RELEASE DATE: 29 Apr, 2020

EDITORIAL BY Caroline Risacher

Cover: Patricio Crooker @patriciocrooker


I wrote last month’s editorial the day before Bolivia’s sitting president, Jeanine Añez, announced that the country was closing its borders and enforcing a total lockdown. The stream of new information coming from governments, media and scientific experts is relentless and dizzying, and we have to deal with a new reality in which anything and everything is possible. At the moment in Bolivia, people can only leave their homes once a week according to the last digit on their carnet. Measures are being constantly updated. Among them, the mayor of La Paz, Luis Revilla, has announced that face masks are mandatory in public, additional restrictions were imposed on street vendors and the five-star hotel Real Plaza started receiving quarantine patients.

And it is clear that the economic toll of the lockdown and social distancing is already hurting the country’s less privileged citizens. The government will distribute bonos worth about US$70-$80 for each child and to people without income or children to alleviate their situation. Efforts like these are necessary, but their application will be complicated by the fact that some people live in isolated areas and transport is being strictly limited. The crisis will only increase the gap between classes and hurt the most vulnerable populations harder.

The crisis will reveal the weaknesses of the national public health system (p. 11). Doctors are worried about the lack of protection and information and are threatening to quit or go on strike. Indigenous communities in remote areas of the country are not prepared for probable infections. No protocols are in place and the nearest hospitals can sometimes be a day’s journey away. Hopefully, though, these problems might spur improvements in Bolivia’s health and social-welfare systems so that the country can be better prepared for future crises.

Bolivia also has much to improve when it comes to virtual meetings and internet access. Lawmakers are trying to figure out the best way to meet online and use video conferencing tools. Digital technologies will certainly benefit in the future from this current predicament, and the use of online platforms for administrative procedures and banking transactions will only become more common in a country that still relies heavily on in-person trámites. Entertainment will also be taken online, even if only temporarily. Even now, a selection of Bolivian movies are available to stream online (p. 16), and other artists are scrambling to adapt in order to showcase their work.

How Bolivia will adapt in the coming months and years is very much unknown. How and when will the presidential elections take place? What will happen to festivals and events such as Gran Poder, which has just been cancelled for the first time in its history? And what about tourism? The tourism industry is one of the most affected sectors in the country, and it will have to find a way to safely restart its business activities. If the absence of humans in national parks is helping nature breathe and recover from the devastating fires from last year, the lack of income from tourism will hurt those who are protecting these same national parks and are doing an essential job stopping poachers and traffickers.

The question is not ‘When are things returning to normal?’ but ‘How will the new normal look like?’ And ‘What changes will we have to adopt to go outside and resume some sort of social and professional life?’ These questions are certainly not specific to Bolivia; the COVID-19 crisis will impact Bolivia’s society and the world in ways that we can’t foresee. But some of its impacts we can already guess.



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