My name is Miguel A. Buitrago. Welcome to my blog. If you want to know more about me visit my personal website. Thank you! Happy readings!!!

October 30, 2004

All Saints Day (Todos Santos)

MABB is a registered TM.

Continuing with my habit of telling my readers about Bolivian traditions, today I will tell you about another tradition: Todos Santos or All Saints Day.

This tradition is historically interesting, it comes from the mixture between western religion and pagan customs. As we know, Catholicism has a long tradition of adopting pagan customs in order to expand the appeal of christianism towards the natives of every region. However, I thought I'd spare you the history and instead I tell you about the tradition itself and about how my family experienced it.

It always started early in the morning, November 2. That was when I used to see my mom preparing the table. But, before I tell you about the table, let me tell you a little about the meaning. Todos Santos is the day the souls of all the deceased family members come back to us to visit. They are supposed to stay 24 hours. I know, it sounds a bit ridiculous since everyone knows the dead don't have a whatch :-) At least not one that works. The doors of the beyond are supposed to open for that period of time. I guess that is where the 24 hours come in. But, stay with me. It is for that reason that the table is needed. It was a kind of a make-shift altar.

Our table was very discreet or so my mom wanted it to be. She used to place a black table cloth over a small table. The central spot would always be taken by the pictures of my grand mother and grand father. These I assume, would represent all the dead family members. Luckly, at that time, we did not have many souls which would pay us a visit. Most of the family members were still alive, with the exception of my mom's parents. But, that is another story. She would place the portraits in the center of the table. At both sides of the photos, and towards the front corners, she would place two white candles. Inmediately behind them, she would place two vases with flowers. I forget what kind of flowers, but they always looked pretty to me. Usually, they would be of a kind we had outside on the patio. They were arranged neatly and with gusto. Now, here is the important stuff. The tradition was to place some type of pastries and a glass of water for the peculiar visitors. So my mom, being a pastry chef, would bake some pastries herself and a special kind of cake called Bizcochuelo, for which I don't have a translation. It was delicious, you can take my word for it.

Once everything was in place, we would all kneel and say a silence prayer in the name of our potential visitors.

If anyone ever came, I would never know. Although, this idea made and impression on me, so I would ask my mom if she had ever seen one of them. She would quietly shine a smile at me and would caress my head. She would assure me if anyone came, they would not do anything bad and so I should not be afraid. She always did know how to make me feel good. I cannot say I have ever seen anything out of the ordinary, and I kept watch, you know. The only thing that would keep me in doubt was the fact that the glass of water always seemed to empty a little. This drove me nuts, until later when I was older, much older, I figured it out.

This is a tradition which, at least to me, taught me to respect and not to be afraid of the dead or of death. I don't know if it had any other effects on me, to this day I cannot say otherwise. But, the fact we had such a tradition was strangely peace inducing.

This was a well known tradition among my circle of friends. I remember everyone would know what day it was. Everyone of my friends felt weird. I guess that was because we did not understand it. Not, that the grown ups understood it either, but at least they believed in it. However, Todos Santos just wasn't like Halloween, if you know what I mean. It was more like a very quiet holiday to spend few moments together with your family thinking about those already departed and perhaps, to some, also a chance to think on his/her own mortality. I know that was the case for me.

As for the pagan traditions, in La Paz, we were influenced by the Aymara. The Aymara tradition says that in this day, all the dead come to visit from the place where they dwell among all the ancestors and nature gods like Pachamama (mother earth). This is the day when the doors of wherever is they dwell, open and the souls come out to the real world. Interstingly, this was also a belief within the Druids.

Here is a link to a site where they have a nice report on this custom. Unfortunately, it is only in Spanish. So, for those of you who can read Spanish, enjoy it. For those readers who don't speak Spanish, I would suggest a visit anyway, they have a really interesting photo section. They are very interesting. And remember, don't hesitate on asking any questions on the comment section. I will attempt to answer them. :-)

For those of you who can only speak English, here is an article in English.

