September 25, 2007

THE CHANGES BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE growth of the informal sector erupted suddenly into national politics in the 1989 elections. A brand new political party, Patriotic Conscience (CONDEPA) polled a fourth of the votes. Its strongest support came from the shantytown city of El Alto above La Paz, largely populated by recent arrivals from the countryside. CONDEPA congresswoman Remedios Loza became the first woman who wears tradi- tional Aymara dress to sit in the Bolivian Congress. All other congressional deputies, no matter what their political stripe, have traditionally represented the 5% of Bolivians who are of European origin. "The current political system is not responsive to the informal sectors," says Silvia Esc6bar of CEDLA research institute in La Paz. 'This explains the growing importance of the two populist parties, Civic Solidarity Union (UCS) and Patriotic Conscience." These two parties appeal to the mass of new voters with a blend of right- and left-wing rhetoric and paeans to tradi- tional values. CONDEPA leader Carlos Palenque calls him- self "Compadre Carlos,' evoking the reciprocal godparent relationship in Andean culture. lHe holds a daily -people's tribunal" on his radio station, where the disenfranchised express grievances against authorities, neighbors or spouses. "People come to us to express their feelings and problems," Remedios Loza told the New Internationalist. "'If a woman is beaten by her husband and goes to the police, she has to have money if she wants fair treatment. But if she comes to Radio Metropolitana, she can get it all off her chest and find justice too, because the man's family and friends hear the program and he's put to shame." Presently eclipsing CONDEPA is the UCS, run by Max Fernandez, the charismatic owner of the country's largest brewery. Although the party was only formed in August 1989, it garnered a considerable number of votes in the municipal elections later that year, and now tops the national polls. Part of Fernandez's success is due to the variety of public works that UCS has undertaken in poor areas through- out the country. His message vaunts the entrepreneurial spirit: "I started out poor and made a fortune, and so can you." His appeal is strongest to mestizo merchants and truckers who have some money, yet are alienated from the traditional parties. The rapid growth and broad appeal of both CONDEPA and UCS herald significant changes in the country's political landscape.

Tags: Bolivia, El Alto, black market, CONDEPA, Politics

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