Evo Morales Takes Reelection Bid To The Big Screen In An Ode To Bolivian Indians

A scene from Insurgentes
A scene from Insurgentes
Frédéric Faux

LA PAZ - Indigenous people armed with slings and wearing traditional ch'ullu headgear surround President Evo Morales. Soldiers pivot a cannon. A sergeant comes to present arms…

If the scene wasn't taking place on a red carpet in front of La Paz"s biggest mall, it would have been easy to mistake Bolivia for a country at war. But no, this is just an election campaign.

We are at the premiere of Insurgentes (The Insurgents), an activist film that follows two centuries of popular uprisings in Bolivia -- which Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, attended. After the screening, amid the costumed actors, he praised the work of art, which "reflects the struggles and sacrifices of our indigenous heroes." He himself is one of them, appearing twice on screen.

The presence of the president/actor isn't the only singularity of the docu-fiction. Insurgentes, which is financed by the government, is the largest Bolivian production ever made. The army lent troops for epic scenes with 400 extras. Jorge Sanjines, the country's most famous director, got down to the job with a clear political objective: "This movie reveals the part of Bolivian memory that was denied for 220 years, these heroes who disappeared from collective memories because they valued Indians. We selected characters, circumstances and moments that lit the way of change that we are now living today."

An ode to Bolivian history

Using these dramatized recreations, in which not a feather nor a cufflink is missing, Jorge Sanjines tells the stories of the siege of La Paz by Tupac Katari, the leader of Bolivia’s first indigenous rebellion against the Spanish Empire; the little-known Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay and the 1946 assassination of President Villarroel, who wanted to free Indians from slavery and ended up hung from a lamp-post. The magnificent Bolivian landscapes serve as backdrops, to the audience’s visible delight.

Sanjines's political message -- his voice tirelessly comments the action-- is more perplexing. Insurgentes is a "cinematographic hagiography," writes the daily newspaper La Razon. "Who could deny the exclusion that indigenous people have suffered? No one. But that is not enough to justify a Manichean discourse where all white people are incarnations of evil that live in luxury and all Indians are angels."

In a country as divided as Bolivia, which is governed by the continent's first indigenous president since 2006 -- Indians are a majority but whites hold all the economic power -- Insurgentes is not an innocent film. "It doesn't say anything about the violence of Indians who, for some, called to exterminate the white people," says journalist Javier Badani. "Ramiro Condarco, a historian, has well documented the period of terror on the altiplano, during which land owners were assassinated or thrown out of their homes.”

From rebel to propagandist

Jorge Sanjines doesn’t deny his leftist agenda. He is considered as one of Latin America’s greatest directors since the 1960s, and has made many films and documentaries whose titles alone are a reminder of his activism: The Courage of the People, which reenacts the massacre of miners by the Bolivian government or The Blood of the Condor, about the covert sterilization of Indian women by a Peace Corps clinic, are some examples. These stories were filmed under difficult conditions; not only did he have extremely limited resources, his films were banned by the right-wing regime, who forced him into years of exile.

"Our films were secretly distributed to workers and peasants," says Sanjines. "We were doing political films, with the goal of denouncing injustices. The radio and newspapers couldn’t talk about what was happening in the country, because we were under a dictatorship."

Today, everything has changed. Wine, cocktail snacks and a bevy of ministers: nothing was missing at the premiere of Insurgentes. Has Sanjines the militant rebel become the government’s official filmmaker? The movie's producer, Victoria Guerrero, doesn't think so: "He's remained very critical of the political change initiated in 2006. Besides, in the first scenario readings, President Evo Morales had a much bigger presence in the movie. Now, as you've seen, it's not the case anymore."

Evo Morales only appears furtively before the end credits -- but the scene is enlightening. It is set in 2006, the day of his inauguration. At the La Paz golf club, wealthy white people are in front of the television drinking cocktails, watching the new president with dismay as he announces the end of their world… The waiters, all Indians, have brazen smiles on their faces. There’s not doubt Insurgentes is here to write Bolivian history but also to prepare the next presidential elections and Evo Morales' reelection in 2014.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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