just as the Epcot Center seeks to internalize its exterior, aspiring to be a total space, a complete world. Globalization absorbs traditional culture and wild nature and spews forth a heteronomy of fragments such as carbon ranches, green companies, and capitalist Indians.

But within this all-encompassing hyperspace there are struggles.  And looking at the tajibo tree in front of me, I get an idea.  Perhaps Salvador is a strangler fig, and the modernizing sultan Apollonius [another indigenous leader] a liana.  Both of these plants complete for the tajibo tree before me.  But whereas strangler figs, like all hemiepiphytes, begin within the tree canopy and work their way down to the soil, the thick, woody liana is a vine that starts in the soil and climbs up.  Both plants use the tree for structure, and both kill it, but in very different ways.  A group of lianas can eventually bring the tree crashing down under their weight; strangler figs take the suffocating tree into themselves, and, remarkably, the new organizsm retains the shape and verticality of the tree.

Bolivia’s protesting masses are not noble savages battling an evil corporate globalization.  Everything is tainted.  Salvador and hundreds of thousands of others come together as a strangler fig from within the branches of the ancient tree of indigenous culture and wild nature, shoot their roots down into the group of globalization, and use it to entomb the tree.  The new is shaped around the old, but it an entirely different species.  The strangler races against time with the lianas: the forces of monoculture and extinction that simultaneoulsly inch up the tree and threaten its collapse (pp. 230-231).

Powers recognizes that all humans have both individual goals and big dreams, and that the two come into conflict. Yet, he seems genuinely surprised that Salvador or other indigenous people might try to personally benefit from their political connections (including to him and FAN).  Underlying Power’s narrative is the sense that there really is something real and solid about indigeneity that is untouched or untouchable by the forces of capitalism.  But as Alcida Rita Ramos has warned (Indigenism: Ethnic Politics in Brazil, 1998), this “Hyperreal Indian” is always a political tool.  It is never an ethnographic description but instead used strategically to empower or disenfranchise groups labeled as “indigenous.”  Saying that “real” indigenous people should be isolated from capitalism provides a way to discredit claims made on ethnic grounds, because no group is totally isolated from capitalism today.

Yet, Powers recognizes that indigenous people are forced to speak a language the state can understand — one that mixes claims to unchanging ethnicity with real political action.  He quotes Salvador as saying “Blocking roads is the only language some people understand” (p. 250).  In the end, this book is worth reading not because Powers has a coherent theoretical stance, but rather because he allows the situation to be contradictory.  He is not afraid to show the complexities of life in Bolivia, even when they don’t fit into the narrative that he, himself, wants to write.  And in the end, it is that data which makes this book — or any other ethnography – useful.

Bolivian officials = helpful, polite, efficient. AA reps = FAIL

That’s right. The title is not a typo. Getting through customs in Bolivia was (relatively speaking) a breeze. Dealing with American Airlines was awful.

Our itinerary had us flying out of Chicago at 7 PM, landing in Miami at 11, overnighting in Miami, and taking the afternoon direct flight to Santa Cruz. At ORD, we were able to check in at the international counter, the agent checked our tickets and passports, and promptly informed us that we had to collect our bags in Miami and check in AGAIN there. Because it has to be within 12 hours for international flights (though their website says 24 hours in advance). Well, there was nothing much we could do about it. We arrived in Miami late (midnight) with a tired and cranky baby, collected our bags, and checked into the hotel. After a good night’s sleep, we assumed we’d be able to just check in our bags no problem.

WRONG.

We get to the ticket counter and meet Maritza. The least helpful customer service representative in the history of the universe (only a slight exaggeration). She asks to see our documents. We pass them over. She looks at me and Javi and says “where are you photos? We will not check you in until you have 4 X 4 photos of you and the baby. Oh and where’s your yellow fever certificate? Hotel reservation? Actual visa form? Your husband, he needs none of this.” Us: “Well actually, because we’re married we are supposed to be able to go through with this notarized letter of introduction and invitation from Miguel’s parents.” She then proceeds to stare at this letter for awhile and sighs, deciding it is ok. She asks about yellow fever certificates. We did not have them, but had written up a brief letter in English and Spanish swearing we wouldn’t sue Bolivia if we contracted it, signed it, and had a witness sign it. After much consultation and us showing her the form from Migración with the section highlighted saying that we could travel with such an affidavit, she then marched off to talk to a supervisor. She came back and agreed this was sufficient.

But we still didn’t have photos. She told us that we had to go get them before she would issue us boarding passes. Or let us check in our bags. But wait! There were no places in the airport to get it done. We asked if there was an office center or a place with a printer, since all we needed to do was take our picture, upload it to our computers, crop it, and print. Should take 15 minutes. Her response? No, there’s no way we can help you and I won’t accept anything if it isn’t exact. We asked why we weren’t informed of this in Miami. She just shrugged and basically told us to get lost, that we needed to take a taxi to get *proper* pictures taken, us doing it ourselves was not ok with her and she wasn’t going to help us find a place to do it.

