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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

The History of a Nation

When Rafael Puentes started speaking, for a moment — just a moment — it felt like I was back in school, sitting in a lecture. That is, until he mentioned the fact that he had worked with Evo Morales, Bolivia´s current president and a controversial figure today, during his first government and turned down posts for his second and third governments as well. Never at home would we have that kind of opportunity.

Because of his unique opportunities and closeness with the man who has caused so much controversy (he is currently running for his fourth term under a constitution that limits him to two), he was able to offer us a truly unique, and mostly objective, perspective on a divisive figure. After giving us context by speaking briefly of the history of the country from its foundation in 1825 to the revolution in 1952, he highlighted the key events since then that have led to the current situation. As we moved closer to the present day, he slowed down more and more, going into detail about the Water and Gas Wars in 2000 and 2003.

However, once he got to 2006, his eyes lit up. This was why he was here. This was what he could talk about better than almost every one else in the world- Evo´s presidency. At first, he- like everyone else in Bolivia- loved what Evo was doing, leading him to receive an unprecedented 64% of the vote in his reelection bid, as well as a two-thirds majority in both houses of congress for his party.

At that point, however, something changed. He began to go back on what he had said just months prior, and violated several of the founding principles on which the new constitution- which he had organized. One major controversy was the TIPNIS project, which was a proposal to build a intercontinental highway through a national park and indigenous land. Despite numerous intense protests, the government insists that the project will go on.

The presentation was a fascinating background on an oft-overlooked country, as well as a powerful reminder of the ability power has to corrupt.