5. The Development of La Paz. The City of La Paz today sprawls up the slopes of a deep chasm at the edge of the most densely populated area of the Bolivian altiplano. Like the Basin of Mexico, the altiplano was covered by inland seas in its remote geologic past and, more recently, by a system of large lakes that formed the site of early human settlement and agricultural development, giving rise to the first big cities of the Western Hemisphere, Tiahuanaco and Teotihuacan (Mexico City). However, La Paz owes its 20th Century urban functions as Bolivia's capital and biggest city less to the density and antiquity of settlement in its hinterland than to the access to the outside world provided by La Paz to the sprawling country's landlocked interior.
La Paz remained small until the beginning of this century, growing from only 43,000 population in 1835 to 60,000 in 1902.22 Before 1917, a wanderer stood at the edge of the altiplano, overlooking the chasm cradling La Paz, and saw "brown ribbons of roads...and all along them on this Saturday afternoon crawled files of Indians with laden donkeys and llamas, the cargoes generally covered with straw, the drivers chiefly in red ponchos, though so like tiny crawling ants were they from this height 13,300 feet that the colors were barely noted. Seldom broken, these strings of pack-trains stretched from the edge of the plateau to where the head of each procession to the morrow's market was swallowed up in the compact, silent city."23 But the compact, silent city, "perhaps the most Indian capital of all South America," already had begun climbing the walls of the walls of the chasm. Now as then, the Aymara insist on calling the city Chukiyawu, the name of the biggest of the 185 rivers and streams plunging from the altiplano to carve the deep basin that shelters the city from the chilling winds that scour the plateau.
When the wanderer's words were published, in 1917, the rustic tambos (wholesale traders' warehouse) where the Indian pack trains arrived at the outskirts of town already were being consolidated into the Mercado Rodriguez, owned and run by the municipality, the nucleus of what later became the gigantic market area of El Gran Poder.24
The tambos were located on hilly haciendas being swallowed quickly by the fast-growing urban organism just after the executive and legislative branches of government settled in La Paz following revolution of 1898-99. The growth of the city was stimulated, then as in later waves of migration, by a real estate boom involving construction of many new public buildings and homes both for government officials and employees of the many new merchant and mining establishments founded in those years. Between the censuses of 1902 and 1909, the recorded population of La Paz grew by nearly one-third, from 60,000 to 79,000.25 Prominent among the newcomers were Germans who founded merchant houses to feed the mining boom with overseas imports.
Reinforced economically and politically by the turn-of-the-century mining boom and the railroad construction that accompanied it, La Paz grew much more slowly than most Latin American capitals, from about 60,000 population in 1900 to an officially estimated 954,000 in 1984. However, La Paz's modest long-term growth rate (3%) has been sustained by a periodic series of bursts in construction activity that attracted many migrants. The population of La Paz doubled during the first three decades of this century ( 1902 and 1928 censuses ) and then went through another burst of growth after Bolivia's defeat in the Chaco War (1932-35). Between 1935 and 1945, the number of business enterprises rose from 75 to 172. Many new factories were founded, heavily concentrated in the food and textile industries, which gave La Paz three-fourths of Bolivia's meager industrial production.26 Another construction boom was stimulated by a foreign exchange retention law (1938) requiring mining companies deposit hard-currency export earnings in La Paz banks. When he visited La Paz in the early 1940s, the urban planning specialist Francis Violich found thousands of migrant families already packed into conventillos, as in Lima and Santiago," built around a series of connected patios of the Spanish type." Violich continued : 27
Such structures as these cover much of the south section of the city below the Prado, the fashionable boulevard, and Avenida Santa Cruz. Originally intended for one or several families, one family to a patio, they have since been re-subdivided; dwellers are packed in at the rate of one family per room. As many as 30 families share one building. Three small courtyards, one behind the other, lead to the back of the property. Water and sanitation facilities consist of a single water spout in the middle of each courtyard, and in the back of the third patio is a single privy for the use of all families in the three linked courtyards.
Over the next four decades, the conventillos have continued to spread over much of the old inner city, including market area of the Gran Poder, where by 1980 17,446 comerciantes28 were selling in tiny stalls and on crowded sidewalks in a teeming informal economy served as well by thousands of cargadores (porters), bus truck drivers, wholesalers and many kinds of helpers. In these decades, the conventillos continued to be used as the first homes in La Paz for many if not most migrant families who later built adobe hovels on the steep slopes of the ravine and then in El Alto as the city climbed the walls of the chasm and, in recent years, spilled over onto the altiplano.
