Bonnie and Clyde, Bolivia-Style

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Álvaro García Linera left his native Bolivia in the early 1980s to study mathematics at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, where he met a young Mexican woman named Raquel Gutiérrez. They fell in love — with each other and Marxism — and through math and romance discovered they shared something else that would change their lives: a desire to join Bolivia’s indigenous revolutionary movement.

García Linera is now the right-hand man to Evo Morales — set to become Latin America’s longest-serving democratically elected president. After two decades of revolutionary struggle, jail and torture, García Linera may now have less idealistic views. But they’ve helped guide Bolivia’s transformation under Morales’ presidency. Continue reading on OZY…

photo: www.ozy.com

Prog rocks Los Andes

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What do you get when you mix Andean riffs, rock ’n’ roll and a coup d’état? Los Jaivas, a globe-trotting folk group that fled the bloody, political turmoil of Chile in the ’70s only to eventually come back and redefine the meaning of progressive rock. The group married traditional Andean folk with symphonic rock so seamlessly that world-famous poet Pablo Neruda even lent them some lines from one of his epic poems for a song. Continue reading on OZY…

Benvenuto, Vino Naturale

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It was 2003, and a young Italian student named Arianna Occhipinti was growing frustrated with the man.

The machine she was raging against wasn’t a big, bad corporation. Sitting in a classroom at the University of Milan, learning the ins and outs of acid titration and yeast, she grew hungry — shall we say thirsty? — to disrupt the winemaking world. Her objection: the Francophile conformity adopted by so many enologists. She’d witnessed many winemakers adopt a factory-style production process geared toward reproducing safe, boring wines instead of going interesting or natural. “I couldn’t help think that young winemakers were being shaped with only one mindset,” she reflects. Continue reading on OZY…

Colombia’s Banana Massacre

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Killing in the name of business. It’s hard to imagine today that this could have been even momentarily something to pass without condemnation, but times have changed. On Dec. 6, 1928, Colombian soldiers shot to death banana workers on strike at the United Fruit Company. The U.S. government’s man in Bogotá, Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, sent a dispatch home a month later, informing Washington: “I have the honor to report … that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded one thousand.”

Moneymaking could now return to normal after the month-long strike. Back in the U.S., an aging and ailing Minor Cooper Keith, founder of the United Fruit Company, got the news. Years earlier, Keith had been a restless youngster from New York City who bailed on his private schooling, and at 17 tried his hand at cattle ranching in Texas. But Texas wasn’t big enough for young Keith. Two years after Texas, Keith’s uncle and brothers invited him to Costa Rica to build a railroad. Continue reading on OZY…

photo: Keystone-France/Getty

Building Billion-Dollar Businesses in Latin America

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Wenyi Cai goes to plop down in a chair in a cramped, bare-bones office with white walls, sticky notes and black scuff marks. I pin her at about 29, but to be polite, I pass over the question. Plus, she’s just jumped off a call with an investor that she admits was stressful. “Do you want this one?” I ask, hastily pushing the more comfy chair toward her. “No, it’s fine, whatever,” she shoots back. “Let’s do this. So, I’ve got like … what? Fifteen minutes.”

Cai, who is actually 30, is in a rush because she and her four other partners are out to build businesses through venture capital, but not Silicon Valley Cool. Her Colombia firm, Polymath Ventures, is all at the unglamorous end of the business, searching for ways to build scalable companies and services in underserved markets for Latin America’s emerging middle class. Continue reading on OZY…

photo credit: Juan Felipe Rubio

Healing Colombia’s Scars of War

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Eight years ago, around 1 in the morning, Colombian Edgar Bermudez woke to grenades raining down on him and his battalion. He and his men — on a mission to eradicate coca in the jungles of southwestern Colombia — had come under attack by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist rebel group at war with the Colombian state since 1964. Continue reading on Ozy…

Where Salsa, Jazz and Funk Collide

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The town of Timbiquí, the world Colombian singer Begner Vásquez grew up in, seemed more likely to deal him a fate of digging gold out of an illegal mine or send him into the crosshairs of his country’s armed conflict. But some things tilt history in your favor — like the record player Vásquez and his friends used to listen to in their small river town, a place tucked away and almost forgotten, a place buried in the thick jungle along Colombia’s Pacific coast. Population: 100. Continue reading on Ozy…