October 29, 2004

Access Denied, G. W. Bush.

MABB is a registered TM.

That is what is says: Access Denied. You don't have permission to access this server.

Now, why is it that the Bush campaign, Mr. Bush and his people are blocking access to Bush's campaign website www.georgewbush.com?

Well, an article in the Washington Post says, they were attacked last week by hackers and as a result, they were off-line for about six hours. So now, to make sure this does not happen again, they've blocked the world, except US and Canada, from entering their website.

This makes me unhappy, to say the least. I think this decision was a moronic one.

I post the Post's article in its entirety here, for those of you who are not registered in the Washington Post.


Bush Web Site Bars Overseas Visitors
By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2004; 4:52 PM

The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has barred people outside the United States from viewing its Web site following an electronic attack that took down the campaign's Internet address for six hours last week, according to computer security experts.

Since midnight on Monday, no one outside the United States except people in Canada could see the site, said Rich Miller, a security analyst for Netcraft, a Web site monitoring firm in Bath, England. Internet users from other countries instead see a white page featuring the message: "Access denied: You don't have permission to access www.georgewbush.com on this server."

The move happened one week after the Bush-Cheney and Republican National Committee sites were unavailable for almost six hours. Security experts said the outage probably was the result of a "distributed denial-of-service attack," in which hackers use tens of thousands of hijacked computers to overwhelm Web sites by flooding them with bursts of digital data.

The Bush campaign did not return repeated calls for comment.

RNC spokesman Scott Hogenson acknowledged last week's outage but declined to comment further, calling the incident "no big deal."

It is not unusual for Web sites to block e-mail and browser traffic from individual Internet addresses and from certain countries notorious for churning out online fraud scams and junk e-mail, but security experts said the Bush-Cheney campaign's move is probably unprecedented.

"I've never heard of a site wholesale blocking access from the rest of the world," said Johannes Ullrich, chief technology officer for the SANS Internet Storm Center, which monitors hacker trends. "I guess they decided it just wasn't worth the trouble to leave it open to foreign visitors."

Malicious hackers use computer worms and viruses to seize control of unprotected home computers and corral them into remote-controlled attack armies known as robot networks, or "bot nets." Between January and June, the number of bot networks monitored by Cupertino, Calif.-based online security company Symantec Corp. rose from fewer than 2,000 to more than 30,000.

A week after the attack, and on the same day that the site's access was restricted, the campaign hired Akamai Technologies Inc. to manage its Web data. The Cambridge, Mass., company has more than 1,000 clients, including Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Federal Express. Akamai stores Web content on thousands of Internet servers around the world, a tactic experts say makes its customers' sites more resistant to disruption from electronic attacks.

An Akamai spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Mikko Hypponen, director of antivirus research at Finland-based F-Secure Corp., also could not reach the site from his home in Finland. But he questioned whether denying access to foreign visitors would make any difference. "I don't see any other reason why they'd do this other than to try and avoid problems coming from people who probably don't really have any desire to see the site to begin with," he said.

Jonah Seiger, founding partner of Connections Media, a Washington campaign consultancy that works with Democratic candidates, said that it did not make sense for the Bush-Cheney campaign to "consciously block access to anybody."

"Maybe the next thing they'll try is to block Democrats and people in blue states from coming to the site," Seiger said.

October 28, 2004

Decentralization: The relevance of the State Government.

MABB is a registered TM.

This is the beginning of a new series about the decentralization process in Bolivia. In the same way as the corruption series, each article will begin with the word decentralization. This will make it easy to search all the relevant articles, when using the search feature at the top of the page.

One of the ideas I (others before me) have been pondering while I read more about the decentralization process in Bolivia is the relevance of the departmental level of government.

The decentralization process in Bolivia began with the Popular Participation Law (PPL) (Later, I will describe in more detail the whole process). With this law, essentially, Bolivia was divided into 314 municipalities. Each municipality has a government, which receives funds from the central government. This establishes a direct relationship between municipality and government.

