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The Cross of Bethlehem II

Census Day in Bolivia

"Walking around is forbidden!"
Bolivian Police



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Witches Market, La Paz

Witches Market, La Paz | Eerily empty during Census Day


At 7AM of November 21, 2012, a heavy metal door blocked my way out. The receptionist was asleep behind his desk. After waking him up, I asked to leave the guesthouse.

"You can't. You will be detained. There is a national census today. Walking around is prohibited." I have learned the hard way, not to trust Bolivians; thus, I insisted, The door was open and I walked out. The previous nights had been stormy; the surrounding mountains were snow white, the sky was unusually clear. It was a splendid day for a long walk.

While in Bolivia, I had witnessed two presidential elections and the embarrassing judicial ones (a first in human history and a complete failure of Evo Morales). During these events, there was a curfew on motorized vehicles; people opened food stalls on all main junctions, and spent the day eating and getting drunk. This time it was different. The streets were eerily empty. Even the ever present packs of wild dogs couldn't be seen.

San Francisco Esplanade

San Francisco Esplanade

Census Sign

Census Sign

I descended towards the city's main venue, several hundred feet below my location at the General Cemetery. Against all odds, I met not even one person along the way. Even the Witches Market was empty. Minutes later, I arrived at the San Francisco Church. There is a large esplanade in front of it, forming one of the city's main landmarks and central points. A large group of policemen was on the avenue in front of it. One of them approached me while saying "Do you have a Movement Permit?"

"No, why?"

"Today, between 12AM and 11:59PM, you can't walk around without one. Are you a foreigner?"


"Go back to your hotel and don't leave it." The other policemen had approached the scene and blocked my way forward.

I turned around and began climbing back. The area is a tourism center with many hotels and shops. All of them were hermetically closed. While passing in front of the Naira Hotel ("Naira" means "eye" in Aymara), its door was opened, and a guard went out. I seized the opportunity to break the line of sight between me and the policemen—who were still watching me—and entered the hotel's cafeteria. Except for me, there were no customers. They were happy to serve me a coffee while we all watched the local news on a large screen.

"It is forbidden for us to film the census," the anchor was saying. Images from houses of famous Bolivians were shown, but not even one image of the sad, desolated streets was added to the report. In the following minutes, I learned the state had mobilized 400,000 people to count the roughly 10 million Bolivians in the country. Counting only 25 people each, the process would take 24 hours. This was the perfect definition of "phlegmatic," and typically Bolivian. While pondering on this, I was shaken by strong knocks on the front door. A waiter opened it, first only a narrow slit, and then, after recognizing the people hitting on the door, it was opened to let them in. Three census-taking kids entered, and the hotel staff was called. They answered nervously, their eyes nailed to the floor.

I paid hurriedly, left, and moved upwards. Two blocks later, a couple of policemen approached me. "Do you have any ID?," the man asked while the woman put her hand on the weapon attached to her hip. I handed him my expired Bolivian ID. The Bolivian government refuses to give back my Israeli documents or to issue new local ones. Thus, I have been defined as a political prisoner of Bolivia.

"You can't be out. I must detain you," he said in a casual tone, while making no moves toward my imminent detention.

The Bolivian formula is clear. Seconds later he was my best friend, saying "Go back to the hotel, but avoid Tumusla Street. The check points are there, move leftwards," he finished pointing at Santa Cruz Street. That was the Witches Market corner I had photographed earlier.

Police and Friends

Police and Friends

He was right. In my slow way upwards, I met only single policemen. When alone, they don't approach people. Along the way, I met many teams of the census-taking kids. They knocked on doors that were worriedly opened by people who were obviously scared. American readers may chuckle at my descriptions; yet, Bolivia is a crime-oriented society. The robbing of houses is common; people never walk around with their keys, somebody is left to watch the property at all times. Letting in an unknown Bolivian is unthinkable. For this people, letting censors in, is like filling a form about what can be robbed from them the following day; answering the questions amounts to becoming collaborators of a crime. Grocery shops were closed. There was no food available. I found myself forced to fast; yet, it also meant that the usual harassment state-agents were not out. Happily, I kept climbing. Census Day in Bolivia.

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Poisoned by Bolivia
KIDNAPPED BY BOLIVIA!—I am being tortured by the Bolivian Government

I have been declared a Political Prisoner of Bolivia, a country which does not respect human life. I am held in Bolivia illegitimately, violently and against my will. I am violated daily; please make this public in any possible way. Before writing to me, please read 15-Day Execution Order and the Bolivia section of the website.

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All texts and background photo © Roi Tov 2004—2014 tovroy@aol.com

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