The Miami Herald
Sat, Feb. 07, 2004

Miniature goods carry big hopes

  Associated Press

  LA PAZ, Bolivia - Gladys Avila is an Aymara Indian who lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bolivia's capital.

  Despite the poverty of her daily life, she has just bought a brand new van. But it'll only be decorating her living room -- it's a miniature.

  Every winter, tens of thousands of people, most of them Aymaras, head to the two-week Alasitas Fair, a pre-Columbian tradition where people buy tiny replicas of things they would like to own. Vendors fill thousands of colored tents with little cars, houses, kitchen appliances, dollar bills and other items.

  With miniatures in hand, the hopeful also buy statues of Ekeko, the Aymara god of wealth. The tiny goods are taken home and hung around the neck of the dwarf, who Aymaras believe will bless them with better lives in the coming year.

  People also get their purchases blessed by a yatiri, a traditional Aymara priest, in hopes their dreams will get a further boost.

  For most Bolivians, though, it's a tough time for dreams. South America's poorest nation is suffering its worst economic slump in a decade, and 70 percent of its 8.8 million people live on less than $2 a day.

  In October, unrest over the hard times forced President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to resign after a little more than a year in office.

  When his successor, President Carlos Mesa, attended this year's Alasitas Fair, artisans handed him ersatz cash to help with the government's budget deficit.