Friday, August 8, 2008

Where I've been the past two months

I've been out of touch for a while. I just got back to La Paz after a trip to the Alto Beni, where we were working on a doc about the indigenous group the Mosetenes. The Mosetenes are the owners of the a large communal territory, which is one of the largest and most accessible forest reserves in Bolivia. This should put them in a position to be able to manage their forest resources for the benefit of the whole community, providing a source of income and work opportunities.

But, as you know by now, Bolivia is more complicated than that. For a range of cultural, economic and historical reasons, the Mosetenes find themselves trapped in a cycle of debts owed to the merchants that buy wood from them. The system works like this:

The merchant and the Mosetén agree in advance on the price for a certain amount of wood. The Mosetén almost certainly doesn't have the capital available to extract that wood, so the merchant delivers goods from his (or her) store at inflated prices. These goods include chainsaws, food, gasoline, transport by boat and anything else that the Mosetén might need to extract the wood.

When the Mosetén delivers his wood to the merchant, he usually finds that he owes more than he earns. The merchants are obviously well aware of this.

So the project aims to explain this system of debt enslavement.

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