In the middle is the departamento (state) government.

Since, the funds flow directly from the government to the municipalities, there is a serious question about the relevance of the departametos level of government. And, the question is: Is this level of government necessary?

Currently, Bolivia is going through yet another phase of crisis. This time it stems from the departamento of Santa Cruz. The main civic organization, Comite Pro Santa Cruz (CPSC), which is composed of hundreds of other civic organizations, has decided to start a period of protests in light of the government's intentions of passing the proposed Hydrocarbons Law. What the CPSC demands is, mainly autonomy for Santa Cruz.

This promises to be an equally tense time as the last crisis. We'll keep an eye on it!

October 25, 2004

The Oh, so important Florida vote.

MABB is a registered TM.

Ok, hear me out. Imagine you are a 60 year old woman or a 71 year old man, which ever you pick, it doesn't matter, anyone will do. You are retiree living in your nice little comfortable house somewhere in the sunshine state of Florida after a lifetime of paying your taxes to the government. Not too far away from the sea, but not too close to the alligators either. That is how you planned it. You have moved there because of the sun, the sea and the golf courses. However, 2004 was a specially hard year. You and your significant other, have had to endure four hurricanes. You barely made it. But, the important thing is that you made it. At this point in time you are thinking, that is not what I expected from Florida. Life is turning out to be a bum here. It is not as fun as I heard some of my retired friends describe it, but you continue to press on. You are not a chicken, you can make it.

Now, you have to face the next challenge. Florida is just not the paradise for retirees it used to be. One has to really work to live here, you say to yourself. Well, bring it oooooon! You realize you have to cast your vote in The US presidential elections. A race where every vote counts and that you know that your vote, yes your vote, can really make a difference. Again, you prepare, and plan to face this challenge the same way you faced those four hurricanes: with courage, conviction and hard work. On November 2, you wake up extra early to walk an extra mile. You want to be fit for the daunting task facing you. You make sure you eat a good American breakfast, with some sausages and eggs, to give you strength. You finally get to the poll station, and to your satisfaction, you see you are among the first there. There were others who were there first, but those people don't count. They're the ones who spent the night there. They're too freaky, in your opinion. Well, you get on line, get your ballot, and with a discrete look upstairs, you ask for wisdom and a steady hand. You walk inside the booth and this is what you see......(click here)


Now, how in the H---, are we supposed to vote with such shenanigans going around!

Credit
Thanks to the guys of BoomChicago.nl :-)

October 22, 2004

Talking About Real Loyalty

MABB is a registered TM.

Again, surfing I found this story that moved me and thought I sould share it with you. I don't want to get philosofical, that is why I reserve my comments, but sharing the story is good enought for me.

The story is in spanish. I found it in this spanish blog.

Mi amigo no ha regresado del Campo de Batalla, señor. Solicito permiso para ir a buscarlo" dijo un soldado a su teniente. "Permiso denegado", replicó el oficial, "no quiero que arriesgue usted su vida por un hombre que probablemente ha muerto". El soldado, no haciendo caso a la prohibición, salió y una hora mas tarde regresó mortalmente herido, transportando el cadáver de su amigo. El oficial estaba furioso : "Ya le dije yo que habia muerto!. Digame: merecía la pena ir allá para traer un cadáver?" Y él soldado, moribundo, respondió: "Claro que si, señor!. Cuando lo encontré,todavia estaba vivo y pudo decirme : ¡Estaba seguro que vendrías!

Here is the translation:

"My friend has not returned from the front, sir. Permission to go and look for him", stated a soldier to his Lieutenant. "Permission denied" said the officer, "I don't want you to risk your life for a man that's probably already dead". The soldier, disregarding the order, went in search for his friend. An hour later he returned mortally wounded carrying his friend's corpse. The officer, furious said, "I told you he was probably dead". Now tell me, was it worth it to go and get his corps?". The soldier replied, "Yes sir, when I found him, he was still alive and could tell me: I was sure you would come".