At this point, we’d been waiting and/or arguing for about 45 minutes. It was 11 AM. Our flight was at 2:55. We asked her if we had to wait in line after we got the pictures, or if we’d be able to come back to her and finish our booking. She said that was fine but that she was off at 12:30. I asked her explicitly that the ONLY thing we needed were these pictures, that she had checked EVERYTHING else and that she could assure us that something else wouldn’t come up if we left to do this and rushed back (I had visions of her saying “oh, whoops, let’s see the lock of hair from your firstborn” or something). She said no, everything else was in order and we just needed the photos and that she’d entered this into the computer. (Here I should add that the information she was telling us conflicted with the official from we had from Migración, she said that Javi didn’t need yellow fever until 6 years old and so on – for whatever reason the information in their system is incorrect compared to the information given out in Bolivia and on the Bolivian website).

Miguel said he’d stay with the baggage, and I took Javi out, grabbed a cab ($18 fare) to the closest CVS, where I waited till the photo technician came off of break, took our passport pictures ($8 each) and then had to call for a taxi back to the airport ($18). I arrived back at the line at 11:50 (and I must say I was hugely relieved that the taxi driver let me take Javi in the Ergo carrier, and didn’t make a big deal out of not having a car seat. Yes, I know car seats are safest. But had they insisted we would have been stuck in MIA). She and her supervisor saw us. I waved the photo envelopes. She nodded and so we walked back in line while she finished helping other folks. Maritza looked at us at one point and told us to go to another CS rep, since it was going to take awhile. I decided that we should wait since she knew us and knew the situation.

And now it gets worse.

After she was done with the people in front of us, she looked at us, took her bag, and walked away. It was 12:05.

We asked the woman next to her what just happened.

Well, she said, she’s off. And so am I. You can get back in the back of the line.

At which point we got REALLY upset. The other woman just shrugged and walked away from us.

Then we get called down to the end of the row. We explained what had happened to the new CS rep, and he looked up our itinerary. Did Maritza make ANY notes or save ANY of her work in our itinerary?

HAHAHAHAHAHA of course not.

Back to square one. So we had to go through the whole rigamarole of him scrutinizing our documents, deciding what we had was sufficient, and so forth. Did he even ask to see the d@mn pictures? No. He did ask if we had the visa forms, which we had presented to Maritza but somehow they were not returned to us.

This is when I burst into tears. Miguel intervened and said that because he was Bolivian he could walk out, get the visa forms from his parents, and return. The new CS rep must have taken pity on us or something so he printed our boarding passes and checked us in.

Why didn’t this come up in Chicago? Well, how about because it is *completely* unnecessary and none of these documents were requested upon entry into Bolivia. As we walked to our gate, we knew none of this would be required upon entry. And we were right. (The photos they request if you get your visa ahead of time at a consulate, from what I understand, they are *not* required if you pay when you enter since they scanned our passports).

In Bolivia, Javi and I *did* have to get the visa. Note to other families of Bolivian nationals: with notarized Consular copies of his birth certificate and our marriage certificate we would not have had to do so because that would register our marriage to a Bolivian and therefore certify us as a Bolivian family in the eyes of Migración, but we only had U.S. issued certificates.

That process was rather quick and painless. The officials understood where we were coming from, they were apologetic that they could not approve a family visit entry because our certificates hadn’t been inspected by a Bolivian official, but they assured us that our visas are valid for 5 years for multiple entries, and if we registered Javi’s birth + our marriage we would have more flexibility in terms of time of stay and so forth (because we have the same last name this was easier. Had we been traveling with different last names but as a family, a customs/migration form per person as opposed to per family is required). The visa itself clearly states the five-year period as well. They had all the forms ready, answered our questions, and genuinely wanted the process to be as quick as possible for us.

In addition, there was a big poster in the customs line advertising exactly where in Bolivia yellow fever is endemic and spelling out how far in advance you need to receive the vaccine if you visit *only those* areas. Our pictures, affidavit (or yellow card), etc were not requested (as we suspected and this makes our anger at AA even greater). The letter of invitation and the copies of Miguel’s parents’ carnets we did use, but only to fill out the visa form because they ask if you are visiting family and if so who they are.

In sum: the Bolivian officials were friendly, efficient, and helpful. Avoid American Airlines (which, of course, is near impossible).

More to come on the dynamics of a long flight with a 17 month old and the patience of passengers to Bolivia vs. to MIA, the Korean-Bolivian cattle ranchers on both of our flights, and Bolivian precautions against swine flu.

Now gringos can vote for Evo too!

President Evo Morales is one of 207 candidates for Time’s Top 100 People of the Year.  You can vote for him here.

You can see the entire list of candidates here.  Evo is listed #130.  And every time you want to vote, you need to fill out one of those word recognition things.  Which means the person listed first — Barack Obama — might win just because it would be so time consuming to vote on every candidate.

Update:  Except, I’m wrong.  At least right now.  According to their ongoing stats, Evo is currently ranked #9, and Barack Obama is #37.  Interesting!

Update on May 1:  Turns out Time’s poll was hacked.  Figures!