Silent Genocide in Bolivia

By Raúl Zibechi, published in DesInformemonos

[Translators Note: I have known and admired Oscar Olivera for more than twenty years. Hearing of his illness has had an impact on many people all across the world. This story about his own experience and that of Cochabamba, the city where I lived for 19 years, is important for all of us to hear. Jim Shultz]

Oscar Olivera (in the white hat on the left) with his friends and co-workers at a community water project.

Factory leader and water warrior Oscar Olivera has the Coronavirus. He went to the hospital because of trouble breathing and an accelerated heartbeat. But he was referred to another medical center because it was already full. After six hours he received the result: positive. They could not admit him because there were no beds available. Now he is at home, in a neighborhood in Cochabamba, with his family. On the phone he says that he is fine, that he has no symptoms, but he is overwhelmed by the situation in the city.

There are families who must keep their dead relatives in their houses for up to seven days because nobody picks them up, nobody buries them. There are no basic public health services, not emergency care or city sanitation. In some cases, family members leave coffins on the street, because cemeteries have stopped functioning. Helplessness, rage and loneliness, is the sensation that dominates a good part of the 600 thousand inhabitants of this city.

“The only thing we have left is the solidarity of our comrades,” he says in a voice broken by pain. “I called several comrades to tell them that I have Coronavirus, but that I am fine, and some told me that they had had Covid and that they had not said so to not discourage their families and friends. Telling each other what was happening to us was very good, it lifts our spirits… ”

When a lifelong fighter breaks his voice, something serious is happening. It’s time to listen with your heart and keep silent.

“… how misfortune can unite us, how it makes us recover our feelings … .. Yesterday a relative told me that the whole family had been ill for two weeks and that they did not say anything to avoid worrying us.”

“In Cochabamba it is horrible. Sick people visit four or five hospitals to find care and then die at the door. Dead that cannot be buried because cemeteries no longer have capacity. The cause of death is not known, there are no certifications. There are dead in the streets… ”.

The residents who live near the municipal garbage dump blocked entry, demanding water, which does not reach them, so now garbage accumulates in the city.

Oscar tries to contextualize the drama. “Those at the top show a lot of ineffectiveness, pillage and blackmail. The political class is only interested in its power, the last thing that interests them is the people. Both in the government and in the opposition there is a use of the misfortune and the impotence of the population abandoned to their fate. The politics above is a rotten circus. “

In contrast, he reports that health professionals and technicians are working autonomously to develop teams to care for the population and to construct ventilators. “They are superhuman efforts because they do not have the economic or institutional capacity for these projects to succeed. This shitty institutional State does nothing.”

The pandemic has also shown, says Oscar, the enormous solidarity of people who have even left the comfort of their jobs to reach the places where their help is needed most. “Many doctors and nurses have died here for caring for people, because governments have left health services in a terrible situation.”

In these four months, the government allocated just $70 in one-time assistance to serve families. The situation is dramatic and there is no way not to go out to the markets to sell or buy. “Each sector has taken charge of what it can, with shared cooking, with natural medicines, in spaces of solidarity that have arisen.”

Feeling the disease in your own flesh makes you see the world from another place. “On Saturday when I went to the hospital I was referred to one of the best centers in this city, a private hospital. But even there the situation was tremendous, people at the gates screaming because they are dying, people who came with other illnesses or accidents that are not being attended to. Inside were closed rooms, full of infected people.”

Some doctors and nurses, in order to continue attending, chose to rent a room instead of going home and putting their family at risk. Others were expelled from their neighborhoods due to the brutal insensitivity of the neighbors.

“The only thing we have left is the solidarity of our comrades,” repeats Oscar Olivera, a water warrior, infected with Coronavirus, determined to fight for life, as he always did, as he will continue to do …… so that the time for hugs of greeting again arrives.

The original article in Spanish can be found here.

A political activist for more than 40 years, founder and executive director of the Democracy Center. Back in the US after 19 years in Bolivia. A dad, a grandpa.

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