COMPADRE CARLOS AND THE BREWER

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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