Issue - February 2010

February 2010


In this edition, Lena Midrez tells us about nutrition in Bolivia; Justin Gouin writes about Bolivian female migration looking for employment opportunities; Bolivia needs Ecological education; Walter Sánchez tells us about the history of transport in more...

February 2010

The Social Cost of Migrant Labour

Since the fall of the SovietUnion, the ever-increasingreach of globalization, alongwith resulting shifts in theindustrial composition ofeconomies around the world,has embedded migrantlabour as an internationalinstitution. With this hascome a complex matrixof social, economic, andlegal variables, all of whichintersect with one another innuanced and often invisibleways across borders.

Justin Gouin
Projects Abroad
Vancouver - Canada

Beginning in the early 2000s, the United Nations grew concerned with how to account for and protect the rights of these workers. According to their official estimates, as of 2003 there was between 185 and 192 million world’s population in transit for labour opportunities, that’s 3% of the world’s population. The obvious questions that are raised pertain to how to account for all of these diasporic workers, especially when many begin working illegally, how to determine the long-term implications of migration, and how to ensure that human rights violations do not become an endemic problem.

The socio-economic impulses that give origin to this phenomenon are immensely complex web of financial incentives, relative income and wealth disparities, and patterns of international trade. Considered in a purely social sense, however, the question of origins seems to take a backseat to that of the effects that are wrought on communities as a result of these emerging patterns.

With approximately 3 million Bolivians living in diaspora, migration has become a ubiquitous feature of social life in this country, changing both the economic composition of Bolivia’s economy as well as radically redefining the structure of the nuclear family. According to the work of sociologist Olivia Román Arnez, author of the study “Mientras No Estamos: Migración de Mujeres- Madres De Cochabamba a España”, and the Ciudadania research project, this trend of migration has taken on a very specific pattern in Cochabamba that sees a disproportionate number of Cochabamba’s women traveling especially to Spain.

Of those Bolivians traveling to Spain, 35.4% are from Cochabamba; further, of all those Cochabambinos who migrate 47% travel to Spain; and finally, of these Cochabambinos, nearly 60% are women. In general, 57.7% of Bolivia’s migration is that of women. The trend has incredibly interesting implications on a number of socioeconomic levels. Román explains that the Latin American family is traditionally defined by cohabitation between a heterosexual couple, their children, and, quite often, other members of the extended family, such as grandparents. This has begun to change quite dramatically, however, and she coins and uses the term the ‘transnational family’ to explain these recent shifts to family structure. As the majority of the migrants leaving Cochabamba are women, domestic roles have begun to shift in many Bolivian households as grandparents, aunts and uncle, siblings, and cousins—to name a few of the relationships—begin to take on the role of mothers and fathers.

With approximately 3 million Bolivians living in diaspora,migration has become a ubiquitous feature of social life in this country

While in some cases this has the effect of strengthening the bonds between family members and tying families closely together through this sort of dependency, there are other, more pernicious side effects. According to a different from source from San Simon University, who will remain unnamed, this shift in familial relations has been accompanied by, among other things, an increase in the amount of physical and sexual abuse to children. With social costs of this nature, it is impossible to tell at the moment exactly what the psychological impact that these unique household arrangements will have on generations of Bolivians, nor what their long-term impact will be to the Bolivian conception of home and family. Román comments on the issue in respect to human rights, “The paternal and maternal absences in households can have the implications of exposing young children to situations of violence, abandonment, and other infringements of their human rights.”

The trend becomes even more complex when considering the nuances of migration that differ between households. A notable instance, for example, is the tendency for the remittances from migration to be spent differently depending on the source and the recipients. Whereas on average men remit slightly less than 20% of their remit more than 50% of their salaries. Román further explain the implications of this phenomenon, “the money that women send is mainly invested in family wellbeing—on health education, the improvement and equipment of housing and social activities aimed at satisfying the necessity of recreation—this is unlike the money that is remitted by men, who invest more in productive enterprises. This difference in the destination of this money marks the difference between investment (male migration) and human development (female migration).”