Hundreds of thousands of peasant migrants have followed the same settlement pattern. They have followed each other in increasingly large waves with each successive construction boom. Each boom has been financed by a foreign exchange bonanza - at the beginning of the century; during the late 1930s and World War II; during the Korean War; in the years after the 1952 Revolution when entire residential neighborhoods, such as Sopocachi and Miraflores, were built to accommodate the new leadership and officialdom of the ruling Movimento Nacionalista Revolucionário (MNR), and during the 1970s, when the financial impact of record export earnings was reinforced both by the hard currency income from the illegal drug trade and from an unprecedented wave of foreign borrowing. Each of these booms involved construction of big buildings downtown and thousands of adobe houses gradually covering the slopes of the ravine, leading finally to the rapid settlement of El Alto and, in the crisis of the early 1980s, the movement of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children into increasingly marginal economic activity.
6. Migration and Employment. Many observers agree that during the 1970s, and especially during the government of General Hugo Banzer (1971-78), migration to La Paz reached a new intensity. But the scale and quality of this migration has been measured systematically only very recently. In 1976-80, net migration averaged 16,520 annually, adding to the city's total population at a record yearly rate of 2.27%, against 9,982 migrants annually (1.46%) for 1965-75.29 Studies found the migrants heavily concentrated in the ages 10-24, with their high working and reproductive potential.30 By 1980, migrants were 40% of La Paz's inhabitants and 62.5% of its working population.31
The surge of migration during the 1970s may have accelerated a long-term rising trend during this century. In any event, it was closely associated with a foreign exchange bonanza during the Banzer period. Recorded exports of goods and services rose more than five-fold from $197 million in 1971 to a record $1.05 billion by 1980, not including receipts for illegal shipments in the coca-based drug trade. Meanwhile, foreign lending to Bolivia grew from an average of $ 69 million net in 1970-73 to $ 369 million in 1976-79.32 Expressing the widespread optimism of the time, London's Financial Times headlined a Bolivia survey (Feb. 8, 1977): "Not only has Bolivia emerged from a turbulent past into relative political stability, but also looks set for economic prosperity."
Earlier bursts of migration also seem to be associated with large foreign exchange inflows to the La Paz economy. The previous recorded peak migration rate (2.11%) was in 1950-52, the years of the Korean War boom in tin exports expansion.33 Prior to that, the biggest inflow of migrants was in the 1940s (1.95% yearly), responding to the World War II tin export expansion. Migration also may have responded periodically to aid inflows that artificially sustained Bolivia's import capacity by stabilizing both food supplies and the exchange rate of the peso. Looking back retrospectively in biographical interviews with 1,385 migrants, the authors of Chukiyawu found a notable intensification of movement of peasants into La Paz in 1957-61, the years in which foreign food and financial aid to Bolivia was consolidated.34
Another striking feature of this movement of people into La Paz in recent decades is their ethnic homogeneity. Most migrants come from birthplaces in the immediate altiplano hinterland of La Paz. Of 287,516 migrants sampled in 1980, two-thirds hailed from elsewhere in the Department of La Paz, mostly from the densely-populated neighboring provinces fronting on lake Titicaca.35 Not surprisingly, there is a heavy predominance of Aymara speakers, especially among women migrants above age 30.36 This cultural homogeneity is expressed in the popularity of Aymara-language radio broad-casts: five all-Aymara stations in La Paz and 10 others with both Aymara and Spanish programs, against only four all-Spanish stations.37
A kind of sociological mythology seems to have developed, in the light of these cultural affinities, about the strength of the links to their home communities. Only 1.5% said they returned occasionally for fiestas or vacations and 0.4% said they either sent or received money to their families back home. Another 51% said they returned at times to work in planting or harvesting. Although there are many associations in La Paz seeking to preserve and develop links between migrants and their provinces, towns and communities of origin, two-thirds of those interviewed said they were of little or no value in helping migrants.38 In an excellent University of La Paz thesis on the market district of El Gran Poder, Susana Donoso concluded:39
Studies realized among all migrants to La Paz show that 60% rarely return to their home communities, while 15% return periodically - say, once monthly. However, among migrants working in commerce, some 25% return periodically and as many as 4.6% return daily. Those who return daily live in the environs of La Paz and market their own farm products.
Interviewing in El Alto showed very scant linkages to home communities, even among market women, which potentially might be seen as a possible way out of the desperate plight of many migrants in the crisis of the early 1980s. Very few migrants indicated any possibility of returning to their birthplaces during an emergency. A typical explanation was given in a taped interview with Elena Huanca de Reloba, a 30 year old mother of four small children who sells in a slow-moving street market in the outlying El Alto barrio of Villa Brazil and lives in an adobe hovel nearby (see appendix).
According to a study of the self-employed in La Paz, known widely by the Spanish acronym TCP (Trabajadores de Cuenta Propria), the strategy’s aim is not profit nor accumulation nor self-improvement, but to "reproduce its labor force" by throwing more and more individuals into the fray. "The logic of family economic activity is oriented toward the maximum use of its labor force when possibilities for satisfaction of its needs descend to a critical level, " Roberto Casanovas and Silvia Pabón observe in another detailed study.40 “The 'subsistence rationale' of the TCP is found in its own organization and in the sub-remuneration of capital and family labor invested, contributing significantly to the cheapening of the goods and services that they produce or sell. The economic crisis and the absence of work opportunities in salaried employment have generated an increase in the growth rate of this sector."
