Potosi, Bolivia (Seige day four)
It's day 4 in the Big Brother house...
It is certainly starting to feel like that.
Early doors, I renegotiate the price of all of our hotel rooms with the boss. My reasoning is that with only one functioning bank machine in town and most of us hoarding what little cash we could access from our accounts, once all the Bolivianos are gone, they are gone, and we won't be able to pay up anyway. I mean, we could be staying at the Hotel California for weeks or even a couple of months. The hotel boss agrees to a 20% discount for the #Potosi7. Our amazing suite is now costing me a bit less than 20 quid per night, haha.
There are rumours all 'extranjeros' will be evacuated tomorrow in a one-hour window of opportunity during some protest that is due to take place.
There are no sounds of explosions until 10am. And more good news: those three crucifixions we heard about that put the fear of God into us, were self-imposed (in protest) rather than imposed! Those involved are said to be in decent health.
Andy, Christine and I are now busy speaking to anyone and everyone we can online, who might be able to help us in some way. We also plan to try our luck with the police and the unions today. I've also sent out an SOS to a couple of journalist mates – Mike and Rayyan - in the hope they can pull some strings with the UK press.
I must confess, I am worried about the health of our elderly American friends. They are in their mid-60s and both have apparently had cancer in the past as well as having dodgy tickers. Imagine the stress on their bodies up here at 14,000 feet! I know Steve is really concerned about Jennifer. Yes, Steve is a chilled ex-hippie, with a happy-go-lucky outlook on life, but he is 65 not 25 and he knows we are all in a tight spot here. The US Embassy has totally blanked him so he knows, as it stands, he is personally responsible for getting him and his missus out of here.
British Embassy: (14 July)
Thank you for your email. We would advise you to stay in Potosi for now. To leave, you would have to cross blockades and it is not even certain you will find transport. I spoke to our contacts in Potosi today and we understand most hotels and some restaurants are operating, but you may have to knock on the door and ask.We are closely monitoring the situation and working with other EU Embassies on how we can best support our citizens, especially if the situation continues or deteriorates. If our advice to British Nationals changes, we will update travel advice accordingly. Please do get in touch if you require support in getting medical attention for you or your partner.
Reply: (14 July)
I appreciate your rapid response to my email. I would like to update you with some information:
- tonight we have seen paramilitary men roaming the streets wearing balaclavas
- we went to a restaurant this evening as you suggested where we knocked on the door and were allowed in. Later in the evening, the owner switched off the lights and told us to hide on the floor as a group of men monitoring strike breakers came past. This was a very scary situation to be in and I would prefer to go without food, rather than go through this again.
- the Argentine press are now covering this story as up to 80 Argentine nationals are stuck in the city. Here are some links to the press coverage:
- it is clearly no longer safe enough to even contemplate walking out of the city as we had considered before
- we have seen a total of two police officers in three days.
- today for the first time locals were openly abusive towards us
- only pharmacies are open. Late at night, hole-in-the-wall shops open selling biscuits, eggs and beer but it no longer feels safe to venture out after 8pm.
- (name withheld), what happens if there are power cuts in the city? With paramilitaries roaming the streets by foot and motorbike, one can only assume, we would face an extremely dangerous situation.
I appreciate that problems persist in Bolivia on a weekly basis, but I suspect the British Embassy is underestimating the gravity of this situation. The Bolivian state has lost total control of the city of Potosi. Is there any dialogue about the possibility of evacuating all foreign nationals from Potosi?
My suggestion: dialogue with the strike leaders, the local municipality and the police about evacuating all foreign nationals in a bus convey escorted out of the city to Sucre by security forces. All foreign nationals are registered at local hotels so this could be coordinated without too many complications. I also suggest that bus companies are prevented from transporting unsuspecting foreign nationals from the cities of Uyuni and Sucre and dumped on the edge of the city as we were. It should also be agreed that no more foreign nationals be allowed into the city on foot through the barricades. Less foreigners have arrived today but to our knowledge at least five more got through and are now trapped here.
For your information, I have drafted a letter to the British press informing them of our dire situation. I am considering sending this out in the late afternoon today if I see no hope of our circumstances improving. In the space of a few hours, media interest in Argentina about the plight of their nationals here has gone from one story to dozens. It seems to me, those Argentines now have more chance of getting out of here because of this. I feel the same might happen if the British press take this story. I am going to bed now and will check my email account again tomorrow morning. Thanks once again for your rapid response to my first email. I dearly hope that we will find some hope of getting out of this frightening situation in the next 24 hours.
