Bolivia, where much of my new novel, Strange Journey, takes place, is a land-locked country in South America about the size of Texas and California combined, with a population of roughly eight million people. The country is divided into three distinct regions: the highlands or Altiplano, which is a dry, mountainous area some thirteen thousand feet above sea level, a tropical region of dense rain forests, and a more moderate, temperate zone. I am the most familiar with the highlands where I have traveled many times and which is where the main characters in my book, David Eutychus Walker and his uncle, encounter numerous adventures as they confront rugged terrain and ruthless political intrigue.
In real life there is quite a political storm brewing in Bolivia involving access to a sea port on the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its maritime access as the result of a peace treaty many years ago, and now the country's leaders for economic reasons understandably want it back. The easiest and cheapest route to the sea would be through Chile, but Chile is cool to the idea of relinquishing any of its sovereign territory to its neighboring country. As a result Bolivia filed what is essentially a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice at the Hague seeking relief. About a year ago, that Court ruled that it had jurisdiction and would hear the case. This decision gives Bolivia bargaining leverage with Chile, which does not want to suffer the international embarrassment of losing the case.
The maritime dispute is the major political news one reads about in the Bolivian press, that and the desire of the current President, Evo Morales, to amend the country's constitution to allow him to serve another term when his current term expires in 2020. He was able to coax Bolivian authorities into holding a referendum on the issue some months ago, but in an electoral surprise he narrowly lost the vote. Now he's trying to wrangle authorities into holding another referendum, but opponents accuse him of wanting to become a defacto dictator. It will be interesting to see how both these questions, maritime access and the tenure of the current President, play out.
As I read the Bolivian press it strikes me how much attention they focus on Hollywood and other celebrity news. I might have thought that in a poor country like Bolivia where there are so many pressing, and life-threatening issues the populace might be eager for more serious news and political discussion, but that does not appear to be the case. Folks there seem as caught up in the cult of celebrity as we are, perhaps even more so. One difference I've noted is that Bolivians tend to refer to actors and singers as artists rather than treating them as mere celebrities, thus lending them a certain stature that is often not associated with them here in the States.
In my next post I'll discuss the highlands of Bolivia and some of my experiences there.