Now, that is loyalty.

More on the topic of the Drug Problem

MABB is a registered TM.

Cruising throug the information super hyghway I came across this article by nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak. This is his take on the US's policies towards the drug problem as it relates to Bolivia.

This post is just to add some other points of view to the topic.

Check this article too. It makes for good read.

Enjoy!

October 19, 2004

Bush, Kerry and Bolivia: Where does it stand?

MABB is a registered TM.

At just two weeks from the November 2, US elections, I compared the two candidates’ platforms and have not found much information about their policies concerning Bolivia. Of course, I think, it is to be expected that foreign policy discussions centers on more important topics like Iraq and Afghanistan and not on Bolivia. After all, Bolivia is not high in the priority list of neither candidate since it is seen in the context of a region rather than a country, with some exceptions. However, the strong influence US Foreign Policy has over Bolivian domestic politics, economics and the society in general is pretty much undisputed. We can cite countless examples where what the US Government (USG) has to say about Bolivian affairs is carefully weighted no only by the Government of Bolivia (GOB) but by politicians and business people as well. As it is expected, most Bolivians are opposed to such influence and meddling in domestic affairs by the USG. However, this is something Bolivians have to live with because it is somewhat out of their control. Bolivia, whether it wants it or not, lies within the geographic sphere of influence of the big neighbor to the north and as such, it both, benefits and hurts from such relationship.

I took a look at both candidate’s policies towards Bolivia and asked: How will Bolivia be affected by the outcome of the November elections? Will the same policies continue or will there be any change? What are the positions of Bush and Kerry concerning Bolivia?

The Bush administration and Bolivia
As far as the Bush agenda and the Republican party’s platform is concerned, current policies will pretty much continue in the case President Bush is re-elected.The Bush administration and thus the USG see US-Bolivian relations in basically four distinct dimensions: Drug trafficking control, strengthening of democracy, poverty alleviation or foreign aid, and as a part of a regional trade area.

Drug trafficking control: One of the first priorities of President Bush and his administration has been to fight against organized drug trafficking and narco-terrorists within Bolivia. According to the 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the principal USG counter narcotics goals in Bolivia are: to remove Bolivia as a major producer of coca leaf for the production of cocaine; to promote economic development and establish alternative licit crops and markets to provide farmers with viable options to cultivating coca; to disrupt the production of cocaine within Bolivia; to interdict and destroy illicit drugs and precursor chemicals moving within and through the country; to reduce and combat the market for the domestic abuse of cocaine and other illicit drugs; and to institutionalize a professional law enforcement system. The USG has also sought to work through various programs to promote institutional reform and to strengthen the elements within the GOB dedicated to addressing counter narcotics-related issues. The GOB and the US Embassy have been meeting routinely at all levels and across several functional entities to coordinate policy, to implement programs/operations and to resolve issues. This support is defined by Letters of Agreements (LOAs) signed annually with the GOB.

The Strengthening of Democracy: The Bush administration’s policy is to strengthen the region’s democratic institutions by working with leaders in the region to promote good governance and combat corruption and by promoting development and reforms. One approach has been the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account which provides funds in exchange of better governance (accountability and transparency), reforms (free markets) and investment in the areas of education, health and small companies. Bolivia is one such country which has been selected to receive funds.

Poverty alleviation: As we can see from the previous point, this objective of US foreign policy is closely related to strengthening democracy. The Bush administration created the Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA) program. Proposed by President Bush in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002 and passed by the republican congress in January 2004, the MCA provides funds to developing nations in exchange of greater responsibility, reform, governing with justice and equality, respect the state of law and fight against corruption. The funds should be used in education, health, and economic reform, free markets and less bureaucracy. Bolivia has been one of 16 countries selected to participate in this program. However, selection does not guarantee funding.

