The Price of Fire in Bolivia: Reflecting on the Journeys of a Book

On the travels of the the Spanish edition of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, from a coca leaf vendor in El Alto to a Bolivian dance party in Argentina.

Haga clic aquí para leer la introducción de El Precio del Fuego en Español.


This summer the Spanish edition of my book The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia was published by Haymarket Books as El Precio del Fuego: Las luchas por los recursos naturales y los movimientos sociales en Bolivia. The publishing of this edition of the book (with a new epilogue) in the US made me think about the long journeys the book has made since it was originally published in English by AK Press in March of 2007. Thanks to Haymarket Books, the Spanish version is available across the US, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2007, I reflected on the book tour for the initial English edition of the book, writing that I felt as though “I am in the back seat, and maybe the book is in the front, with its hands on the wheel, driving the car.” The Price of Fire has now taken on a new life in a new language, and in many ways the book is still in the driver’s seat.

When writing The Price of Fire in Bolivia, many friends and colleagues in the country urged me to make it available in Bolivia in Spanish. Doing so would hopefully contribute to the general political debate, and enable the book to be assessed and critiqued by the people and movements the book was about. I also felt obligated to share it with the people who I interviewed for the book.

After many meetings, phone conversations and email exchanges, the excellent journalist and translator Ruxandra Guidi translated the book into Spanish, and Plural Editores in Bolivia published it. I did presentations in Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay to promote and discuss it, lugging boxes and backpacks of it across borders and busy streets.

Some of the most satisfying moments in publishing and distributing the book in Spanish were handing over copies of El Precio del Fuego to people who were the main characters and personalities in the book. I passed off copies to coca farmer and union organizer Leonilda Zurita at a Cochabamba crossroads, and to the late hip hop artist Abraham Bojorquez in downtown La Paz. I was able to give copies to nearly everyone I interviewed for the book, as well as to organizations and movements I discussed in it. President Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia Linera have copies, as well as other indigenous, political and social leaders and activists across the country.

I presented El Precio del Fuego to a lively audience in La Paz, and Bolivian analyst, writer and former Movement Toward Socialism constituent assembly member, Raúl Prada introduced me to the crowd saying, “Benjamin has probably interviewed about half of Bolivia for this book.” While I interviewed much less than five million people (about half of the actual population), I did conduct dozens of interviews in an effort to breathe life into the book’s pages. In the presentation in La Paz, however, the tables were turned. Instead of me asking the questions, the audience was posing questions to me, largely about my opinion of the Morales administration.

Traditional Bolivian Dancers at Book Event in ArgentinaEl Precio del Fuego also drove me to Mendoza, Argentina, where 10% of the population is Bolivian. We set up a book event with Bolivians who organized a traditional dance performance and made delicious empanadas to go along with my presentation and slide show on the book and its focus. In Argentina, the discussion was dominated by a debate about the extent to which Morales was indeed leftist.

In the Paraguay of President Fernando Lugo, the soy boom and desperate campesinos, I shared the book with activists that kept comparing Bolivia to Paraguay. They often sadly noted how much more politically conscious and mobilized Bolivian activists were than much of the population in Paraguay.

And in El Alto, Bolivia I went to the center of the city and stopped by the coca vendor in front of the neighborhood assembly office, a place I had stopped before, during and after many rallies, interviews, protests, and meetings. I traded copies of the book for a large bag of coca, and the vendor said he would happily sell El Precio del Fuego at his stand.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in her book, Hope in the Dark, “Writing is a model for how indirect effect can be, how delayed, how invisible; no one is more hopeful than a writer, no one is a bigger gambler… You write books. You scatter seeds. Rats might eat them or they may rot…” As the book was scattered like seeds across South America (and perhaps eaten by rats and rotting in some places) I felt as though its journey was coming full circle. The Price of Fire had begun in the tear gas-filled days of 2003 during Bolivia’s Gas War, and the last person I handed the Spanish edition to in Bolivia was a coca vendor in El Alto, where the Gas War reached a pivotal moment.

While I hauled copies of the book around the region, it was also distributed by a grassroots network of friends and activists in various countries. Linda Farthing, a long time writer on Bolivian politics and history (and the co-author, with Benjamin Kohl, of Impasse in Bolivia), initiated and coordinated the distribution of many copies of El Precio del Fuego along with a new book in Spanish entitled Minero con poder de dinamita: La vida de un activista boliviano, published by Plural Editores and written by Feliciano Muruchi Poma, Kohl and Farthing. (This book will be available in English next year from the University of Texas Press with the title From the Mines to the Streets: A Bolivian Activist’s Life.)

These two books were sent to about 200 libraries, universities, social organizations, union offices and think tanks around Bolivia. Some of the trips the book made were by bus, plane, mail, and taxi. Many of the places it was delivered to put a stamp and signature from their organization or library on a piece of paper, officially noting the receipt of the book. When I received a copy of these documents in the mail, they seemed more like the stamp-covered pages of a passport for a book on the road.

El Precio del Fuego: Las luchas por los recursos naturales y los movimientos sociales en Bolivia is available from Haymarket Books.

Benjamin Dangl is also the author of the forthcoming book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press, 2010).