Year of the car

In the time since we last visited Bolivia, several of Yoli’s family members have bought cars and started driving. This is of course a big deal for them. In fact, they offered to let me drive if I wanted, but I continue to be dead-set against driving here. Our friend Corina has been struck in two different accidents in just the past couple months, and the first one got her into trouble because she had no friendly witnesses who could back her up against the accusations of the driver who truly caused the accident. And in Bolivia, you essentially start out guilty until proven innocent.

Santa Cruz is not unlike other parts of the developing world such as India or China, which are seeing huge growth in personal automobile ownership. This is one reason the price of gas is going up everywhere.

That is, everywhere the price of gas is not subsidized by the government. Bolivia is such a place.

I am not an economist and don’t have a full grasp of the situation. But for whatever reason, there are shortages of gasoline in Santa Cruz. Some blame it on the federal government under Evo Morales, who nationalized some of the petroleum companies. Others cite different reasons. Regardless, it’s often hard to get gas when you need it, and there can be long lines at the stations. This, despite the fact that almost all of Bolivia’s petroleum is extracted and refined in Santa Cruz.

It affected us somewhat today. My brother-in-law Boris was supposed to pick us up in his car and take us to the house of Yoli’s sister, Noemi, for Jadzia’s birthday party. At first he couldn’t find gas, and called to tell us we would need to make other arrangements. But later in the afternoon, just as we were trying to make those arrangements, he showed up. He had been able to find some gas somewhere.

Later in the evening, my father-in-law arrived. When an opportunity arose (we needed to buy hot dogs and buns), he asked me to come with him and my two brothers-in-law in his car for the errand. He was obviously very proud of it, and showed off its fancy CD player. He boasted of the selection of music he had, and insisted that my brother-in-law Juan play it very loud. Juan was driving, because though my father-in-law recently bought this car, he still hasn’t obtained a driver’s license.