Article IV Report
Friday, November 25, 2005
IT BEGAN WITH a single reedy voice calling out an incomprehensible
refrain, some nasally phrase that would repeat all morning. Gabriel
opened his eyes. The day’s first light glowed pale at the edge of the curtains.
He’d requested an eighth-floor room hoping to avoid this. He
closed his eyes again, optimistically. Another voice — this one burpy,
froggish — joined in; this phrase was shorter. What could they be selling
at that hour? A third voice entered and they were a chorus singing
some garbled tune, a puzzle of phrases intoned with the distinctive eagerness
of street vendors across the world. Car horns added a percussive
layer. A policeman blew a whistle, hoping to introduce order, but
all he added was a shrill note. Still, the sound didn’t truly find its center
until the buses and micros joined in, shoving their way down the narrow
roads. Gabriel knew that the noise had reached its peak register then:
a din that would blast for sixteen hours. A symphony forever tuning up
before its concert — it brayed him awake, brayed him to sleep. It was
pure dissonance, but as he lay there he found that the anticipation of
future harmony was palpable.
Gabriel walked through to the bathroom, flipped on the light, and
observed himself, hair askew, eyes puffy with sleep. Puberty had hit
him young, at ten, but full-blown manhood seemed to be still in the
offing. In college, he’d tried to grow an I-don’t-care-about-all-that-shit
beard, but he’d ended up looking weird, and the truth — that he cared a
lot — became obvious because he wouldn’t stop talking about the beard,
so he had to give up and shave it off. Five years later, he was just as
willowy, but he’d cut away the profusion of black hair and was shaving
He brushed his teeth with bottled water and showered, making sure
not to let any of the water into his mouth. Typhoid, amoebas, hepatitis,
and dozens of other dangerous microbes swam in those pipes. The tap
water even smelled different: chalky, it seemed. The water was so hard
it swept the soap off his skin before he could lather up.
Back in his bedroom with a teeny white towel wrapped around his
waist, he slid open the curtains to see the crisp alpine light streaming
down on the chaos below.
The protests usually ended by lunchtime. If there was a march, it
finished in Plaza Murillo, in front of the presidential palace. It had been
this way since he arrived. The police stashed anti-riot gear in a dozen
ministerial buildings on or near the plaza. Tear gas drifted through La
Paz’s narrow streets like morning mist. When the gas seeped into Gabriel’s
room at Hotel Gloria, it felt like a cloud of cayenne had been
blown into his face. The first time this happened, he found that it took
hours to dissipate, so when it happened again today, he abandoned his
room. He took his laptop and went across the street to the Lookout, the
top-floor restaurant at Hotel Presidente, where he could write in peace
while his room aired out.
No sooner had he sat down at the bar of the Lookout and opened
his laptop than the bartender, Severo, told him that he’d already made
enough pisco sours to get all the journalists in La Paz drunk. Gabriel
smiled obligingly. It was ten in the morning and a few journalists were
already gathering in the booths, drinking pisco sours. This was the end
of the so-called Bolivian Gas War, and the fact that the war had been
little more than a protracted series of protests did nothing to diminish
the atmosphere of doomsday hedonism among the foreign press.
Severo had latched on to Gabriel, who was set apart from the others
by his youth, his ambiguous ethnicity, his fluency in Spanish, and, perhaps,
the fact that he was Fiona’s boy toy.
He and Fiona had first met a week before, when they both arrived
on that day’s American Airlines flight from Miami. They had stood next
to each other in line at the taxi stand, misty breath vanishing in gusts.
She introduced herself and suggested that they share a taxi if he was
headed downtown as well. They sat in the back seat of a cramped yellow
car, which zipped down the winding road to La Paz, its engine
emitting an ominous burning odor the whole way.
Later that day, Fiona had gone behind the bar at the Lookout to
show Severo how to make the best pisco sour in the world. “It’s all about
the quantity of egg white and the ratio of ice to liquid,” she explained,
delivering a tray of the cocktails to the table of journalists who were all
there to cover the presidential race. “I slipped a Rohypnol into yours,”
she said to Gabriel and winked, and maybe it was just his first two pisco
sours, but for a second he had felt as though he could fall in love with
someone like her.
Fiona’s pisco sours were such a hit with the journalists that apparently
Severo was now making them by the bucketful before his shift.
Gabriel wrote for fifteen minutes at the bar before Severo said,
“Where is your girl?”
“Fiona?” How generous of him to call Fiona a girl. Generous too, if in
a different way, to imply that she was Gabriel’s. “I’m going to meet her
Severo nodded. “Is she a good journalist?”
Gabriel said that she was great. He said that she seemed to get interviews
with whomever she wanted. Then he qualified this by explaining
that she worked for the Wall Street Journal.
“Your newspaper is not so big?”
Gabriel held up a pinkie finger to indicate the size, and Severo
laughed. “Actually,” Gabriel said, “I don’t even have a newspaper. I am
freelance.” He didn’t know the Spanish word for freelance so he just said
it in English.
Severo nodded, his eyebrows scrunched, and Gabriel could see that
he didn’t understand. It didn’t matter to Severo. He just wanted to know
whether he should be impressed. He just needed to know how to react.
Gabriel said, “Not that many people read what I write, but the ones
who do are big international investors.”
Severo seemed to appreciate that. “What do you say about us?”
Gabriel shrugged. “I try to be honest.”
“Don’t you think that things will get better?” Severo said. “I do.”
Gabriel grimaced. “I hope so.”
And Severo, who had seemed so blasé a few minutes before, so carefree,
stared at Gabriel, a plastic jar of pisco sour in his hand, and said,
“Please don’t write anything bad about us.” It was the most heartfelt
thing Gabriel had heard all week.
“I won’t,” Gabriel assured him. He made plenty of eye contact, to indicate
But as it happened, he was mid-draft in a brief stating that the Bolivian
government’s reluctance to publish their latest Article IV report
only reinforced his doubts about their future.
The Article IV report was a candid — and therefore highly classi-
fied — analysis of a country’s economy and problems, including a critical
assessment of its policies, written by the International Monetary
Fund. Gabriel had been trying to get his hands on a copy since he’d arrived.
Most countries published their Article IV reports, even if these
documents gave grim appraisals of the future. They published the reports
ostensibly in the interest of