As defined by Casanovas and Pabón, the informal sector of the urban labor force is composed of three elements: families (including unremunerated relatives), small businesses with salaried employees and domestic servants.41 The TCP are self-employed and their unpaid relatives. While the La Paz labor force grew at an annual rate of 4.7% between 1976 and 1983, the number of self-employed grew by 6% yearly and the family sector (self-employed plus unpaid relatives) by 7.7%, while the number of salaried workers grew by only 1.6%. During these seven years, the family sector's share of total employment grew from 29% to 34%. In those years, three-fourths of those joining the ranks of the self-employed were women. By 1983, 49% of all self-employed were women and 40% of these women were heads of households, expressing a dramatic aging and feminization of the self-employed workforce, with participation rates for both men and women peaking at a much later age (45-49) than in the whole city workforce (30-34). While popular belief held that TCP activity was a entry point for new migrants to La Paz, surveys have shown TCP instead to be a fast-growing residual labor pool expanded largely by the inflow of older workers expelled from the formal sector and by relatives (including children) of those already self-employed. With women assuming the role of main breadwinner in many families, some of them regularly beat their useless husbands, reversing the customary aggressive relationship.42 "This change of roles also seems to reflect increasing economic desperation. Casanovas and Pabón report that "inflation has caused an alarming shrinkage of the purchasing power of earnings. In 1980-83, the real income of TCP has fallen by 25%.”43 As of October 1983, when the financial contraction began to deepen critically, only 40% of all TCP families were earning at the minimum wage level, which is equal merely to minimum food subsistence for a family at heavily subsidized prices. In terms of individuals, 70% of TCP women and 42% of men were earning below the minimum wage. Nevertheless, income distribution among the self-employed seemed as badly skewed as in the economy as a whole, with the poorest 40% of the TCP earning only 12% of the sector's income distribution among the share of the most prosperous 20% was 57% of all TCP income. Despite these income differences, poverty is so inbred and concentrated geographically, with so little value added, that 60% of market sellers are located in the poorest zones of La Paz and 46% of all TCP sell mainly to the poor.44
How can so many survive on so little? This is a familiar and continually challenging question asked by students of poverty. In the context of today's inflationary shocks and production losses in Bolivia, meaningful answers to this question can be provided only by careful research that goes beyond the time horizon of the present study. However, to illustrate the range and depth of the daily struggles of these people, this investigator has added an appendix to the study containing edited translations of taped interviews with individuals and couples in El Alto engaged in different kinds of activity.
A special computer printout of the 1983 La Paz Permanent Household Survey, specific to the poorer villas of El Alto, indicated that only 21,125 (28%) of a male population of 75,662 sampled were linked to the formal economy through cajas or worker's social security funds. Of these, 9,586 (13%) were directly affiliated through their jobs and another 11,539 (15%) were dependent beneficiaries. Among 74,769 women sampled, only 776 (1%) were affiliated as workers to the cajas and another 18,444 (25%) received benefits as relatives of affiliated workers. These findings reflect the pronounced tendency of women in El Alto to work in the informal economy in a population with very high participation rates. Of 98,080 persons over age nine sampled, 48% said they were unemployed and another 3.7% were seeking work for the first time, adding up to a labor force of 51,938. Of those 47,226 who said they were working, 17,617% (37%) were occupied for less than 40 hours weekly and another 15,222 (32%) worked 50 hours or more. Of those working, 27% were market or street sellers and another 36% were artisans. Of the total, 42% were salaried by others, 41% were TCPs and only 3.5% employed other persons. In terms of job tenure, a disproportionate number of market and street sellers (33%) were engaged in their occupation for less than two years and another 32% for less than five years. Those with greater occupation stability (6-14 years) were highly concentrated (40%) among artisans.45
While the most visually spectacular economic activity of the poor takes place in the La Paz markets, the informal labor pool also generated 75% of all manufactures employment in the peak year of 1980. Although larger manufacturing firms since then have suffered a sharp contraction in output and employment, and total manufacturing employment in Bolivia fell by 38% in 1980-83, the number of people occupied in tiny TCP production units rose by 69%. Of all artisans, 83% work at home; of these, 54% use working space that also is family living space. According to Casanovas and Pabón, "only 38% of these TCP artisans use manual machinery and only another 12% use electric-powered machinery. The production processes are mainly manual and are done with tools that generally are obsolete....In the activities that use capital goods --tools, machinery or vehicles-- only 44% began work with new instruments; in many cases, they face constant repair and maintenance problems." This description is in harmony with Gideon Sjoberg's classic portrait of The Preindustrial City:"46
In medieval Europe and in other areas city dwellings often serve as workshops....Preindustrial cities depend for the production of goods and services upon animate (human or animal) sources of energy applied either directly or indirectly through such mechanical devices as hammers, pulleys and wheels. There is little fragmentation or specialization of work. The handicraftsman participates in nearly every phase of the manufacture of an article, often carrying out the work in his own home or in a small shop nearby....Most commercial activities, also, are conducted in preindustrial cities by individuals without a highly formalized organization; for example, the craftsman has frequently been responsible for the marketing of his own products.