In addition, the Bush administration has sought to improve the effectiveness of the World Bank and other development banks in raising living standards; insisting upon measurable results to ensure that development assistance is actually making a difference in the lives of the world’s poor; increasing the amount of development assistance that is provided in the form of grants instead of loans.

Regional Free Trade Area: The Bush administration has so far negotiated trade agreements with Central America and Chile. Currently, it is negotiating a free trade agreement with the Andean nations (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as observer). This policy is most likely to continue under a new term of President Bush.

Kerry and Bolivia
The Kerry vision towards Bolivia is also framed by the broader picture of regional politics. Kerry’s policies stem from four ideas: Creating a new community of the Americas, strengthening democracy, free and fair trade and reforming America’s immigration laws.

Creating a new community of the Americas: Behind the motto “neighbors look after neighbors” Kerry wants to create a sense of community in the Americas. He is for promoting educational exchanges; encourage remittances by lowering the costs; create a social investment and development fund; work to create economic opportunities; develop a transportation master plan (Mexico-US-Canada) and form a North American Security Perimeter.

Strengthening Democracy: Kerry wants to support strong democratic states with transparent rules and procedures, as well as those states that have broad respect for the rule of law. According to Kerry, these conditions are essential to alleviating poverty and inequality. He is committed to strong and steady support for democratic processes and institutions, to consolidate democracy where it exists and assist democracy where it is in trouble.

In this manner, Senator Kerry wants to establish a council for democracy to strengthen regional organizations. He also wants to triple the funds to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED is a USG funded organization which seeks to promote democracy in the world. In addition, Kerry want to stay neutral in free elections, support democratically elected leaders and support peaceful democratic opposition.

Free and fair trade: Kerry supports free trade in the Americas, as long as the agreements are not detrimental for the respective societies. Every agreement must be fair and assure the lifting of standards of living in the US and the partner country’countries.

Reforming America’s immigration laws: Kerry will seek to make it easier for law abiding, thoroughly checked immigrants who pay their taxes, have it easier to legalize their status. He will make it easier for families to reunify. An finally, he will establish an orderly channel for future temporary workers coming into the United States, with stronger protections against displacement for US workers, and stronger wage and working condition protections for incoming workers.

So, where does Bolivia stand?
As stated earlier, Bolivia is not a focus of attention, but rather a part in the Latin American regional puzzle. Both Kerry and Bush see Bolivia in terms of regional politics. The focus on the region, for both candidates starts from the top down. Within this frame, Bolivia fits along with the rest of the Latin American countries.

If president Bush is re-elected, Bolivia can expect a continuation of the current policies in place. The MCA and the effort to fight drug trafficking and coca eradication are most likely to remain the main instruments of USG foreign policy in Bolivia.

President Bush argues that decades of massive development assistance have failed to spur economic growth in the poorest countries and that development aid has often served to prop up failed policies, relieving the pressure for reform and perpetuating misery. Mr. Bush further argues, the results of aid are typically measured in dollars spent by donors, not in the rates of growth and poverty reduction achieved by recipients. Therefore his answer is the MCA.

To this day, Bolivia is held as a success story of the US government’s drugs eradication programs. The USG and the GOB, most likely, if the Bush administration is still in power, will continue to work together strengthening the Special Drug Police Force (FELCN) by expanding personnel; upgrading existing physical infrastructure; and constructing new bases. The USG will also continue to support Bolivia with its Alternative Development assistance programs which provide funds for farmers to grow licit crops.

According to President Bush’s vision of the Americas, the region will be “a fully democratic hemisphere, working together to achieve representative democracy, security, and market-based development as well as advancing trade liberalization in the Americas in order to promote economic development and democratic governance.”(1)That is one objective the MCA programs seeks to achieve.

In the case Senator Kerry is elected President of the US, the focus is most likely to be also within regional politics. Kerry’s idea of creating a regional community and to take the region’s relations with the US to the level of neighbors will certainly be challenging. In fact, some might suggest that the idea is a bit naive and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the region’s politics, which is more like a dysfunctional marriage rather than neighborly love.

