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Film: Debt for Life - Bolivia 26/3/2013

Film: Debt for Life - Bolivia 26/3/2013

A screening of an ethnographic film (Spanish, with English subtitles) by Chuck Sturtevant, Bolivia-based anthropologist and documentary film-maker, and Daniela Ricco Quiroga, a Bolivian anthropologist. The screening (52 minutes) will be followed by responses from Dr. Sian Lazar (University of Cambridge) and Dr. Evan Killick (Sussex University), and a Q&A session with Chuck Sturtevant.

Charles Sturtevant (University of Manchester) Dr. Sian Lazar (University of Cambridge) Dr. Evan Killick (Sussex University)

This documentary explores many of the conflicts and tensions that arise at the point of contact between highland migrants and lowland indigenous peoples, focusing particularly on the system of debt peonage known locally as “habilito”. Habilito is used throughout the Bolivian lowlands, and much of the rest of the Amazon basin, to secure the labour of indigenous people. Timber merchants advance market goods to indigenous people at inflated prices, in exchange for tropical hardwood and other forest products. When it comes time to settle accounts, the indebted person almost always finds that the wood he has cut doesn't fulfil his debt obligation, and he has to borrow more money to return to the forest to continue cutting.

This permanent cycle of debt permits actors from outside these indigenous communities to maintain control over the extraction of wood and provides them with a free source of labour in the exploitation of these resources. This system is practised especially in remote areas where systems of patronage have replaced the state, and where colonists with a market-based economic logic come into contact with Amazonian indigenous peoples who, historically, have not employed economic logics of saving or hording. The film is a thorough account of this system from testimonies of participants who are involved in it various all levels – indigenous people who are labouring under the system, merchants who lend money and goods in exchange for timber, government officials, NGO operators and indigenous political representatives.

Chuck Sturtevant is an ethnographic filmmaker who has lived and worked in Bolivia since 2005. His films, produced both independently and for Bolivian NGOs, deal with labour practices, economic conditions and indigenous rights. He is currently pursuing an MPhil in Ethnographic Documentary at the University of Manchester. Daniela Ricco Quiroga is a Bolivian anthropologist who has worked for many years with indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Chaco and Amazon. She has worked on issues as diverse as medical practices, gender and economic production. Her research includes "Las Miradas de la Salud" (2010) and a number of consultancies for Bolivian NGOs.

For further information and to reserve a place, please contact Dr. Annabel Pinker (

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