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On the road with the "Cocaleros"

  • Paul Mason
  • 17 Mar 06, 03:06 PM


Never, ever, will I diss the Toyota Land Cruiser again. I have just driven 460km from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, taking from 6am until 8.30pm. The last third of it, time-wise, was through some of the most spectacular mountainous tropical forest I have ever seen – and not a tourist trail in sight. In fact, in some parts of it, there is not a road in sight – hence my newfound respect for the big beast we are driving. What was in sight was clouds – below us, above us, around us; landslides – ditto. And lightning. And the pitch black dark..

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Just an ordinary day in Santa Cruz

  • Paul Mason
  • 17 Mar 06, 02:50 PM


Great steak, checked shirts, coiffured wives, the odd Stetson on display: it could be Texas, or (minus the Stetsons)Norfolk – but this is Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and it is defying all stereotypes about the poorest country in the Americas.
The city’s middle class – feasting in force on filet mignon at the Chalet Le Suisse restaurant – is living a different dream. It grew rich on those three great addictions of the late 20th century – neo-liberal economics, World Bank money and cocaine: but that was just the start. Santa Cruz is the centre of a massive agribusiness sector producing soya and beef for export. And there is gas – one trillion cubic metres of it, sitting right here under the scrub and pasture.
It is the gas that pays for the Toyota Land Cruisers, the obligatory status symbol in this town. The gas pays, too, for the private schools and the private university, the prom-queen lifestyles of the teenage girls who flirt their way along humid, palm-lined streets at night-time. Now Bolivians have voted in favour of doing something different with the gas – namely using it to develop the rest of the country...

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