British Embassy (15 July):
Thank you for your information. Is there any update today on what you are seeing? The reports we have received from our contacts do not suggest the security of tourists is at risk but please send us further information if this is not your experience. We are in contact with the government, along with other Embassies, and pushing hard for them to come up for options to help tourists affected. We are not aware that more tourists are entering the city – is this still happening and how are they doing so? We are also gathering information about the number of British tourists affected. If you are aware of other British Nationals there could you encourage them to get in touch with us via this email address or by phone on (number withheld)
British Embassy (15 July) :
The Bolivian government are asking us for all your contact details , so that they can assist you and organise an evacuation. Please could you send us the details and ask any other British Nationals to do the same.
British Embassy (15 July) :
(name withheld) is the person in the government organising the evacuation. Could you please email him as they are trying to find out how many people need to leave.
Mike and Rayyan are in touch. There is potentially interest from the Times, Telegraph and the BBC.
Alexei is sick in his room. I am also starting to think Alexei has been putting on a bit of an act and that he is actually scared by our predicament. Don't get me wrong – this boy can look after himself - but with him trying to get help from the Russian embassy and getting blanked I sense he is a little worried about how the hell we are gonna get out of here safely.
The British Embassy advised me to come to the police station and meet the head of the police, Colonel Hinojosa, who is apparently making a list of all nationals to be evacuated. Once inside the station, it is quickly apparent that no such list exists. The colonel is nowhere to be seen. If my Spanish serves me correctly they seem to be suggesting he is busy having coffee somewhere else in town. It becomes apparent the police have no concrete plan and no lists but do suggest we speak with the people at Koala Hostel, who they say are trying to formulate an escape plan.
There is a press report that a French national has been attacked in Potosi.
For a couple of hours, the front doors of the hotel are locked and we are told we must stay indoors as nobody can guarantee our safety during the latest march. There are a lot of explosions in the streets. I don't even feel safe enough to stand on the hotel balcony in case someone lobs a dynamite stick our way.
A lady from the Times calls me and says she might cover the story, although she sounds disappointed when I tell her none of the foreigners in the city have been murdered. She says she will do her best to get something published but complains it is 'hard to get any space in the newspaper because it is all about the Greek Crisis at the moment'. 'Surely four lines about British nationals being forcefully trapped in a foreign city has some appeal for your readers?'I suggest. 'Ah, I am not sure. Everyone is focusing on Greece. Perhaps if things get more serious I can help you.'
Up at the COMCIPO offices there has been a big meeting of the unions and community leaders where, among many issues, the subject of the trapped foreigners was brought up. We arrive shortly after it finishes to find out where we stand. Stressed officials are handing out special vouchers that can be stuck in the front of cars to enable them to officially get past the blockades. They have nothing to offer us, they say. They are not willing to stick us in any of said cars to evacuate us.
Briefly, we speak to an affable Swiss couple, who came here in a camper van.
We continue to press our case with COMCIPO and after half an hour of various broken Spanish conversations we are told to follow one bloke to our hotel who will apparently lead us to an evacuation bus. Ive no confidence in any of this.
Walking back from the top of the old town, with its beautiful red-roofed houses that put one in mind of Romania, suddenly someone throws a brick through the window of a camper van (must belong to the Swiss) parked up in the street. Whoever did it, quickly disappears off down a side street, while locals call the police. At the same time we can hear the loud noise of a marching band nearby and the distant sounds of explosions.
Andy and I race back to the hostel and tell Jennifer, Steve, Alexei, Christine and Katya to pack so we can run for the 'evacuation bus'. But, hang on! The hotel staff are telling us we shouldn't trust the bloke who is offering to evacuate us and that we shouldn't go with him.
The seven of us deliberate about whether to go down to the alleged bus. I am against it. I don't believe any evacuation would be attempted just as it gets dark. Surely the bus would end up getting stoned? After discussing it we agree that it is better to sit tight and not risk the bus. The very fact that the hotel staff don't trust the bloke who is taking us is enough to put me off.
Very soon, news filters in that the evacuation has been botched. A crowd of youths surrounded the bus (which was full of Argentines) and the decision was made to not attempt to leave the city.
Email to British embassy:
can you please call the hotel? we have no credit/mobiles and internet keeps going down. the union evacuation seems to have gone wrong with youths near the buses waiting for people to leave for sucre. we have stayed in our hotel, it is the hotel you called earlier this week with the northern ireland couple
In the evening, we all decide to stay in the hotel and not venture out, as we don't feel safe. There is a sinister feel out on the streets today. All I've eaten today is jam and crackers and a bag of salted crisps.
The situation in Potosi has now become very worrisome. We are not sure we can trust those who are said to be organising the evacuation but, at the same time, Potosi suddenly feels genuinely dangerous. Do we try to stick or twist if another 'evacuation offer' presents itself tomorrow?