|Jessica Jordan at Trinidad airport. She's becoming|
awfully familiar with its departure lounge.
Signing off on last week’s veritable deluge of information, I alluded to the big event of the weekend, a regional by-election which, like all elections, caused public meetings, and thus, church, to be cancelled on polling-day. The election provides an intriguing insight into Bolivian politics and perceptions of the Beni region within Bolivia.
Four years ago, as the country geared up for its next round of gubernatorial elections in April 2010, Bolivia’s ruling party, MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo – translation required? Thought not.) found itself in an increasingly frustrating position. The party had swept to power under former coca-leaf grower Evo Morales in late 2005 in unprecedented circumstances (the first single party, indeed, to win an overall majority in Bolivia’s history) with the promise of more representative government – in other words, greater recognition at state level of the interests of the country’s indigenous majority, mostly based in the country’s high-altitude western regions.
As you can no doubt imagine, those who live in the country’s more plain-like, eastern territories (namely Pando, Santa Cruz and the Beni), and who come from a very different range of people-groups, were none too enamoured by such talk. The Beni, in particular, had hardly been a land of milk and honey pre-Evo anyway; despite being Bolivia’s second-largest municipality, covering an area just shy of Great Britain’s land-mass, this sparsely-populated region has nevertheless traditionally been very much the runt of the litter when it comes to state support. Widespread civil unrest took hold just a year after Morales’ inauguration, with greater political powers sought by the eastern regions and separation even mooted.
In 2009, then, Morales had just been convincingly returned to power, but with nary a dent in the Beni. Indeed, the support for MAS stood at a mere 4% in the region. Something drastic had to be done to ensure the Benianos get with the programme. Enter Miss Bolivia.
Now, before proceeding, a little cultural context is important here. Back in the UK we tend to regard beauty pageants with a touch of remorse. Sexist, objectifying, degrading to women; like Cumbernauld, Kappa trackies and Anthea Turner, it was fine while it lasted, but we’ve moved on now, thank-you-very-much. Not so in Bolivia – nor, indeed, in much of Latin America. Actually, these women hold nothing short of icon status in the eyes of both men and, particularly, women; their every breath pored over by hordes of green-eyed, yet wide-eyed, female followers, whose diet of Miss-trivia is happily resourced by the national media.
All too aware of this, MAS recruited the 2005 victor, Jessica Jordan, as their candidate for an altogether different contest. Intriguingly, Jordan claims not only Bolivian but, through her father, English descent (many’s the time I’ve jokingly complained to a local that I came here to escape English rule, not be subject to it once again).
Now, no doubt one could argue that the selection of such a candidate was populist, cynical and an utter insult to the intelligence of the Benianos – but far be it from me to posit such an opinion in such a public forum (who knows, after all, who could be reading this?). But it didn’t half work. MAS didn’t get the victory they sought, but their share of the vote skyrocketed to 40%.
(I’ve often wondered what the protocol would have been in the event of Jordan winning the ballot. Does the title of ‘governor’ outrank that of ‘Miss’, not least when one has competed internationally under the moniker? Would her acolytes reply to her every demand with “Yes, Miss” and “No, Miss”?)
Miss Jordan’s conqueror, to the delight of MAS, found himself booted out of office in mid-2011 on corruption charges; your enemy’s enemy is by no means your friend here. An interim governor was installed until they finally got round to announcing a by-election for January 2013. And, in classic if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mode, no prizes for guessing who MAS selected as their candidate.
Jordan’s victory seemed like a formality from the word ‘go’. She was backed up by a monstrous campaign budget, while MAS had, in reality, fired the starting-gun some months previous when they launched a series of La Paz-funded construction projects, playing the populist string in one case with a major new sports complex under construction just up the road from where we live.
And yet, their considerable efforts were, to the surprise of many, thwarted once again. Several of the smaller opposition groups shelved their candidacy and united under the umbrella of the main challenger, Carmelo Lens, a lawyer, scholar and local councillor. There was genuine shock – dare I say, relief? – last Sunday evening as the results came through giving him a 52% share of the vote to Miss Jessica’s 44% tally. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t buy the Beni.
Alas for Jessica – and, indeed, for her good friend, Evo – the noise coming out of the Beni remains a more subdued, but ever-discernible “No, Miss.”
- For final preparations for the new youth group year, which begins next Saturday.
- For the church music ministry. Craig will be returning to the fold this week after a short break over January. With our furlough year in 2014 on the horizon, this is a key year in terms of training up the band to be better equipped to manage by themselves (the current members have only the most tenuous grasp of musical theory at the moment, for example). Pray for this work.
- Please remember our friend Porfidia Prado in your prayers. She is a primary school teacher of real calibre and is desperate to get involved in the Community class ministry this year -- she would be a great asset. In order to do this, she needs to find other work (the Community classes meet in the afternoons so she's looking for a morning teaching position). The new school year is a week away and, unfortunately, nothing has come up yet.
- Continue to remember our permanent-residency visa application in your prayers.
- For the safe arrival of volunteer Deborah Holmes from Croydon, south London. In fact, she's been in the country for about a month, staying with friends in Cochabamba, but our friends the Holts picked her up on the way back from a family holiday and she arrived last Saturday. She's here till May -- pray that her time here would be one of blessing and growth.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda