Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gay, lesbians, trans in Bolivia

Found a great website with lots of interesting queer Bolivia posts.

Brian Cave did not leave any contact details on his site - but his article was well researched and intriguing. The url I have added is BBC pictures of trans activists in Bolivia. Fascinating.

By Brian Cave, New York CityMarch 30, 2005

Reflections of a Gay Seminarian following his visit to Bolivia.

Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America. The country is a landlocked country made up of 1,098580 square miles and has a population of 9 million people. 85% of the people of Bolivia are natives where as the other 15% are European (principally Spanish). 51% of the population is women and 41% of those women are under the age of 15. 72% of the people of Bolivia are able to get water but not in their homes. Only 3% of the population has water in their homes. 32% of the homes in Bolivia have dirt floors. Currently the country is a democratic capitalist nation but has had many coups in the past. The current constitution had no input from any of the natives of Bolivia. 97% of the people were not included in the decision making process. Currently the natives are working to get their culture incorporated into a new constitution. 64% of Bolivia’s budget goes towards military defense, which the USA is very involved with.

However, currently the majority of the people of Bolivia want a Democratic Socialist nation. If the presidential elections were held today Evo Morales would win. He is the leader of the Movement For Socialism party. Currently there is a chance that there might be a new election before 2007. According to a report from CNN the current president Carlos Mesa has offered his resignation to Congress after widespread protests that were blocking the country. According to the NY Times, there could be a new election as early as August. One of the major issues pressing in Bolivia right now is natural gas. There has been recent protest by the people of Bolivia by blocking the streets and shutting down the country in order that the government change policies regarding the ownership and taxes surrounding gas. There is currently a bill that has been passed by Bolivia’s lower house to change the tax rate for the gas companies to 50% of profits and now waiting to be approved by the Senate.

Dr. Raul Perez, MD was our group doctor and one of our lectures. He introduced us to issues surrounding gas on Bolivia. He received his medical degree in 1995 from Universidad Mayor de San Andres as well as a degree in Inmunohematology in 2002 from the Bolivia Blood Bank, and in 2002 a degree in Hematalogy in Valencia, Spain. He also has a degree in gas and does continuing research. According to Dr. Perez, there is 54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Bolivia. 49% of the land has petroleum and 46% of the petroleum is gas. There is enough gas to financially take care of all the people of Bolivia. However, the gas belongs to transnational corporations and they currently only pay 18% tax of profits from the gas to Bolivia, which very little of it trickles down to the people of Bolivia. According to a report from the International Socialist Organization on March 8, 2003, the companies that exploit the gas reserves are BP, Shell, British Gas, France’s TotalFineElf, and Spain’s Repsol. According to a report from Madison Energy Advisors (a transaction advisor for oil and gas sales) on March 23, 2005, Repsol in partnership with the Brazil company Petrobras supply 70% of the natural gas sold to Brazil. Repsol is quoted in the report as saying that if the bill is passed, “it would oblige us to abandon many of our projects and everybody would lose, especially Bolivia. It would also be necessary to reconsider new investments that we have earmarked for the next few years.”The government’s measures to privatize the gas industry have left over 60% of Bolivia’s 9 million people living on less than $2 a day.

Currently 7 million people in Bolivia do not have any kind of health insurance. So it obvious that the gas companies are trying to bully the people of Bolivia by making them think they will be poor if they approve the new tax when many of the people of Bolivia are already living in poverty. Our group saw first hand the poverty in Bolivia. In the evenings we would see families rummaging through large piles of garbage looking for food and anything else that might have some kind of value. El Alto is a very poor town right outside of La Paz and is the main passage way into and out of La Paz. There is no way to get to La Paz without driving through this community and seeing the poverty.

Gays in Bolivia

Another issue I researched while in Bolivia was the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. I did research before I went to Bolivia to make contacts and find out where the GLBT people met and interacted but I could not find any information. Even once I got to Bolivia I still could not find any signs of GLBT life.

