Bolivian Prostitutes Protest by sewing lips together

Dear all,

I think we should do something to support the women in Bolivia who have sewn their lips together in protest of losing their livelihoods. (Please see story with links below.) Antiprincess posted a note about this on the thread on the rape/robery case. (Thanks!)

I couldn’t find contact info for El Alto- the city where this is taking place- but I did find an email address on the govt. website. Can you copy the letter below and paste it into a new email inserting your location, organization and name (whichever you want to use!), and send it to this email address? I think if we bombard the email address it will at least make them pay some attention to this situation!

I found this email address for the national govt. of Bolivia:

contacto@adsib.gob.bo

So here is a basic form letter (Can anyone translate this into Spanish?):

——————————————–

Dear Government of Bolivia,

The news about the prostitutes in El Alto who sewed their lips together in protest of the destruction of their livelihoods has made it around the globe. As a sex workers rights advocate in ______, I am appalled that the government of El Alto doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help these women regain their livelihoods.

We are confident that you are as concerned about this as we are. Please write back to me and tell me how the government of Bolivia plans to help these women and their families.

Sincerely,

(enter your name here)

————————————–

Story:

October 25, 2007

World Briefing | The Americas

Bolivia: Prostitutes Sew Lips Together in Protest

Prostitutes in El Alto, outside La Paz, sewed their lips together as part of a hunger strike to demand that the mayor reopen brothels and bars he ordered closed after residents fed up with under-age drinking stormed the red-light district last week. ”We are fighting for the right to work,” Lily Cortez, leader of the Alto Association of Nighttime Workers, said on local television. Prostitution in Bolivia is legal. She was surrounded by about 10 prostitutes who had sewn their lips together with thread. Some 30 other women were shown fasting inside a medical clinic nearby. The leaders of an association representing bars, restaurants and karaoke establishments were also on a hunger strike, as were student activists who want the bars and brothels to stay shut.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/25/world/americas/25briefs-prostitutes.html?ex=1350964800&en=085abc50114bb08a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Link to photos of healthcenter protest:

http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/events/wl/102507boliviabrothel/im:/071022/ids_photos_wl/r1621900972.jpg;_ylt=AkI42RjPnoboYBqwVqtQ8MCaK8MA

Yay! Thanks to someone on a listserve I sent it to, we have a Spanish translation of the letter:

A quien corresponda:

Dirigo esta carta al gobierno de Bolivia con la intencion de ser presente nuestra preoccupacion acerca de la situacion actual de las trabajadoras sexuales en El Alto.

Las noticias de la huelga de hambre de las trabajadoras sexuales, y la destruccion de sus vidas, en El Alto ya han llegado a todos partes del mundo. Por mi parte, como una aliada de las trabajadoras sexuales en [insert coutry or organization here], estoy gravamente preocupada ante la actuacion del gobierno de El Alto que no esta haciendo nada para ayudar a esas mujeres protejer sus vidas.

Tengo confianza en que Ustedes estan al corriente de esta situacion de la misma manera que nosotras lo estamos en los EEUU. Por favor, mandenos una carta para decirnos como el gobierno de Bolivia va a trabajar y planear como ayudar a esas mujeres y sus familias.

Atentamente,

[insert your name here]

11 Responses

  1. If there is still need over the weekend for spanish translation I can ask Beatriz. She will be home from the hospital by then. Beatriz is SWOP East’s Chilean member. She had a baby girl tuesday named Sofia! But if she has time and is up to it I’m sure she could translate this in a few minutes.

    If we want to personalize it to the President of Bolivia his name is Evo Morales.

  2. congrats to Beatriz!

    so, if prostitution is legal, why all the fuss against the sex workers themselves?

    it sounds like they’re being unfairly blamed for problems that don’t really have anything to do with them.

    is there some issue unique to Bolivian society and culture that I (the Privileged American White Lady) am completely missing, in my appalling ignorance?

    as I said ’round my way in the comments – it seems like a strong, authentic pro-sexworker statement. have you heard/read any anti-sexworker opinions on the subject?

  3. I would have to ask Beatriz about this specific topic about Bolivia. I’m literate in some Bolivian politics, Bolivian history but not specifically on sex worker rights issues there. It is a very impoverished country that recently elected a fiery populist/socialist who is nationalizing their huge natural gas resources and tin, which hopefully we will be good. Their President Evo Morales is very good at pissing off President Bush which makes me happy. He gave Condi a guitar type instrument which turned out to be made of some form of the Coca leaf when both attended Chilean President Michele Bachelet’s Inauguration. Which legally Condi couldn’t bring into the US but couldn’t reject out of diplomatic courtesy. The pic of an advisor explaining to her what it was made of with Chavez smiling in back of her knowing what he had just done amused the shit out of me.

    If I had to guess based on my knowledge of Latin America having been to various countries there quite a few times I would guess it is that it is a heavily Catholic country that is deeply conservative in some ways and with that comes the anti sex worker thing even though it is legal. The infastructure of Bolivia is much weaker than Chile or Argentina in virtually all aspects including their legal and legislative systems.

