Friday we entered La Paz with some trepidation as there is a large strike on. All the teachers, hospital employees, miners and other public employees are striking for higher wages (15% increase) as a result of the painful recent increase in the cost of food. Though strikes are frequent in La Paz, this strike is more powerful than usual due to the stridency of the demands and the fact that this is the first big strike against Evo Morales, the people’s president. Some of the roads were blocked off by strikers and we were uncertain as to whether we would be able to get to the city. We did get in, weaving through side streets to avoid enormous traffic jams.
La Paz is a very vibrant place. The streets are full of people and traffic at all hours. Sidewalk sellers display their wares across the entire sidewalk and out onto the streets. The lack of crosswalks ("Just pretend you’re a car", I said to Laura once as we wove among the buses circulating around a rotary) and the extremely steep hills make for an energetic walking city.
We went down to the area where the protesters were face to face with riot police, to have a look around. The protest was mostly non-violent downtown, with protesters closing off a number of streets, sharing pots of food and playing cards on the grass in the median strip. Now, during the evening, we hear firecrackers and occasionally and more ominously, the sounds of dynamite further downtown.
There is so much activity in the street that it is hard to tell what is due to the protesters and what is normal background noise. I woke this morning to a Palm Sunday procession, with hundreds of parishioners singing and waving palm branches to a 30-piece band. At least 2 other parades followed during the day. In El Alto, at least one street was blocked off by people sitting in the middle, apparently a parade unrelated to the blockades.
A daily check of the New York Times reveals that the blockade did not make international news. But it is big news here, with most schools in the country closed for the last week and some people dying due to lack of hospital care.