So we decided that we would go look for transgender prostitutes in the red light district and interview them. Prostitution is legal in Bolivia, but you have to be registered with the health department and get tested every three months for sexually transmitted diseases. We were privileged enough to meet Romina. She was wealth of information to us and even invited us to come to her home the next day to continue talking with her. She was about 5’7” while wearing heals and claimed most of her clients are married men. Romina is also part of a group of transvestites that meet every Friday for a Bible Study. Romina gave us information about David Aruquipa Perez who has a Master in Gender Studies and who is the coordinator for The Galan Family. The Galan Family is a volunteer group of 50 men and one woman that integrate theater, photography, and film to educate the people of Bolivia around issues of sexuality and gender. Most members of the group have Master level degrees and are working professionals. The group works to create a space with drag queen performances to start dialogue on sexuality in this very Catholic Nation.

So between the Catholics and the Indigenous people LGBT rights were not voted for in the government. However, the group is continuing to work on getting GLBT issues in the constitution. Some of the members recently were able to meet with the President of Bolivia and talk with him. The group also has a weekly radio show in La Paz on Tuesday nights on 101.7FM called Trans Stage. The group also has started a gay pride march that takes place on the last Saturday of June. In 1995 when they had their first public parade they were arrested. In 2004 they had 300 people march in the parade. The gay community does not get any support from the churches and even go as far to not welcome GLBT people in the church. The group is working on getting its website and running soon. Being gay in Bolivia is still a very taboo thing. Most of the GLBT people are very closeted. According to a report from the website there is no legal prohibition against homosexuality; however, the police are woefully underpaid and target GLBT people with illicit fines. With Bolivia being a predominately Catholic nation, it means most of the community looks down upon birth control and contraception. Therefore; there is not much education regarding condom use and that also means greater risk for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. According to a report from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, there were 11,000 document cases of HIV/AIDS at the end of 2003.

In January 2005, according to Dr. Perez who we met in Bolivia, there are 25,000 documented cases of HIV/AIDS. Dr. Perez said that only the symptoms of HIV/AIDS is treated and not the disease itself in Bolivia. He also stated the most of those infected were infected while visiting the United States and Brazil. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, HIV/AIDS has remained low with the female commercial sex workers because they are required to be registered and must be tested every three months to keep their health certificates. Christianity and CapitalismMy experience with Bolivia has made me question whether Christianity and Capitalism are compatible. Christian Smith in his book Moral, Believing Animals:Human Personhood and Culture made a statement that has stuck with me. He said that there is danger in the “invisibleness” of some of presuppositions and beliefs we hold that are linked to our “liberal democratic capitalist…ontology culture” (Smith, 60) Smith also talks about how as moral believing creatures that all beliefs are not the same. When I read the Gospels and see what Jesus was teaching, I believe most of teachings are not compatible at all with capitalist practices. The fact that Jesus in the book of Mark tells the rich man that he has to sell everything to get into the kingdom of heaven is one example that shows me that the monetary greed that comes from capitalism and free markets is in contradiction to Jesus.
So, if the United States wants to be a Christian Nation then the United States must no longer be a democratic capitalist nation and should not be forcing other countries to become democratic capitalist nations. This idea that all countries need to be like the United States of America is our invisible presupposition that is dangerous as Smith talks about. Democratic capitalism does not work for everyone. The people of Bolivia want a democratic socialist nation so that all the people will have equal access to the necessities of life. The people of Bolivia want and can take care of themselves if they have access to the gas that democratic capitalist nations like the United States have taken over and rob the Bolivian people of their basic rights.

BIBLIOGRAPHY=Ammon, Richard. Gay Varieties in Bolivia [Internet]., 2003, 1999 [cited March 28 2005]. Available from Gas Plans Trigger Unrest, 2003. Available from, Juan. "Bolivian Chief Is Proposing New Elections in August." New York Times, March 16, 2005 2005.=HIV/AIDS, Joint United Nations Programme on. "Bolivia." 2004.=Kann, Andrew Dean Nystrom & Morgan. Lonely Planet. 5 ed, Lonely Planet Travel Guide Series: Lonely Planet Publications, April 2004.=Organization, International Socialist. "Uprising Rocks Bolivia." Socialist Worker, March 2003 2003, 1.=Smith, Christian. Moral, Believing Animals. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2003.=Wertheim. "Brazil Warns against Bolivian Legislation." edited by Madison Energy Advisors: Pennwell Corporation, 2005.

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