In contrast to the sellers and craftsmen of preindustrial Europe and Japan, the TCP of El Alto are stunted in their economic experience by the lack of value-added, or creation of wealth, on a growing scale. Nevertheless, the numbers of TCP have been growing much faster than the preindustrial city of La Paz, which in recent years has lost much of its industrial facade with the closing of many factories in the shrinking of the formal economy.
While the stereotype of an industrial labor force evokes an image of masses of workers in large factories, the reality in Bolivia always has been that the total number of workers in these big units not only is small, but also forms a kind of hereditary labor nobility within which, by accepted custom and right, jobs are passed on from father to son. On the other hand, a large self-employed artisan workforce has deep roots in Bolivian economic culture. According to 1847 data, of some 180,000 urban inhabitants (8.4% of a national population of 2.1 million), there were some 20,000 artisans, whose numbers dwarfed all others segments of the economically-active urban population.47 "Artisan production aimed at satisfying the small demand of the centers was very sensitive to competition from imports", writes the Bolivian historian Antonio Mitre.”48 “The survival instinct of this group, composed largely of mestizos, will support the protectionist measures of the old regime. Despite their small numbers, the long guild tradition of the artisans and their urban location made them into a strategic force, easily mobilized in political revolts." Just as guilds were formed in early cities for such diverse occupations as servants, entertainers, beggars and thieves, sindicatos in La Paz represent market women, shoe-shiners, smugglers, watchmen and newspaper delivery boys.
This artisan tradition crystallized in colonial times, especially after the rapid decline of the Potosí mining economy in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Artisan activity and the mestizo population grew together, and were especially important in colonial La Paz and Cochabamba.49 With the decline of Potosí and the recovery of Indian population numbers from the demographic disaster caused by epidemics and forced labor in the mines, a landless floating population, not very different from today's, multiplied to become sharecroppers, artisans and petty traders. "The large number of Indians who engaged in long-distance trade in Upper Peru (Bolivia) was noted by the Audiencia in the early 1770s," wrote Brooke Larsen in a study of the late colonial economy.50 "It was believed that Indian traders and pack drivers from La Paz and La Plata carried rustic cloth, chuño (dehydrated potatoes) and wheat from the highlands near La Paz to the Pacific coastal port of Tacna where they exchanged it for cotton, olive oil, wine and aguardiente which they sold mainly in La Paz, Oruro and Potosí. Some was obviously exchanged for grain and flour in the western towns of Cochabamba. The Royal Exchequer was concerned about the growing number of Indian Trades because they rarely paid alcabalas (transit taxes).
Curiously, today's far-flung hormiga ("ant") contraband traffic of the poor people of the highlands not only replicates the movements of the floating Indian population of the late colonial period, but also roughly corresponds to the ancient trade routes of Tiahuanaco culture which reached eastward into the Amazon lowlands, southward into northwest Argentina and northern Chile, and northward along the Peruvian coast.51 Highland Indians long have had a stake in free trade; mestizo townsmen often have opted for protectionism. The Indian trade always has combined elements of pettiness and grandeur. On one hand, busloads of Aymara women travel from El Alto and other poor quarters of La Paz to the Peruvian barter cheap Bolivian bread or cooking oil, bought in La Paz at steeply subsidized prices, for Peruvian eggs, cheese, detergent soaps, canned sardines and factory-made clothes to be resold in the markets and streets of La Paz. Many Bolivians engage in the border trade not to resell but to meet personal needs, such as those of a shoeshiner's wife travelling to the border to buy cheaper and better Peruvian shoe polish for her husband's work. (See taped interviews with Juan Carlos Mamani Choque and his wife in the appendix.) Illiterate Aymara women show great sensitivity to fluctuations in exchange rates and to opportunities for commercial arbitrage between La Paz and border prices of different commodities.52 Cash transactions usually take place in Peruvian sols, but the value of the Bolivian peso has deteriorated so badly in recent years that most Bolivian traders now go to the border to sell but cannot buy. As a result of devaluation of its peso and the need of people to sell in order to survive, Bolivia is being depleted of a wide range of commodities, from gasoline to alpaca wool.