The one policy that is most likely to have an impact on Bolivia, as it is the case with the Bush administration, is strengthening democracy. The shape of this policy is not yet clear, however it could be similar to the policies President Clinton had during his terms, considering that many of Clinton’s advisors are advising Kerry. In this manner, I think, Bolivia can expect more continuity with the same policy of conditional foreign aid. The Kerry camp is not radically different from the Bush camp in this aspect.

One interesting idea that catches my attention is the USG staying neutral on free elections. Given that the current administration was more of a biased observer, this neutral approach should prove to be difficult to carry out. Specially if a radical, ani-capitalist incumbent like Evo Morales happens to win elections in Bolivia. In the last elections, the USG was far from neutral in light of Morales’ second place in the elections. It would be interesting to see a Kerry administration staying quiet and neutral in the face of such an outcome.

The Kerry approach to “free and fair” trade would also mark a change from current policies. A Kerry administration would seem to be more populist and protectionist. I would think that the current negotiations between the Andean nations and the USG will be even longer under a Kerry administration. Bolivia could expect to have more difficulty selling its agricultural products to the US and to the world. Protectionist policies in favor of American farmers are most likely to strengthen under a Kerry watch.


Sources:
John Kerry for president, www.johnKerry.com.

(1) Bush agenda, Republican party’s platform, various speeches of government officials.

2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2003/vol1/html/29832.htm

State Department’s Information Agency, Speech from Ambassador Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Conference for the Américas organized by the Miami Herald,Coral Gables, Florida, 30 de September de 2004.

October 14, 2004

Bizarre: Bush Wired Up?

MABB is a registered TM.

There is, what it seems, a crazy story circling around. President Bush being wired up to help him with his verbal and factual handicaps. Is that true? It certainly seems possible and reasonable to think so?

Here is the case:

Article at Salon.com

Coverage:

CNN, Portland Indymedia, Yahoo News, New York Times, BBC

More speculations:

The Washington Dispatcher says Salon.com continues with its speculation that Bush was wired during the debates. The doubt will just not go away.

What do you think?

October 13, 2004

Oh, where, oh, where in the Net is MABB?

MABB is a registered TM.

Just as a matter of record, I want to list where in the net has MABB been mentioned or quoted.

On July 20 of this year MABB was mentioned as one blog covering the referendum and Gas issues in Bolivia by a Winds of Change regional briefing here.

On September 5, MABB was quoted on an article by Luis O. Gallardo, author of Nutslapper. In his article, Luis talks about the advantages and disadvantages of the one party system in Puerto Rico. Interesting, read more here.

And finally, on October 13, El Forastero mentions MABB in an article about Bolivian blogs. You can read the article here.

As honorary mention I'd like to cite Nicolas Wiseman from Life as a Bog as the best visitor up to date. He really has a way with words. Visit his blog.

October 11, 2004

Hello everybody!

MABB is a registered TM.


I'm back from vacation, refreshed, relaxed and colored. La Costa del Sol is the place to extend your summer, if you happened to be wanting to extend your summer, right? I my case, I was trying to have a summer, since we had such a short period of good weather in Hamburg. However, I'm back and before jumping into the day to day routine, I wanted to share some photos I took from the place I was. Nerja.

This is Nerja.


Nerja-view




The beaches are different from the ones I know from the US. For starters the sand was coarser and darker. There were also larger stones, through which one could walk and discover interesting places.....


Nerja-rocks



Nerja was once a Roman settlement (not to mention a Visigoth town, a muslim town and a christian town). But, this aqueduct is not Roman, it was constructed in the middle ages.


Nerja-old aquaduct


There are many wonderful little towns around Nerja to explore, as well as a group of caves. These caves are huge, and I mean, HUGE! But, the tourist only gets to see a tiny part of them. There are special days (on the weekends generally) when more adventurous visitors can access the other caves by climbing through, following the guide.


Nerja-frigiliana-1