Bolivia: Aymara resist car-culture spectacle

Bolivia is mobilizing police to the route across the Altiplano and Uyuni salt flats to be taken by the upcoming Dakar Rally Raid cross-country motor-race following a pledge by Aymara protesters to blockade it with their bodies. Adherents of dissident Aymara organization CONAMAQ say they will block the international road rally to press their demands that National Police troops that have been surrounding their La Paz office stand down. CONAMAQ followers along the route through Potosí and Oruro departments are organizing their communities for action. "We say that Dakar will only benefit the city, and not the indigenous peoples," said CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe. "The leaders of the 16 suyus [indigenous regions] have resolved to block the passage of Dakar." 

The CONAMAQ office has been under police siege since Dec. 11, following a disputed election for CONAMAQ's leadership, with the independent or "organic" faction supporting Freddy Bernabé and a rival pro-government current supporting Hilarión Mamani. The "organic" protesters fear that the national office is about to be turned over to Mamani's faction. (EFE, Dec. 28; Página Siete, Dec. 27; CONAMAQ communique, Dec. 26; Página Siete, Dec. 24)

The Dakar rally will pass across Bolivia's highlands in its coast-to-coast route from Argentina to Chile. A total of 575 vehicles are registered, from motorcycles to all-terrain trucks. First held in 1979 as a race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal, the rally was shifted to South America in 2009 due to security concerns in Mauritania. The event is cloaked in politically correct rhetoric. "The aim of the Dakar is to build bridges, to create links between those who are sensitive to the beauty of wide open spaces and the image of the physical and mental challenge embodied by the drivers and co-drivers," rally director Étienne Lavigne said in a press release. "We have being pursuing this objective for the last 35 years with an unyielding determination to pass on this passion." Big corporations are cashing in on the spectacle. Toyota Motor Corp  has entered the rally with biodiesel-powered SUV. (ANI, Dec. 25; Fox News Latino, Dec. 16)

Similar motor rallies have been recently targeted by pro-democracy protests in Bahrain and student protests in Canada.

Bolivian traffic-calming activists undeterred by hit-and-run

Zebra-striped activists have taken to the streets of Bolivia's cities to remind motorists to respect pedestrians—and vow to continue their crusade despte the death of one among their ranks. The victim was a 17-year-old girl killed by a truck in Tarija Aug. 19. The driver, suspected of being drunk, was arrested. (The Guardian, Aug. 26; ANF, Aug. 19)