The grandeur of the contraband trade is displayed in the great Sunday market of the 16 de Julio in El Alto. While the weakness of the peso impedes Aymara women from buying at the Peruvian border, others are buying and selling feverishly. There are numerous special sections of the great market, offering goods ranging from farm animals and house pets to motor vehicles, auto parts and electrical domestic appliances. The geographical reach of this trade, mainly contraband, can be seen on a one meter-square sheet of plastic, spread out on the ground, where a vendor places for sale the following array of hardware tools and spare car parts: iron hinges from China: padlocks from Italy; tape measures from Taiwan and Mexico; wrenches from Brazil; sparkplugs from the United States; car batteries from Peru and screwdrivers from Mexico. The vendor of these goods is a 36 year-old tailor who came to La Paz 18 years ago from the region of Guaqui, along Lake Titicaca.
He started trading in hardware because his work as a tailor, which occupies much of his time during the week, cannot earn him enough money to support his wife and six children. The 120 vendors in the hardware and auto parts section of the 16 de Julio market have laid out their wares on the same street since 1983, at the height of the market's great expansion; they have formed their own sindicato and plan to join the national labor confederation, the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana). However, local residents recall that market activity on this spot has been taking place over the past four decades, since the days when El Alto consisted mainly of a rustic landing strip, a warehouse of the state oil company YPFB (Yacimentos Petroleros Fiscales Bolivianos) and a railroad station surrounded by market stalls, the huts of market women and the dormitories of railroad workers huddled together at a place called La Ceja, the edge of the precipice overlooking the basin cradling La Paz. Since then, El Alto has grown so much that the basic relationship between the city below and the fast-expanding urban agglomeration on the altiplano above the city has been undergoing extremely dynamic change.
7. The Growth of El Alto. The ruralization of La Paz, expressed in the growth of El Alto, was accelerated after the 1952 Bolivian Revolution. Haciendas became minifundia after being divided among resident peasant families in the agrarian reform decreed by the ruling Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR). Freed of semi-feudal obligations, peasants drifted into towns and cities as they increased their trading and artisan activities in response to improved transportation and to their inability to sustain large families on their tiny landholdings. During his first term in office (1956-60), President Hernan Siles Suazo gave free urban lots to MNR peasant militiamen in Villa Rosaspampa, an undeveloped area of El Alto along the precipice overlooking the bowl of La Paz. Other areas were given to members of the MNR-controlled police force, many of whom were recent peasant migrants.
El Alto is located at the crossroads of Bolivia. It is the main doorway to the outside world, through the international airport that bisects the adobe communities into El Alto Norte and El Alto Sur, and through the highways and railroads that climb the Andes from the Chilean port of Arica and the Peruvian port of Matarani, through which most of the ocean freight bound for the landlocked country is moved. El Alto also is the crossroads of different land routes to the interior of Bolivia: to the tropical valleys of the Yungas, to the distant lowland towns of Santa Cruz and the Beni, to the Quechua-speaking pockets around the cities of Cochabamba and Sucre, to the mines studded in the hidden folds of the mountains beyond the altiplano entrepot of Oruro, to the spent silver-tin mountain of Potosí and the dying city of the same name that struggles beside it for some modicum of survival. El Alto thus is located strategically as a distribution center that has assumed some of the economic functions of the capital in the basin below.
El Alto also is located strategically for political reasons. It stands at the gateway to La Paz, which has been blockaded in strikes and political protests several times during the 1980s. The first of these blockades took place in 1980 as part of a protest by residents of El Alto against a rise in bus fares. Since Bolivia has run through 189 governments in its 154 years of republican life, even more in number than the rivers and streams that cut through the fractured geology of the basin, these blockades have become more and more important to the outcome of political disturbances in the chasm below. Indeed; the political history of the basin has been as convulsive as its geologic history, with its succession of floods avalanches, volcanic eruptions and the damming and disappearance of lakes over hundreds of millions of years. Recently, the political convulsions have worried men most, hence the construction of a superhighway in the late 1970s between downtown La Paz and El Alto that would facilitate the quick movement of troops into the basin to relieve besieged governments, and the evacuation of large numbers of people from La Paz in the event of major disturbances. During the 16-day general strike in March 1985, the government dispatched troops to prevent blockades of El Alto and the roads approaching La Paz. The recurrent threat of blockades evoke folk memories among the elite of the two sieges of La Paz in the 1780s, lasting 109 and 75 days, by an army of Indians led by Julian Tupac Katari, in revolt against tax increases by the colonial authorities. The blockades of the 1980s have been organized mainly by the leaders of some 180 Juntas de Vecinos, who early in 1985 won an act of Congress making El Alto a separate municipality.
