While living in a machista country, these women are taking a stance and climbing ice cold mountains…in their skirts.
An indigenous group of women in Bolivia, known as “Cholitas,” are mostly recognized for their traditional attire, including round hats, large earrings, and colorful skirts. These women are sticking to their indigenous attire while they battle against gender roles of women in Bolivia.
What started off as a group of women who once worked as cooks in the mountains, then turned into a group of women who had a passion for mountain climbing. Leader of the mountain climbing Cholitas, Jimena Lidia Huayales, points out the criticism they’ve received such as, “How could a woman climb a mountain? That’s wrong!” Although mountain climbing is not under the expected criteria of what it means to be a “proper” Bolivian woman, being on top of a mountain is what makes them feel so free – above the world and above every oppressive inequality.
On the last day of 2019, Bolivian officials arrested a university student for creating a popular meme account that criticized the controversial change of government. Bolivia saw a change from long-beloved indigenous President Evo Morales to the self-declared Conservative Christian Interim President Jeanine Añez Chavez. The arrest of María Alejandra Salinas comes in the wake of rising concern of the stability of the democracy after military personnel violently ransacked President Morales’ home. Morales is currently living in exile in Mexico City, his new asylum home. Now, those who were concerned about the new right-wing government are troubled to learn of Salinas’s arrest in what they perceive as a violation of free speech. Salinas, herself, was worried before she was even arrested. She deactivated her account just days before her arrest for fear of her own personal safety after receiving numerous death and rape threats.
The new government actions are prompting civilian debate about whether it’s okay for the government to censor and arrest citizens for sharing differing political views.
María Alejandra Salinas ran the meme account Suchel, which reached over 10,000 followers until she shut it down.
A graduate student in feminist studies at La Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Salinas decided to join the mass protests after the forced resignation of former Bolivian President Morales. She protested in her own way by creating a digital meme account called Suchel that garnered 10,000 followers since Morales’ exile on Nov. 10. If you’re reading this, you probably already understand the art of the meme. Using humor to give cutting insight into political opinions, #Suchel became emblematic of an Internet subculture of Bolivia’s pro-Morales, pro-Indigenous movement.
The government’s move to arrest Salinas only seems to validate Suchel’s followers’ concerns: that the state is seeking to maintain its power by any means necessary, including violating free speech rights.
Others are celebrating the arrest of Salinas, calling her a “digital warrior” seeking to “destabilize the government of our President Jeanine Añez.”
A Facebook group called “¡El 21-F SE RESPETA!” that had reached an equal size to Suchel’s leftist group is celebrating her arrest. The right-ist group seems to also employ the same use of memes to spread their political ideology. Still, members are celebrating Salinas’s arrest, claiming that she “comes from a bourgeois family that enjoys the honey of capitalism and defends socialism.”
Meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) reported that a bot campaign was employed by far-right government factions to influence public opinion in their favor. The CIDH found that 68,000 fake accounts posted over 1 million tweets during a week-long period before, during, and after the coup. Suchel became one of the few authentic informative accounts that indigenous and liberal Bolivians could rely on.
“They say that I promote hate, indoctrinate people,” Salinas later wrote in a social media post. “This is just a page that doesn’t even reach 10 percent of the population in Bolivia. I have no power over people,” she added.
According to Salinas, four men physically assaulted her and threatened to rape her if she didn’t give them her phone password.
Four men who knew that Salinas was the Suchel administrator ganged up on her and physically held her down in front of two police officers. When she refused to give them her cell phone code, they attempted to rape her. Later, when she confronted the police officers who “did nothing,” they told her “it was my fault because I had not listened to them,” according to a shocking social media post in Spanish (pictured above). Salinas was already the victim of sexual assault and death threats and deserved protection rather than persecution. On Dec. 28, Salinas announced that she would be shutting down the Suchel accounts for fear of her and her family’s safety. “Due to the lack of guarantees, I decided today to close Suchel on Facebook, at least until I am sure that my life and that of my family is not at risk,” Salinas posted to Suchel, according to Pagina Siete. Three days later, she was arrested.
In a public statement in Spanish, CIDES demanded that “the corresponding authorities give the unrestricted respect for [Salinas’] rights during the legal process that is being carried out and taking into account the risks that due to the gender condition usually involve in these cases,” according to a local outlet.
Already, Suchel 2.0 accounts have popped up on several social media platforms.
The government’s attempt to control the online narrative of its administration’s rise to power and subsequent human rights violations appears to be unsustainable. While Salinas remains detained by authorities disdainful of her political views, Bolivians continue to raise their voices and seek community on and offline.
The general elections that took place in Bolivia on Oct. 20, 2019, will go down as a historic moment for the South American country that caused a significant shift for the government — and the movement isn’t over. For outsiders, it may seem as if the ramifications of the elections only affected Evo Morales, the ousted president who declared himself the leader once again for a fourth consecutive term. While Bolivian authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest, the former president, who is currently in Argentina, unrest continues to be felt, especially in Vinto, Bolivia. Warning, these images are graphic.
On Nov. 7, As a result of the fraudulent elections in Bolivia, anti-government protesters kidnapped Patricia Arce, the mayor of Vinto, Bolivia, and committed horrific crimes against her.
As supporters of Evo Morales and those against his political party took to the streets in protest of the elections, some took their anger even further by attacking Arce. We should note that Arce is a member of Morales’s political party. And, as a result of her political affiliation, anti-government protesters took her by force from her office.
She recounted the moment protesters accosted her at work. She knew the area was under attack and wanted to get away, but that is when protesters took her and doused her with red paint. They also cut off her hair and tried to rip off her clothes.
“When they arrived in Quillacollo, Arce was unrecognizable, her hair shorn, and reeking of gasoline and urine,” BuzzFeed reports. “Her assailants forced her to the ground; they ordered her to resign and speak critically of Morales as she looked into the collection of cellphones they had shoved in her face.”
Video footage shows Arce’s captors holding her down, and they made her sign a resignation letter.
“I’m not going to shut up,” Arce said in a video, the New York Times reports. “And if they want to kill me, may they kill me. For this process of change, I will give my life.”
Police eventually came to her rescue, but even as she recovered at a hospital, she was informed that she couldn’t remain there because her safety was at risk. She had to leave.
Yet still, through all of this chaos, Arce has returned to work despite some reports that she faked the entire assault.
In late November, Arce — wearing a blonde wig — gave a press conference. She commented on the accusation that she orchestrated her kidnapping and attack on the streets. She said she would have never done that and does not wish that upon anyone.
“I do not want any person, any woman to happen what happened to me, I think you have to set a precedent,” Arce said, according to Los Tiempos. “It’s shameful to think that someone would do this to herself,” she added. “I may have been orphaned at two, but I was raised with values and principles.”
Arce said she would continue her term, but it remains to be seen if she herself with be prosecuted because of a recent complaint filed against her. BuzzFeed reports that Arce is being accused of “separatism” and “improper use of public goods and services.” But for now, she remains in office even though she’s still recovering from her injuries.
“To have quit or to have kneeled down would have been a betrayal of all women,” she told the media news site.
While it remains to be seen what will come of Bolivia’s government, Morales still has strong allies in Bolivia along with Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Argentina President Alberto Fernández.
Lopez Obrador said that Bolivia officials need to back off and stop harassing Morales with threats and arrest warrants.
“The right of asylum must be guaranteed,” Lopez Obrador said, according to the New York Times. But Morales has already vowed to return to Bolivia and lead the country once again.