February 1, 2008

The Wind from the South

The Washington Post reports on the latest Latin American trend from El Alto, a poor suburb of 650,000 at 13,300 feet, well above Bolivia's capital, the whimsically named La Paz.

But first, I can't resist digressing on La Paz's social topography. In contrast to many cities, such as Los Angeles, where the rich live in the hills above the plains, the rich in La Paz live at the bottom of a deep canyon, with the wealthiest neighborhoods down at 10,200 feet. In Bolivia's capital, social climbers try to claw their way to the bottom. WikiTravel writes:
"La Paz' geography (in particular, altitude) reflects society: the lower you go, the more affluent. While many middle-class paceƱos live in high-rise condos near the center, the really rich houses are located in the lower neighborhoods southwest of the Prado. The reason for this division is that the lower you go in the city, the more oxygen there is in the air and the milder the weather is. And looking up from the center, the surrounding hills are plastered with makeshift brick houses of those struggling in the hope of one day reaching the bottom."

The fundamental reason for this is that white women miscarry frequently at very high altitudes -- a problem that is seen in a few places in Colorado as well, such as Leadville. Indian women are more likely to carry to term the higher about 10,000 feet you go.

This underlies the recent threat of the lowlying Bolivian lands north of Paraguay to secede. Their inhabitants tend to be white and mestizo, while the Altiplano is Indian and mestizo. The low country has the main natural resource, natural gas, but the Indians of the high plains have recently finally seized control of the government after 400+ years, and are trying to seize the natural gas wealth.

Anyway, lots of vibrant stuff is happening in Bolivia, which we ought to keep an eye on because these "principles, cultural values, norms and procedures" are slowly migrating here:

EL ALTO, Bolivia -- Tattered dummies look down on this city from street poles in barren squares, like scarecrows for anyone with bad intentions.

The dummies are meant to warn would-be thieves that if they try to rob anyone here, they could be hanged. Or lashed to a pulp. Or set on fire. Or buried alive.

"If there are cases in which people are caught in the act, why can't we take justice into our own hands?" asked El¿as Gomes, a community leader in an El Alto neighborhood where two accused thieves were burned alive by an angry crowd of residents in November. "We want the people of the neighborhood to be the ones to judge the crimes. Beyond the question of whether lynchings are good or bad, we want to be the ones to judge."

Determining who gets to judge criminals is a matter of national debate in Bolivia, where a draft constitution that has already won preliminary approval would make punishments doled out by indigenous leaders and tribal communities as legitimate as sentences handed down by the country's courts.

The proposal has invigorated communities such as this, where many residents maintain strong links to Aymara and Quechua indigenous traditions and few trust what they call the "ordinary justice" system of police, judges and courtrooms. ...

Valentin Ticona Colque, a vice minister in charge of communal justice in President Evo Morales's government, said such justice is less likely to be corrupt because it is administered by active members of the communities themselves, not by state-supported judges.

"When the community is involved and vigilant, it's difficult to corrupt the system -- almost impossible, in fact," he said.

According to one article of the draft constitution, decisions made under the communal justice system would be immune from challenge by any outside judicial system. The constitution does not spell out how justice should be dispensed but states that indigenous and campesino, or peasant, authorities "will apply their own principles, cultural values, norms and procedures."

Makes you want to book that lama trekking vacation through the Bolivian highlands, doesn't it?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

This kind of thing is common in most mountainous areas. American tourists have been seized and held for ransom in Kashmir, and in my own experience in Asia things get rougher the higher you go.

The note on topographical class distinction is insightful for an American. In Gansu, the extraordinarily complex social and racial hierarchy is determined largely by topography. The lowest elevations, near the Yellow River, are occupied by Chinese who farm rice or engage in mercantile pursuits. Above this in the rolling hills you have another Mongoloid caste that speaks a totally unintelligible language that, as far as I can tell, is unrelated to Sino-Tinetan.

And then you get into the mid-range mountain valleys, at about 5-8 thousand feet, which are occupied by a large-nosed, thin headed, green-eyed Arab-looking race of Muslims. These people grow the biggest cannabis buds I have ever seen -- even bigger than the trophy buds you see featured in "High-Times." They are also very pushy and try to sell you stuff you don't want. I think they must have some kind of Arab ancestry mixed with Turkish blood.

Above that you've got Tibetans, who herd yaks, and despite the sky burials and such are pretty gentle people. However, the people who manage the trade and transportation between all these different groups are a cut-throat group of gangsters. I was strong-arm robbed by them on a bus, and it was a humiliating experience. The only mitigating factor was that I spoke Chinese, and I told them out loud that they were robbing me while I was trying to show my father, who was next to me on the bus, around China. All the Chinese and Tibetans on the bus sympathized with me, so the thugs reduced their "tax" by 50% due to my appeals.

My guess is the thugs on the highways of Bolivia are exactly what used to be referred to as "highwaymen" and are not necessarily representative of the highland natives. It would be difficult for me to blame the Bolivian peasants for tearing people like this to pieces.

If that snake-eyed, knife-wielding thug who extracted cash from me near Linxia had been burned alive, I'm not sure I would have felt too bad about it.

Anonymous said...

"...few trust what they call the "ordinary justice" system of police, judges and courtrooms..."

I can certainly sympathize with these people. Maybe we need some community punishment of criminals here in the US as well. The criminal class in America certainly isn't afraid of the system.

Anonymous said...

At fist I thought "400+ years? That's a lot of time to hold a grudge." The I remembered that the Spanish reconquest took a few centuries more.

Anonymous said...

Reading this now just made me think of "Our Brand Is Crisis" which has to be the most Steve-Sailer-esque movies I've seen recently.

Anonymous said...

The low country has the main natural resource, natural gas, but the Indians of the high plains have recently finally seized control of the government after 400+ years, and are trying to seize the natural gas wealth.

Which only illustrates the ultimate threat to democracy. Whereas the purpose of winning an election used to be mostly about implementing your preferred version of policy, today it is getting to the point where it is all about redistribution of wealth. How long will whites tolerate a democracy that redistributes all the wealth from themselves to someone else?

Right now the goal of bureaucrats in every country is to create just enough incentive for smart, indistrious people to create wealth without creating too many incentives for them to drop out of the economy and go on the dole. For whites that incentive is to stay out of minority neighborhoods where they'd be clobbered.

How long can that balance remain, though?

Once things get bad enough, anything can happen.

Anonymous said...


Interesting theory about elevation and miscarriages. I was just reading this post to my girlfriend in another room, and before I got to your theory for the rich ceding the heights of La Paz to the poor, she jumped with, "Like in Rio", remembering our vacation there about a year ago. You've been to Rio too, Steve. Remember the favelas on the mountainsides above the city? Maybe elevation doesn't have the same attraction in South America?