Before the 1952 agrarian reform, the 5,000 hectares of land in El Alto was owned mainly by Indian communities and by three families owning big haciendas. Some sons of these families studied architecture and engineering abroad and began subdividing the land for residential development during the early 1940s. The first buyers of these lots were mainly peasants in the part of El Alto north of the small airport that served La Paz, while land speculators concentrated their purchases south of the airport. Since much of the area of the big haciendas had been approved already for urban development, it was exempted from the agrarian reform. Speculators increased purchases of this land after the government in 1954 started expanding and improving the unpaved El Alto airport, operated by a U.S. airline (Panagra). This work went on for a decade. Meanwhile, land developers started promoting middle-class housing projects planned for the flat lands surrounding the enlarged airport, promising to provide buyers with water, electricity and sewage. However, these projects collapsed when it became clear that the developers had no way of financing these improvements. Much of the land had been assembled in purchase options from Indian communities, whose leaders then saw the advantages of going into land speculation and subdivision on their own. The constructed area of El Alto doubled between 1955 and 1962, and then doubled again by 1967. Meanwhile, a densification took place around the older market district of 16 de Julio, where conventillos appeared later to replicate the old market-conventillo symbiosis of downtown La Paz. The densification of a young adult population in the 16 de Julio district of El Alto generated fertility rates that were 50% higher than in the rest of La Paz and as high as in the rural areas of Bolivia.53
By the time El Alto was incorporated into the city limits of La Paz in 1968, a new breed of real estate developer-speculator appeared among the heads of Indian/peasant communities and sindicatos. These leaders sold large blocks of land to the numerous cajas (employees' pension-welfare funds) and sindicatos formed after the 1952 revolution, which were under pressure to make available cheap housing for their members. At that time, a large project of single-family houses, Ciudad Satelite, was built with Alliance for Progress support for families of lower-middle class workers in El Alto Sur.
During the Banzer period, while members of the white and mestizo elite were speculating in land and in construction of hotels and high-rise office and apartment towers along the "Miracle Mile" of downtown La Paz, even more fevered real estate trading was engaging the poorer classes of El Alto. In the mid-1970s, unimproved lots of glacial till in El Alto were changing hands in large blocks for as little as 1.50 pesos (six U.S. cents) per square meter, nearly as cheap as a small bread-roll sold at the steeply subsidized price of 1 peso each. At the retail level, individual 300 square-meter lots were selling for 3,000 pesos each (US$ 150), or US$ 0.40 per square-meter, to be paid in interest- free installments. These low prices stimulated a land rush in El Alto. The main market for these barren lots was among recent migrants struggling to free themselves of paying rents in conventillos of the colonial quarter and around the sprawling central markets of La Paz. During the boom years of the mid-1970s, whole Indian communities migrated to El Alto to occupy blocks of land acquired through the intermediation of peasant leaders turned real estate dealers. (For details, see appendix for taped interviews with Pio Tola, a former sindicato leader from the cold and barren Pacajes province of La Paz department, along the Chilean frontier, from which he brought entire communities to occupy house lots he sold them in a block of land called Villa Pacajes in El Alto. The mountain people of Pacajes, better educated as a whole than most altiplano Indians, display a vocation for public employment when they get to La Paz. For a portrait of a young man from Pacajes who rose swiftly in government service and fled to El Alto to escape life in a conventillo, see the taped interview with Severino Mamani, also in the appendix).54
In 1976 a major urban planning study by French consultants, financed by the World Bank, concluded that El Alto was virtually the only area into which La Paz still could expand, and urged creation of an industrial park in El Alto. These conclusions provided more stimulus for land speculation. Several manufacturing firms expressed interest in relocating from the crowded center of La Paz to the new industrial park. However, the plan collapsed when the city government was unable to expropriate the 250 hectares required for industrial park because it could not pay the $3 million selling price. Advised by skillful lawyers, the Indian communities owning the land argued that, under law, expropriation of property for use by third parties must be paid for at market value. In the event, seven factories moved to El Alto, but their hopes were disappointed both by the collapse of the boom of the 1970s and of prospects for exporting mining equipment to Bolivia’s Andean Pact neighbors.
Because land has been so easy for poor people to buy, widespread owner-occupancy in El Alto contrasts dramatically with the squatter invasion pattern of settlement that predominates in the periphery of many other Latin American cities. Apart from the freedom from paying rent, there are other advantages to living outside the chasm that cradles La Paz. There are no avalanches on the flat lands of El Alto like the ones which, during the rainy season, damage and destroy homes of the poor on the slopes of the basin of La Paz. While distances from work downtown is much greater, bus transportation is much better than from the slopes of the bowl, although recurrent bus strikes force workers in El Alto to walk as much as 10 kilometers to their job, which they do with resignation and persistence. The main disadvantage to living in El Alto is the lack of piped water, sewage and electricity, especially in the more recently-settled adobe villas. With a very small tax base, the La Paz municipal government has concentrated the bulk of public works spending in the more prosperous residential areas of the basin. During the MNR period (1952-64), special attention was given by city authorities to development of infrastructure in the new neighborhoods of Sopocachi and Miraflores, where the new official elite tended to settle. However, while the expansion of the city increased investment and maintenance expenses, it failed to enlarge the property tax base. In 1975, only 5% of city revenues came from property taxes, very low by Latin American standards, while half of its income came regressively from the poorest through sales taxes. In El Alto, taxes are paid on only 7,500 of 30,000 registered properties; many more lots are unregistered. Nevertheless, in the migration boom of the 1970s, this impoverished city government provided first jobs, mainly police and maintenance work, for many new arrivals to La Paz.
