The Holy Week that Wasn’t

Empty cathedralFor more than half a millennium Copacabana has drawn thousands of South American, especially Bolivian, Catholic pilgrims during Holy Week. They come to worship at the world-famous Cathedral, to seek blessings and favors from the Virgin of Copacabana, and to climb Calvario – some on their knees – praying at the Stations of the Cross on the way up (more on this a bit later). Last year, our little village, population 8,000, hosted 40,000 pilgrims.

This year, no one came!

Blockades strangled Copa on both main roads leading from here north to Puno, Perú, and south to La Paz. Vendors, like our friend Teodora at left, who’d overstocked in anticipation of the usual mobs are glum or testy. For the past five days the municipality has mandated that all shops close in sympathy with the blockades. Though towards the end of the week, some vendors rebelled, either discreetly filling orders or inviting customers into their half-closed shops. Perishables, normally trucked in daily from La Paz, have been depleted; only rotting fruits and vegetables remain, sold by a handful of vendors who dare defy the obligatory strike. With virtually all restaurants and curb-side food vendors shuttered, the
normally docile street dogs are hungry and aggressive. The hotels, hostels and most tourist sites are empty. The Cathedral is gated and locked, something we’ve never seen.

The blockades were imposed by the provincial government. Participation, including ours, is mandatory (those who don’t attend will be fined 250 Bolivianos, about $36, or roughly two weeks’ average pay). On Wednesday, we and all the neighbors from our zona and the one next to ours were required to man two blockades on the La Paz road. Wednesday night about 1,000 protested at Copa’s main plaza. On Thursday, two other zonas staged a mandatory protest higher up the mountain road to La Paz. The town arranged for 12 buses to carry them up and back again, 7 hours later.

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