Wednesday, 23 January 2013

El Presidente - of what?

The troops are marching in time to the band’s snare drum roll, parading down from their barracks. Bayonets fixed, epaulettes bouncing, high knee stepping, their white dress gloves swinging from the elbow and waist.  Left turn, and a pass past a prancing, bronzed Simon Bolivar on top of his pedestal, counter marching in front of the stalls that have just provided my second breakfast. Something interesting might be happening, so we stop to watch. I’m tapped on the shoulder and a voice say it’s ‘el presidente’. Time to hang around. But which president?… of the miner’s co-operative, the Llama Herder’s Federation, the University Student‘s Union, or… Evo? 

There’s a mild degree of interest, delegations in their varied work uniforms, a yellow hard hat, a  bowler hat, a pinstripe suit, make their way up the steps of  the Casa de Gobierno. The upper echelons of the military  start to congregate, if the plates full of scrambled egg on their caps is an indication. A pair of stilt walkers parade a sail banner for the ‘child and adolescent workers of Potosí’, a feat the could become a circus act in the rising wind. Yet there seems no great anticipation in the general populace, the traders still trade saltiñas and deep fried buñuelos, salted banana chips and candy coated quinoa. The frantic spinning and clack-clacking of the table footballers and the kiss smooching students, are all oblivious to the flag waving and the precision counter marching. They stamp to a halt and a sabred officer struts along the platoons and dresses them of by the left. Along with their green uniforms, ancient muzzle loaders and bayonets polished, come their sergeants toting machine guns just in case.  Placards are handed round: protest or sycophant? Yet there’s no tear gas, no water-canon, no tyre burning, not  Argentina, so it can’t be a protest bust.

Slowly an accumulation of locals congregate, so it might be soon. Further delegations of civilian uniforms muster and enter. Everybody is facing the assumed direction of arrival - he’s going to come up the hill. The police link batons, whistles and sirens announce the arrival of the official car and it’s attendant flunkies, from the opposite direction. Out springs the black leather bomber jacketed Evo. He addresses his honour guard, accepts the plaudits of a few citizens and then enters the hall, leaving an ecstatic and disappointed newsman who’s been dancing up and down the town hall stairway, waiting for a few words with el Presidente.
Show over and the world reverts to normal. The traffic jam disentangles itself in a cloud of horns and fumes, and I’m left with a classic image. A heavily armed, khaki clad policeman slowly leads a grey headed Bolivina, no higher than his gun belt, a bowler hatted, bent-double, osteoporotic grandmother, shuffling through the melée.

The Navigator’s delighted, she can now add another serendipitous encounter, another world leader to her collections of minor royalty and pontiffs.