But the city's meager resources were not enough to make infrastructure investments in the marginal villas of El Alto, where the migrants increasingly settle. This forms part of the historic segregation of La Paz's population on racial and economic lines that has been the focus of repeated comment. In the late 1940s, Olen E. Leonard of the U.S. Department of Agriculture observed: " The Indian population is distributed in a manner that varies inversely with the density of the white population....Actually, the greatest concentrations of the Indian population are along the fringe of settlement just outside the city limits where they build their own inexpensive mud or adobe huts and are able to escape the burden of city taxation."
The greatest need of the new villas of El Alto is for piped water. Buying water from tank trucks that circulate in these adobe villas constitutes both a health hazard and economic hardship for poor people. Beneath the semi-desert terrain of the altiplano, there are abundant aquifers that feed some 185 rivers and streams flowing into the basin of La Paz. The government water authority (SAMAPA) has adequate reservoir storage facilities, but has not been able to build the infrastructure for delivery to most of El Alto. There is substantial pollution of aquifers, from factory wastes and human excrement, to depths up to 25 meters. Beyond that depth, the water is regarded as safe for drinking. Drilling wells from 25 to 70 meters deep is cheap. The cost of drilling and developing a well producing 4-6 liters per second of water for 10,000 families is $40,000, or only $ 4 per family. However, this expense, and that of buying and laying small distribution pipes, seems beyond the capital- formation capacities of either government agencies or neighborhood groups.
Two drilling units had been assigned to dig wells in El Alto, but one was out of commission for lack of imported drills and spare parts and the other could be used only for limited periods for the same reason. Only 3% of a group of poor families sampled in El Alto were linked to the municipal network of water, sewerage and electricity; in the same group, another 16% had water and electricity supplies, while 50% only had electricity. While 24% of all La Paz homes were supplies with piped water and 43% with sewage facilities, another study showed that only 8% of families in the 16 de Julio district of El Alto had piped water and 3% had either latrines or sewage facilities.
8. Hunger and Death. As a rule, births and deaths are not reported properly in El Alto, nor in the rest of Bolivia. It is both difficult and expensive for poor people to register their vital statistics. In 1978, USAID estimated that there were 51 clandestine cemeteries in La Paz. Since then, many others of have been created, especially in El Alto, the fastest- growing poor area of La Paz. However, while births and deaths go unrecorded, the processes of living and dying are perceived more readily. Earlier portions of this report have discussed movements and struggles for survival. Some individual experiences are related in taped interviews appearing in the appendix. In this section, an effort will be made to discuss the inadequacies.
This discussion is founded upon the assumption that food supplies for poor people in La Paz are far more abundant and reliable than in the surrounding countryside, which is a key motive of urbanization. Because most migrants to La Paz come from a hinterland of food scarcity, they can survive on less food than those raised in a more abundant environment. Hence the robustness of their survival struggle in what is, by urban standards, an of increasingly acute scarcity. The robustness of the survivors is partly a result of application of the law of survival of the fittest to their dead brothers and sisters, casualties of very high child death rates, with more than one death before age two for every five live births nationally: 1.5 times more than in El Salvador, 2.5 times more than in Costa Rica, 5 times more than in Argentina and 9 times more than in the United States. Maternal deaths in childbirth, 48 for each 10,000 live births, is one of the highest in the world. Between the Bolivian censuses of 1950 and 1976, only 6.2 years of life-expectancy was added to the population, against 12 years in Mexico, 11 in Peru and 10 each in Ecuador and Paraguay, leaving Bolivia with the lowest life-expectancy in Latin America (51 years in 1982). Mortality in cities like La Paz, Potosí and Oruro, as well as in the urban concentration of the Siglo XX-Catavi mining complex, is greater than in many rural areas of the altiplano. According to estimates based on samples, the highest child death rates (under age two) per 1,000 live births in the main cities of the altiplano are among TCPs (215) and among salaried workers in secondary cities (280). Nationwide, the highest child death rates are among monolingual Quechua-speakers on the altiplano (326-352) and in the valleys (338-344). These rates seem to drop sharply upon migration to the eastern lowlands, which have Bolivia's lowest infant mortality in both towns and cities.