Given the disproportionate amount of female migration from Cochabamba, the implications of this for the region and the city are fairly obviously: Cochabamba receives money that goes towards the improvement of lifestyle, rather than to the development of industry. Many of the new residences that are currently being built in the city are a testament to the influence that external capital has in the region.

If we consider just how large these remittances are, it is possible to conceptualize the impressive scale on which these remittances affect Bolivian life. The International Association of Monetary Transfer Networks claims that in 2008 nearly $1.1 billion USD was remitted to Bolivia in the form of direct money transfers. This astonishing rate of remittance is over twice the $507 million USD that entered Bolivia in the same year in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI). At this rate, remittances account for nearly 10% of Bolivia’s gross domestic product (GDP), and therefore a substantial portion of the country’s purchasing power.

this trend evidences a pattern that is developing of strange disparities in income distribution in the country. The effect of children growing up in either a single parent household or with no parents at all combined with the fact that many children end up having a good deal of spending money due to the amount that is sent home to them may be responsible for the fact that problems like drug abuse and alcoholism are becoming a more persistent problem amongst Bolivian youth than ever before. The human cost on the other of these remittances is equally staggering as the social impact that it has in Bolivia. For the women themselves, most are confined to working low paying jobs, generally doing domestic work, such as housekeeping or being a nanny for children. Román explains, “By offering them only house and care work, the insertion of southern female labour into markets for traditionally ‘feminine’ work in countries from the north reinforces the reproductive and domestic role of women in the labour force, and transfers this to global spaces. The difference is that this work is now paid, but it still fulfills the same function in the global economy in which women recreate the conditions of reproduction to provide workers to the market for production.”

The money that women send is mainly invested in family wellbeing

While migration during the late 20th century was largely to Argentina, Brazil, and the United States—and to Venezuela during the petroleum boom—Spain became a more sought after country beginning in 2004, when migration intensified. Both internal and external factors contribute to this increase. The political uncertainty that has recently become a fact of life in Bolivia has caused many to look elsewhere when contemplating the future. As well, the continued growth of Spain’s economy— until recently—following the adoption of the euro as a currency likely encouraged this migration.

Spain has been severely hurt by the global financial crisis, however, and the subsequent recession has left many without work or prospects for work in the near future. With this comes the concern that many of the migrants living in Spain at the moment will be faced with difficult decisions. Due to the fact that many work in low-paid employment, which are generally among the first jobs to be cut during difficult economic times, the unemployment rates for these workers will likely rise and the volume of their remittances will fall.

Speaking about Bolivians living in diaspora, she says, “Nostalgia is a strong element in identity construction, there is a necessity to find a meaningful community. Living in milieus generally hostile to the integration of immigrants despite migratory laws, and being the objects of social, racial, and cultural discrimination makes a person become nostalgic for one’s own.

This scale of this change and uncertainty, 7 Justin Gouin Projects Abroad Volunteer Vancouver - Canada combined with the reliance on low-wage labour and human sacrifice, has profound psychological implications for Bolivians, shifting the way that many conceive of Bolivian identity. In Román’s view, the definition of identity is both subjective and dynamic, but it is also in many ways the product of a historical moment and its context.

At the same time though, “the migrants that come back, you can appreciate certain ambiguity because they build links with the community in which they were living, and they develop a sort of identification through similar elements— food, music, spaces, and customs.” According to Román, identities begin to shift according to the spaces and context within which a person lives, changing in unpredictable patterns dependent on circumstance. For Bolivian culture, it remains to be seen just what effect migration will have, though change seems, at this point, to be all but inevitable.

Bolivia’s Ecological Indifference

Last December, the international community got together to find a solution to the XXIst century’s main issue: climate change. Unfortunately, the results of the summit were pitiful: no restrictive treaty was signed. The worst thing is that non members of the Kyoto Protocol have made promises, which will not be under any scrutiny, and therefore have little chance of being followed up.

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