Zenon "Zee" Ferrufino, community leader and owner of radio station KBNO 1280AM in Denver, came to the United States at the age of 21 with the dream of living in a free country that offered him freedom and opportunity, he said.
Ferrufino left his native Bolivia because of the dictatorship of Victor Paz Estenssoro, who was president of the Andean country four times between 1952 and 1989.
Born in La Paz, Ferrufino recalls that Estenssoro's government took away the right to vote. That experience inspired Ferrufino's passion for democracy and for voting rights, especially in Colorado's Latino community. He has used the radio to get the message out, he said.
"Politics is important to me, and it should be to every immigrant, because the only way to accomplish things is to be a part of the city, the state and the country in which we live," said Ferrufino. "Many people think their vote does not count, and I say one vote wins elections, one person makes a difference."
There are about 775 Bolivians in Colorado, according to the 2010 Census. Ferrufino is one of the notable members of this community, which is small but active in the state. They have focused on being exemplary representatives of their country, hoping Bolivians will set aside their ethnic and political differences and come together for the future of their country.
Claudia Aliendre, a Bolivian who lives in Denver and travels frequently to the South American country, said that the existing political, socioeconomic and ethnic divisions have been deepened by President Juan Evo Morales Ayma. Morales came to power in 2006 with a record-breaking 54 percent of the vote, becoming the first indigenous leader of Bolivia. He was re-elected in 2009.
Many of Morales' policies, including the nationalization of industries, intensified historical tensions among the citizens of diverse ethnic and geographic groups and discouraged foreign investment, according to press reports. Ferrufino said these weren't the changes many Bolivians hoped for.
"Evo Morales offered great hope for Bolivia. He had the chance to be the Nelson Mandela of Bolivia, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity," said Ferrufino. "Bolivia is more divided than ever, and if you create division it causes trouble for the country. As a leader you have to unify it."
Since its independence, Aug. 6, 1825, Bolivia has suffered from a turbulent political environment. In 2009 tensions heightened when Morales' administration changed the constitution to give greater rights and autonomy to the country's indigenous population (mostly Aymara and Quechua), who represent 55 percent of the country's population. Under his command, the country changed its name to Plurinational
State of Bolivia in 2010 to recognize the nation's multiethnic identity, in spite of protests.
Until the arrival of Morales, the urban elite, largely of Spanish origin, had dominated the economy and politics of the country. In 1952, a universal suffrage law gave indigenous people the right to vote for the first time. Despite the changes instituted by Morales' administration, the rural indigenous population continues to confront poverty in a nation rich in natural resources.
Bolivia has the largest natural gas reserves in South America and the largest deposits of lithium in the world.
Nonetheless, it continues to be one of the poorest nations in that continent, with an average per capita income of less than $2,000, according to the World Bank.
For decades tensions have built up around the exploitation and exportation of these natural resources. Indigenous groups have opposed the government ceding control of their reserves to foreign entities. For a country with few economic opportunities, the handling of lithium exports, for example, is crucial for the economic future of the people.
Hillary M. Voth of Denver, an author of ethnic studies and policy in Bolivia, said that even though Morales' administration has attempted to decentralize the government and to be more inclusive of the indigenous population, there is strong disagreement over the export of the country's natural resources.
The people want to see tangible benefit from lithium exports, natural gas and petroleum in rural communities across the country, where residents now rely primarily on farming, ranching and artisanry.
"Politically, the government is really staring down the barrel of a gun with the economy. They are having problems with food crops being taken out of the country illegally," said Voth, who is in La Paz. "There will be food and electricity shortages. The government is facing several economic and practical issues that it has to solve or there may be serious political unrest."
Aliendre, who is an attorney, finds it sad that Bolivia doesn't have a clear path toward progress and that policies continue to benefit one group or another rather than the entire population. She would like to see more activism on the part of Bolivian ex-patriots to help the country have more efficient leaders.
"Right now we are focusing on our differences, and that is not going to take us anywhere. No matter our background, we are all Bolivians, and we need to work to preserve our nation," she said.
The reality is that the same ethnic diversity that has caused political division since Bolivia's independence is also what has provided such a rich folklore and culture.
Throughout its history, one of the few things that has united Bolivians has been its diverse folklore, shown off during carnival each year in La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz primarily, said Marco Fernandez, founder of folkloric dance group Sambos Illimani Colorado USA. He hopes that through art Bolivians will find unity.
"Our folklore identifies us as Bolivians. Dance unites the indigenous and non-indigenous. It unites all social classes and the youth. When dancing, the communities integrate, and people become brothers," Fernandez said. "People in Bolivia and abroad have to put their differences aside and unite for a cause. And that has to be Bolivia."
Powerful pre-Hispanic empire
When the city of Tiwanaku was discovered by the Inca Empire near Lake Titicaca, experts estimated it had been abandoned for 500 years. Although Tiwanaku reached its peak as a civilization between AD 500 and 950, it continues to be a spiritual haven.
Giants, aliens and moons that used to orbit Earth have all been considered to explain how a civilization could flourish at 13,000 feet above sea level. Artifacts found from the area and across the southern Andes, where inhabitants supposedly expanded, suggest those from Tiwanaku were more advanced than their Incan successors in art, astronomy and mathematics.
Today Tiwanaku is considered the "American Stonehenge" as spiritualists from around the world make the pilgrimage to watch the summer solstice. The Inca incorporated the ancient structures in their own civilization by deeming Tiwanaku the birthplace of mankind.
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Peanut soup, Oruro style
½ lb. unroasted peanuts
1 medium onion cut in cubes
¼ tsp. whole ground pepper
1 tsp. crushed garlic
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 carrots cut lengthwise
1 piece of chopped red pepper
1 small tomato cut in cubes
3 peeled potatoes, cubed
½ cup of peas
1 lb. beef (with bone) for soup
¼ cup washed rice
Salt and oregano to taste
In a pot with about 1 gallon of water boil the meat with salt making sure to periodically replenish the evaporating water. Meanwhile, soak the peanuts and peel their skin. Grind the peanuts in a food processor to make it into a smooth and creamy milk.
Then lightly fry the chopped vegetables (onion, tomato, carrots, pepper) and add the vegetables to the soup. Then add the peanuts and the spices to the soup. Boil for at least an hour and a half until the peanut releases its flavor. Add the slightly soaked rice, potatoes and peas.
As soon the rice and potatoes soften, crush oregano over them and cover the pot. Garnish the soup with parsley.
- Recipe: Claudia Aliendre. Photo: Paula Barrett.