To keep the robust survivors alive, especially in the main urban areas, basic foodstuffs and other necessities must be provided at very low prices, given the survivors' low economic productivity. In late 1984, when the black market dollar was priced at 15,000 pesos and the daily wage for unskilled laborers was 12,000 pesos, a 60-gram bread roll was selling for 70 pesos (0.5 U.S. cents), a liter of milk cost the equivalent of 5.7 U.S. pennies, a bus ride one penny, a liter of kerosene 1.6 pennies, 10 kilos of liquidified cooking gas four pennies, a kilogram of rice 13 cents and a pound of noodles 6.7 cents. Because the prices of these goods and services are matters of life and death, there is enormous political pressure to keep them as low as possible. To avoid losses, suppliers go on strike or withdraw goods from the market regularly to secure price increases. In early 1984, even USAID resorted to these tactics. It suspended deliveries of donated wheat and flour until retail prices of their products rose enough to cut the difference between domestic and border prices to reduce incentives for smuggling these donations out of the country. USAID officials estimated that from 20% to 30% of the 100,000 tons of title III wheat was smuggled out of the country in 1983 because of large price subsidies and because the radical devaluations of the Bolivian peso was not accompanied by adjustment of flour prices, stimulating export smugglers to cash in on border prices that were three or four times the subsidized domestic price.
Statistical values that reflect accurately the processes of living and diving are hard to obtain. Reporting by poor people of their incomes and daily diets are subject to considerable margins of error and distortion. Moreover, systematic measurements of body weight or food intake over time spans long enough to indicate trends in a significant sample of the poor population, young or old, appear to be nonexistent. To this investigator, survival remains a mystery that can be solved only by more detailed and systematic research in the future. However, there are scraps of evidence that can be put together usefully. Sketchy data collected in field interviews in E1 Alto indicate that the daily diet of poor people consists largely of potatoes, chuño, noodles, rice and bread. The usual beverages are tea and a kind of "coffee-tea" (mate-cafe) made from husks of coffee beans, sold at very low prices in street markets, which is a stimulant with low nutritive value. Consumption of protein seems highly income-elastic, varying with the daily cash-flow of each household.
Protein is consumed mainly in the form of ispis (small fish from Lake Titicaca), charqui (dried, salted beef), a soup bone or a bouillon cube (price: two U.S. pennies each). The stable daily dish is a soup made of a combination of these of these protein and carbohydrate ingredients, and perhaps some vegetable greens if income allows. According to a survey conducted in E1 Alto Norte by the Consultora Boliviana sobre Reproducción Humana, 57% of families interviewed eat this basic diet and 43% eat an inferior diet with severe nutrition deficiency. Infants rely on mother's milk for their first two years of life and then switch to the family diet.
A new study of poor families in La Paz by the Foster Parents Plan (Plan de Padrinos) indicates that economic conditions have deteriorated for these families when compared with those of a similar group of families sampled in 1973. The share of food spending in family budgets rose from 55% to 71% between 1973 and 1983, while outlays for transportation grew from 5% to 16%. While education levels rose significantly for both fathers and mothers, the proportion of those engaged in unskilled work increased, as did the number of children per family, contradicting a broad assumption that lower fertility accompanies more education. While fertility in the city of La Paz remained fairly constant at 4.4 live births per mother in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it may be rising now because of the greater weight in the population of fast-growing areas like E1 Alto, heavily populated with migrants producing children closer to the higher rate (7.3) of the rural altiplano. At the same time, the child death rate (ages 0-5) in E1 Alto is nearly one in four live births, also closer to the prevailing rural pattern. In E1 Alto, according to the Foster Parents Plan study, 36% of all deaths under the age of one year came shortly after birth and another 22% were precipitated by malnutrition/diarrhea. Of those deaths between ages one and five, 32% were caused by malnutrition/ diarrhea and another 31% by scarlet fever. Mothers often feel more relieved than mournful at the death of a sick child cause they no longer have to carry the burden of a child's illness in addition to their other difficulties. Many infant and maternal deaths come from poorly attended childbirths. According to the study by the Consultora Boliviana sobre Reproducción Humana, 62% of all births are assisted by family and friends, 18% by professional midwives and 19% by doctors. The usual procedure is as follows: "When problems arise in the birth from dangerous positioning of the fetus, the mother is seated over a smoking incense-burner or is made to blow into a bottle. If the fetus does not then move into a correct position, they place the mother on a blanket and throw her into the air until the fetus moves. In our research, we found that 16% of women with problems in childbirths had followed this custom. Another 49% take special mates (teas). Only 34% go to a hospital. Of these, many mothers go to hospital only when their relatives or midwife have given up on them." A 1983 government study, financed by the World Bank, found 57% of 16,034 children sampled in E1 Alto Norte normally nourished, another 28% raising "suspicion of the beginnings of malnutrition, " and 14% with signs of severe malnutrition. In this sample, severe malnutrition was most apparent among children in their third and fifth year of life, although early signs of deficiency were apparent in 38% of the infants under one year.
Malnutrition also was more severe in households headed by women. Among 805 children examined by the Foster Parents Plan in El Alto in January-February 1984, 54% were found to be normally nourished, according to ageweight charts, while 38% showed beginnings of malnutrition and 7.7% were severely malnourished. While these casualty rates may be high by international standards, they do not seem to threaten the survival of the community. The community's survival is a separate issue that will be discussed in the final sections of this report.