Bolivia's splitters

Evo Morales' opponents are pushing to break free of him and his pesky drive for a better deal for th

Bolivia’s white and near-white minority have been content to lord it over the Aymara and Quechua majority for nearly five centuries and see no reason to change.

And certainly not now, just when the money is beginning to flow in from oil and gas exports. Just when a traditionally bankrupt country has a balanced budget and a surplus on its foreign trade. Just when the Cruzeños, the respectable people in the self-regarding city of Santa Cruz, capital of the oil belt, are beginning to be able to afford their first Mercedes.

When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century in what is now Bolivia, they overthrew the native peoples and their Inca empire, enslaving not just the Aymaras and Quechuas but Guaraníes, Chiquitanos, Ayoreos, Baures, Canichanas and twenty other races.

Merely because a poor itinerant Aymara trumpeter like Morales got a thumping majority in the 2005 presidential election is, for them, no reason to weaken the established order. Good grief, no.

If the poor benighted cholos and collas – the Bolivian equivalents to words like 'niggers' and 'coons' - learn to read what will they not demand, say the Cruzeños and their allies?

Bolivia’s legitimate, president meanwhile presses on with the new constitution - fairer to the dispossessed majority and the indigenous peoples - that he was elected to enact.

The right-wing majority in the upper house of congress, sabotaged the drafting but, in the absence of the opposition, this was adopted last month.

Opposition leaders thereupon called for civil disobedience, challenging the government for control of the streets, airports and oil and gas fields.

For good measure they have brought back the red herring of transferring the government and parliament from the country’s largest conurbation, La Paz, to the small rural Sucre, seat of the supreme court and the Bolivia’s official capital. That sort of sabotage would equate to transferring Whitehall and the British parliament to Old Sarum or Thetford.

And the Cruzeños and their allies are not alone. The Bush government has been alert since before the presidential elections, worried by Morales’ refusal to accept the US line on the outlawing of coca bushes (he is against the production of cocaine but utterly refuses to outlaw the leaf whose mild narcotic effect has been a harmless comfort to the inhabitants of the High Andes for millennia before the Europeans arrived).

Washington also fears his relationship with Venezuela’s President Chávez and the Cubans whose provision of free basic health care and ophthalmic surgery has understandably been immensely popular in Bolivia.

Before Bolivians voted in 2005 the US ambassador in La Paz warned them that if they elected Morales they would lose Washington’s cash and goodwill. Last month the President had to warn the US envoy not to meddle again in Bolivia’s internal affairs.

Morales, who is challenging the opposition to overthrow him in a referendum, has called for a cooling off period over Christmas. He must meanwhile keep a sharp eye on some US troops stationed in Bolivia. But he can count on the EU and on the South American presidents who met last weekend in Buenos Aires and who are backing him against those who would bring him low.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State