This project shares some of the diverse and disagreeing perspectives of the people who occupy the principle plaza of Cochabamba, Bolivia, through quotes and photographs. The controversial space has stayed the region’s hub for entertainment and relaxation, as well as protest, debate, and organization, since 1809.
My role was to listen, record, photograph, and work with each contributor to ensure they were appropriately represented. However, this project does not reflect all world views present in the plaza, nor is it impartial.
– Ben Daley (’17)
Introduction by Noemi Baptista Villegas (translated)
The “Plaza 14 de Septiembre” of Cochabamba is named after the date Bolivia declared its independence from the Spanish crown in 1809.
As a public space, its initial use was defined by the wealthy families who passed through it as a place to visit and relax and by its function as a power center, hosting the church and local government. It is important to note the barring of indigenous people from the plaza during this time. This rule was supplemented by strategic restrictions in the surrounding area, like the banning of chicherías (which serve the traditionally indigenous beverage, chicha).
In the wake of Bolivia’s indigenous-led revolution in 1952 and the granting of many rights to indigenous people, the plaza gradually changed. It became a space for people to debate politics and gather to make demands of the public institutions present.
This historical context helps us to understand the current debate surrounding recent governmental efforts to remodel the plaza. These physical modifications have been coupled with reforms that reinstate various regulations concerning its use, like the prohibiting of political debate. Cochabamba’s mayor, José María Leyes, and his supporters argue that the plaza has come to resemble a market, filled with political argument and propaganda, while it should be protected as familial space. These changes have been met with resistance by those who wish to maintain the plaza as a place for activism.
Considering the debate surrounding the “correct” or “true” purpose of this cultural center, it is important to share the variety of viewpoints portrayed in the following project. It helps to better understand the social relations to power in the space, defined by political discourses, which are influenced by economic interest and discrimination…
(Each day a crowd gathers to debate politics, although it has been recently outlawed.)
“En respecto a quienes pueden ocupar (la Plaza 14 de septiembre) o no? Absolutamente todos. Hablo de manifestaciones, actividades cívicas, y actividades políticas” (Dueño del Café Turista, no presente en la foto).
“In respect to who can be in the plaza or not? Absolutely everyone. I’m talking about protests, civic activities, and political activities” (owner of Café Turista, not present in the photo).
(Carlos has shined shoes in the plaza for 30 years. Over a bottle of Coca Cola during his break, he speaks to his participation in the Water War of Cochabamba.)
“Nosotros estábamos aquí, no trabajando. Para 15 días luchamos para que el agua de Tunari no había controlado por una compañía de los Estados Unidos.”
“We were here, not working. For 15 days we fought so that that water from Mount Tunari was not controlled by a company from the United States.”
(People with disabilities have started a national protest campaign to demand a monthly governmental stipend of 500 Bolivianos ($73). They have established a permanent presence, with shelter and accommodation, in the north end of the plaza until their request is met. While trying to recruit signatures for the petition, a protester shares her thoughts.)
“No podemos caminar, no tenemos nervio en nuestra pie. Pero somos normal como cualquier otra persona. Podemos tener hijos, podemos enamorarnos… pero para ellos no, estamos enfermos, así nos mira la gente… Colabóranos con su firmita señorita?”
“We can’t walk, we don’t have feeling in our feet. But we are like any other person. We can have kids, we can fall in love… but others look at us as if we are sick… Help us with your signature señorita?”
(This bulletin is the center of an informal education forum that holds class each evening in the plaza. Facilitators and students overwhelmingly support President Evo Morales’ political party, MAS. Their stance on the recent changes in the plaza are outlined in the section “La Plaza y el Referendo.” A man who is not participating in the meeting gives his opinion of their presence.)
“Ningún partido (político) debería estar allí, porque es la plaza de armas. Hay que respetarse. Es un lugar para paseo, para traer los niños, para descansar tranquilo.”
“No political party should be there, because it is the principle plaza. You have to respect it. It’s a place to walk through, to bring the kids, and to rest.”
(Efrain holds a pamphlet that outlines President Evo Morales’ argument to allow him to run for a third presidential term. Days after this photo in the referendum (2/21/16), Bolivians voted for the “NO” (51% to 49%), denying Evo of another bid. Efrain attempts to persuade the crowd otherwise.)
“La cosa fundamental… es que estamos de acuerdo, con que el cambio, el progreso, el desarrollo de Bolivia siga adelante o no. Esa es la razón. No es la persona de Evo o García Linera… Que han hecho antes de Evo? Han robado nuestras riquezas: la plata, el oro, el gas, el agua… por aquí hemos hecho la guerra de agua, no? Para defender nuestros derechos, porque el agua es un derecho fundamental para ser humano.”
“The fundamental question… is if we are in agreement or not that the change, the progress, and the development of Bolivia continues or not. That is the question. It is not about the character of Evo or Vice President García Linera… What did our government do before Evo? They took our wealth: our silver, gold, gas, and water… because here we fought the water war, no? To defend our rights, because access to water is a fundamental right of a human being.”
(A group of men break off from the larger crowd to compare impressions of progress in Bolivia before and after Evo’s presidency.)
“Nuestros hijitos antes, nos preocupaban pues, que nuestros hijos terminen la secundaria. Antes, soñábamos que nuestros hijos entren la universidad… ahora quizás, los viejos nos podemos morir tranquilos, porque yo sé que mis hijos ya están terminando la U. Y, también yo sé de que mi nieto va a terminar la primaria, la secundaria, y todavía si es buen estudiante, la U.”
“Before, we worried that our children wouldn’t finish high school. We used to dream that our kids would go to the university… now, perhaps us old people can die content, because I know that my kids are finishing college. And also, I know that my grandson will finish grade school and high school, and if he is still a good student, college.”
(She is the loudest and most frequent contributor in the debates dominated by men.)
“Los grandes intelectuales y universitarios no han hecho ni mierda para nuestro país… Analicen pues!”
“Those grand intellectuals haven’t done shit for our country… Analyze pues!”
(Noemi, the author of the introduction, responds to a question regarding the Municipal Council’s reasoning behind the recent renovations and restrictions in the plaza. She refer’s a remark made by the council’s president, which defends the plaza as a familial space.
“Cuando dicen (los políticos) ‘nosotros somos gente de familia…’: Cuando no saben cómo expresar las cosas que realmente no quieren ver en la plaza, pero utilizas normativas utilizas otros argumentos para decir, “queremos que sea limpio, queremos que sea más ordenado” en realidad su intención no es esa. La intención es realmente, “¡qué tipo de gente quieren ver en la plaza y qué tipo de gente no quieren ver! (Noemi)”
“When the politicians say ‘we are family people…’: When they don’t know how to express what they don’t want to see in the plaza, but they use adages other points to say, “we want it to be clean and organized.” The real intention is to ask, what type of people do they want to see, and what type do they not want to see?”