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After three months spent in Bolivia where we met three entrepreneurs, we want to share with you the particularities and the great resources of this country that really astonished us.

A few figures:

Area: 1 098 581 km² (4 times UK)

Population: 9 200 000

Density: 8.4 per km2

Four times bigger than the UK, Bolivia is surrounded by Peru, Brazil, Paraguay Argentina and Chile and is the only South American country with Paraguay that doesn’t have access to the sea which greatly complicates the exportation of its natural resources. This isolation is one of the consequences of the Pacific war that Bolivia lost against Chile at the end of the 19th century. Even if these events occurred more than one century ago, the resentment against Chile and the desire to retrieve an access to the sea are still very present in the Bolivian minds.

Bolivia’s recent political and economic history is very hectic with a succession of social crisis mostly engendered by two problematic.

Firstly, Bolivia has been dominated from the beginning of the 20th century by a mining dynasty whose wealth derives from the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. For many years, the politics have mostly focused on satisfying these elites, only according a limited attention to the emancipation of the Indian part of the population constituting 60% of the total population. Not feeling any real political, economic and social project enabling them to develop, the Indians started protesting on a regular basis, provoking the decline of numerous regimes to defend their rights.

Secondly, Bolivians have for long fostered a frustration on the exploitation of their natural resources, gas more particularly, estimating that oil companies taking care of their exploitation monopolised an excessive share of their benefits. This desire of being able to profit from the fruits of their land took a growing importance in the claims of the Bolivian population proportionally with the fall of the country in the development indexes.

The Bolivan presidents were the main victims of this social instability. Since 1945, Bolivia has already had 35 presidents. As a comparison, England has had 13 prime ministers and Belgium 15 during the same period.

In 2005, a seism occurred in the Bolivian politics when the cocalero Evo Morales (so-called because he exploits coca fields) is elected President. From Indian origins, he received the support of a great part of the population and formed a government of socialist inspiration, breaking-up the former policies in favour of the United States. He will instigate economic reforms contested by western countries but asked for long by the Bolivian population. The nationalisation of the gas through a breach of the existing contracts with the oil companies was the most important. With hindsight, this nationalisation rather took the form of a contract renegotiation as Bolivia doesn’t have the required capital to fully exploit its natural resources independently.

Crossed in its Eastern part by the Andes and the Altiplano and in its Western part by the Amazonian forest, Bolivia has a unique geography.

The Altiplano is the second highest plateau of the world with an average height of 3 300 meters. Originally, the Altiplano was covered by the Ballivían lake. This lake is at the origin of the Titicaca lake and the Uyuni Salar great salt lake, two of the main Bolivian tourist sights. 70% of the population live in the Altiplano and La Paz, the administrative capital its main city. Located between 3200 and 4000 meters, making it the highest capital worldwide, the city is divided into two parts: El Alto and La Paz. El Alto, poorest part of the city where more than 1 000 000 Bolivians live stretches on the Altiplano at more than 4000 meters whereas La Paz is located in a valley. La Paz offers many surreal panoramas where houses stuck to the mountain are surrounded by glaciers and volcanos covered with snow all year long. An amusing sociological detail, as in many altitude cities, the best neighbourhoods of La Paz are situated in the lowest part of the city (3200 meters) in opposite to what can be seen in most western cities.

The Eastern part of the country is covered with the Amazonian forest. The city of Santa Cruz, capital of the Santa Cruz state, is its main town and concentrates the majority of the Bolivian economic activity. During the last years, Santa Cruz, led by an occidental elite has shown an increasing desire for independence.

We have all been very affected by our stay in Bolivia as this country full of contrasts is attaching. The kindness of the Bolivians, the splendour of places such as the Titicaca lake and the Uyuni Salar and the frenzy La Paz make it a unique country to visit. With all these assets, the economic statu-quo and the chronic instability of the country appear even more disappointing.

Friday May 8th, we head to Jujuy in order to meet with the 3rd entrepreneur. Trips are always a surprise; a new destination always means a new culture, new landscapes, new meetings…One big surprise of our Northern-Argentinan adventure that will surely remain in our memories is our meeting with the Gronda’s family.

Jorge Gronda is a doctor who has developed, in the Jujuy Province, an innovative healthcare system (personal profile and video coming soon). His organization’s model has taken him to the World Economic Forum of Davos in 2008 to share his view of the change.

After our visit at the CEGIN Center, Jorge invited us for lunch at his home with his family. In a very casual atmosphere, we quickly realized the essential role Jorge’s family plays in the development of his organization ; His wife, Irene, and his son, Simon, know the minor details of the organization, and their involvement is fundamental to Jorge’s way of thinking.

More than one entrepreneur, it is an entire family who is keen to solve social issues.

Very soon, we mentioned their visit to Davos and listened carefully to their story…

Their opinions are divided; on one side, they realize the strong determination of the West to contribute to the development of developing countries, therefore they feel honored to take part in that change. On the other hand, they are conscious of the numerous obstacles and high stakes involved with moving forward in a rigid global economic system.

Their vision is, however, very clear: political leaders are the only ones with the power to make significant changes. But in order to develop an adequate answer, it is paramount to hear the voice of those at the Bottom of the Pyramid and the aid organizations working with them; they are the impulse for change.

After this hopeful meeting, we headed to Tilcara by crossing the Quebrada of Humahuaca… As often happened during that trip, we spent hours discussing the importance of social entrepreneurship and the different ways to strengthen the North-South collaboration.

We are more than ever convinced that the contribution of capital is a key element to accelerate development.

In the middle of canyons, cactuses and disused railways, we have the impression of being in the middle of a western movie. This region, ranked in the world patrimony of the UNESCO, is nicknamed the « Paleta del Pintor » (the painter’s palette) ; among red rocks, green valleys and yellow sand, the color mix is enchanting !

On our way on this outstanding « Ruta 40 » we will next head to La Quiaca where we will cross the Bolivian border…

See you very soon,

Jo and Max

Travelogue

May 1, 2009 | Travelogue

From Patagonia to the Salar de Uyuni, from Lake Titicaca to the Machu Picchu, from Lima to Santiago, our encounters take us through magnificent landscapes and mythical places…

Discover these places, these cultures, these countries in the ‘Travelogue’ articles!

It is essential nowadays to take into account the impact of our actions upon the environment. That is why Fair Street is CO2 neutral for all transport-related emissions! Watch this great video directed by Angalio Production and CO2logic to learn more about global warming.

Climat Change from Angalio Productions on Vimeo.