    In Chile sex work is legal in the whole country except the Santiago suburb of Las Condes. Which is the affluent are where all the five star hotels are for foreigners. Sex work is pretty much open in Chile and garners little more than a shrug from most people. Their outreach has been crippled by the USaid anti prostitution oath, anti trafficking efforts, which hopefully very soon SWOP East’s project to assist sex workers in Chile called Pledging Action, http://www.pledgingaction.wordpress.com will launch. We are ready now to accept condoms and donations to cover shipping. Beatriz will be home tomorrow but will probably need a time to rest and adjust to having a new born adding to her family. But she is super fluent in both english and spanish so translating this is probably a 10 minute effort for her. I may be able to get it done with her via a phone call later in the weekend. I can take a shot at it and have her correct the mistakes too.

    Anyway that’s my Latin American update

  4. Please see Spanish translation above. We were very fortunate to have received a translation from someone on the DA listserve! Thanks!

  5. Here is a news story with a disturbing video:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/18/2062901.htm

    The two most galling things about it are how the police merely stand by and let this happen, and how the story clearly sympathizes more with the mob than with those whose lives are being destroyed by it.

  6. Letters of support can be sent to: onaem.chuquisaca@gmail.com

    ONAEM is the national sex worker organization in Bolivia. It stands for National Organization for the Emancipation of Women in a State of Prostitution

    Yuly Perez is the Vice-President and she checks the email above. They need support right now and would love to hear from sex workers around the world who are supporting them.

  7. Are there any updates? I did a quick search on Google News and found nothing new.

  8. Just a couple of quick responses to the posts above. I worked with the sex workers union in Bolivia last year (however, mostly in Cochabamba; though I know many of the women in El Alto) and know leaders like Yuly quite well, so maybe I can clear a few things up.

    One thing to note is that while prostitution in Bolivia is often referred to in the news as “legal,” it would probably be more accurate to say that it is “not illegal.” Sex work is legislated under “La ley general de trabajo” (the general work law) meaning that it is recognized as a way to earn income, and all general working laws like holidays and number of hours before overpay, etc apply. However, there are still no regulations regarding the actual work, no explicit mention of the conditions of sex work. Considering the irregularity of hours, etc., that often come with street work, the inclusion of sex work under this law has little to no effect.

    The only major change is that women are required to go to regular health checks (even though this came under a later, separate provision), which in and of themselves have been highly controversial as doctors in many of the provinces have been lead instigators of abuse. One of the issues that many sex workers bring up is that before, while prostitution was explicitly illegal, they could at least pay off local police and in return receive their protection. These days, as it is not illegal, the result is that there is often no protection whatsoever. And instead women may receive fines for missing a medical check up (which they must pay for out of their own pockets, not the state).

    While Catholicism plays a role in the anti-prostitution sentiment in Bolivia, I would not regard it as the most potent factor. For one, Catholicism is not as prominent in Bolivia as it is in most other South American countries. Bolivia has the largest indigenous population of anywhere else on the continent and many of the religious and spiritual traditions derive more from that thread. Secondly, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America; El Alto is one of the (if not the) poorest cities in the country. El Alto is located 4150 meters above sea level (nearing in on 15000 feet) and conditions throughout the city are extremely rough. The city is also compared to the ghetto, known throughout the country for its gangs and murders. Simultaneously it has been the site of some of the largest social organizing in the last ten years. I think it is at the intersection of these two factors leads to some of the greatest contestation of the brothels.

    Tourism has long been a reason why the government or local business owners have protested the sex industry in Bolivia. It was through a fight against the closure of brothels in Cochabamba for tourism that the sex workers’ movement began and has continued in this fashion for the last ten years. Last year, hundreds of workers were put on the streets in Potosi for much of the same reason, and at that time we created road blocks between major cities, citing both the displacement of workers from their homes and the health risks ensued by making women clandestine in the streets. The current situation in El Alto is in many ways an extension of this trend. Many people throughout the country are fighting for survival, especially in El Alto. Sex workers (as in most places) often become a trope of the problems that the community faces.

    The good news is that many labour organizers in the country have been close allies to the sex workers; and labour organizing has a rich history in Bolivia. Last year, attempts were made to get a presidential decree for labour rights for sex workers; unfortunately, however, the decree was never finished as there was too much division among the different sectors of the sex industry (outdoor/indoor, young/old, female/male/trans) with regards to what their demands were.

    Anyway, that is all I have for now.

  9. Alex, this is great info, SWOP East is working on a project with sex workers in Chile, I would love to talk with you.

    can you contact me swopeastnc@gmail.com

    our blog for this project is http://www.pledgingaction.wordpress.com

    Amanda Brooks, Beatriz Mercado and I are working with to launch this project, if successful we would like to expand other countries, Bolivia being one that has been discussed.

    Your input would be so appreciated

    Jill Brenneman

  10. I am all about putting the body on the line for politics. I’d love to do a solidarity action here in the US. We could sew our lips together (either set) or sew signs to our bodies in support of the Bolivian prostitutes. Images are power. Who’s in?

    thinking of you.
    Surgeon

  11. Surgeon,

    I would be willing. My aunt and uncle and one of my cousins live in Bolivia. I am going to try and get in touch with them this week to see what they’ve heard about this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 819 other followers

%d bloggers like this: