Issue - April 2010

April 2010


In this edition, Emma Pedersen puts down on paper her interview with the artist Alejandra Dorado; Husein Meghji gives an insight to his meeting with the past at the Museo Arqueológico; Ed young tells us about the history of aviation in Cochabamba; Paola Garcia Ovando invites us to visit the exhibition of the last two centuries Bolivian sculptors at the Cultural Center Simón I. Patiño ; and ultimately Walter Sánchez lets us know about the traditions and history revolving trees in more...

April 2010

Aviation in Cochabamba

Bolivian aviation was born in Cochabamba in 1925. Ed Young traces the history of flight in Bolivia from its humble origins to the present day, rendering homage to key individuals along the way.

Ed Young
Cochabamba- Bolivia

It is impossible to overstate the importance of aviation in the economic development of mountainous, land-locked Bolivia.One need only look at the fact that, before the pioneering airline Panagra created routes from South and Central America to North America in the 1930s, it took a truck about eighteen hours to transport goods from La Paz, Bolivia to Cuzco, Peru. The first flight between these two cities took roughly eighty minutes. There was no need to sell government and business leaders on the importance of such a breakthrough in transport efficiency, indeed, the clamor for flight facilities worldwide began not long after the Wright Brothers’ first ascent.

The story of aviation in Bolivia starts in Cochabamba in 1925 with the incorporation of LAB (Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano) by A. Guillermo Kyllman. The “Lloyd” in LAB is said to have been a reference to Lloyd’s of London (although there was no official connection), and was a word that conveyed a sense of safety in the perilous early days of trans-Andean flight. Kyllman, the Executive Vice President of LAB for many years, was a German national, as was General Manager and Chief Pilot Hermann Schroth. LAB’s first airplane was a Junkers F-13; when it took off from Cochabamba on September 23rd of that year, a new era in Bolivian history began.

That first airplane was a gift from the German community in La Paz, commemorating the centennial of Bolivian independence. With low cost, long term contracts from Condor Airlines, the Brazilian subsidiary of Deutsche Luftansa, that holding company was believed to have supplied equipment to LAB and thus held effective control of its operations.

LAB is second only to SCADTA - the Colombian subsidiary of Luftansa now known as Avianca - in the chronology of South American carriers. By the mid- 1930s, Luftansa was expanding operations throughout South America, subsidized in large part by the German government, whose goal appeared to be a network of airlines, reachable in Brazil from its bases in Africa, that could fly within range of the strategically vital Panama canal.

The president of Bolivia, GeneralEnrique Peñaranda, a strong supporter ofhemispheric solidarity, saw the urgent needto remove German nationals from controlof LAB. On May 15, 1941, he initiatedthe nationalization of LAB, a processthat was completed by mid-September ofthat year. Instead of a network of SouthAmerican airlines controlled by the Germangovernment, by the time Pearl Harbor wasattacked on December 7, 1941, there wereno German airlines flying anywhere inSouth America.

LAB, with its headquarters in Cochabamba, became, in effect, the national carrier of Bolivia, and, with its connection to the Panagra route system, had access to destinations spanning the globe. Panagra was contracted by the Bolivian government to administer LAB’s operations from 1941 to 1945; in September, 1949, LAB awarded a gold medal to Panagra in recognition of its services performed. During that time, Panagra built fourteen airports in Bolivia, and its freight planes handled such exotic cargo as a rare Bolivian armadillo, pink flamingos, chinchillas, angora rabbits, Bolivian mountain cats, lion cubs, seals, penguins, hunting dogs, baby chicks and uncounted numbers of domestic pets.

More importantly, as Bill Krusen noted in his book, “Flying the Andes,” Panagra became an important medical resource for Bolivia and Cochabamba in particular. For example, on June 6, 1950, a shipment of seventeen kilos of blood plasma arrived in Cochabamba, just two and one-half days after a Panagra plane picked it up in Houston, Texas. “This shipment was for medical research at the Foster-Wheeler Company in Cochabamba. Within a year Panagra aircraft would be flying in plasma, in iced containers, for relief of wounded victims of the revolution.”

“On May 16, 1962, in a repetition of rescuemissions of earlier years, a Panagra aircraftrushed a 100-pound shipment of Vitron-Cto Cochabamba, to help arrest an epidemicof hookworm infection among YucarareIndians. The Vitron-C was a specifictreatment for the anemia that accompaniessuch infections,” Krusen wrote.

The airline industry has been beset by tremendous economic pressures over the last 30 years, and LAB has shown great flexibility adapting to the turbulent international economy. Although it had to suspend operations in 2007 for several years, it now faces unique competition from Boliviana de Aviacion, controlled by the Bolivian government, by partnering with Aerosur to once again offer international destinations to its customers.

Most of LAB’s jet fleet is maintained in Cochabamba, where its hangers are visible directly adjacent to Jorge Wilsterman Airport. Jorge Wilstermann was Bolivia’s first commercial aviator; when he died, Walter Lemm, his boss at LAB, requested that Cochabamba’s airport be re-named in his honor, as well as the local futbol team (a team started by workers for LAB), which now competes under the name Wilstermann.

The heroic work of these early pilots and crew members, flying rescue missions at great personal risk in the wake of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, should not be forgotten by a generation used to almost seamless air travel. With safe air travel almost taken for granted these days, it is appropriate to remember the steadfast aviators, flying unpressurized planes over some of the world’s most treacherous terrain, who made safety a tradition and a routine. Something to think about the next time you fly out of Jorge Wilstermann

Bolivia: Los Caminos de la Escultura

Sculptures call our attention for their size or the materials from which they are made, however we rarely have the chance to discover the true motivations of the artists. “Bolivia los Caminos de la Escultura” is a new project by the Simón I. Patiño Foundation to increase awareness about the artistic development of sculpture in Bolivia through a new publication and exhibition.

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