High within the Bolivian Altiplano, Challapata is the place the street from La Paz splits: one approach to Potosí and the opposite to Uyuni and the salt flats. It appears an unremarkable place; many vacationers steam by way of with out even realising. However Bolivians realize it to be dwelling to the nation’s largest contraband automobile truthful, a hub in a commerce community that reaches from Japan to the Bolivian Amazon.
Contraband automobiles – often called chutos – are nothing new in Bolivia. However these behind the enterprise have not too long ago acquired a recent burst of consideration, as a youthful era has taken to posting movies of their adrenaline-fueled border runs on Tiktok.
Efraín, 35, mentioned he began out as a chutero when he was 12. Within the ensuing years, the basics of the commerce have stayed the identical: second-hand automobiles from richer international locations, like Japan, are purchased and shipped to Iquique, a free port in Chile. From there – together with different automobiles stolen in Chile – they’re spirited throughout the lengthy desert border with Bolivia, utilizing clandestine paths to keep away from navy patrols.
“It’s very dangerous, but it surely’s worthwhile, too,” mentioned Efraín. “And it’s thrilling. It’s like participating within the Dakar Rally. At the very least I see it that approach, as a result of it’s a must to drive by way of the evening with no lights. That approach, the troopers don’t see you. You possibly can cross underneath their noses with out them realizing. However in case you flip the lights on, abruptly you see within the distance, one, three, 5, 10 lights coming for you.”
At 35 years outdated, Efraín is a veteran– and he mentioned it’s the youngsters which might be utilizing TikTok. Movies present teams of chuteros consuming and making ritualistic choices earlier than journeys; others present convoys of SUVs tearing throughout the salt flats; some present wrecked and burnt-out automobiles misplaced on the best way.
Virtually all of those movies are set to 1 music – Chutero Yo Soy, by Simon Latorre – that has turn out to be an unlikely viral hit. A dialog with a chutero near Latorre yielded a telephone quantity. When he answered the telephone, he did so within the third individual: “Simon Latorre at your service.”
Latorre himself isn’t a chutero, nor even Bolivian: he’s from Juliaca, a metropolis in southern Peru. However he had a Bolivian buddy who was a chutero, and it was by way of him that he noticed the approach to life.
“He would go bravely into the evening, and are available again together with his automobiles,” mentioned Latorre. “Then he would exit once more. He didn’t even have time to sleep. Such is the sacrifice he needed to make. Typically he would say he’d had issues, that he’d run into the military, they’d opened fireplace, issues like that.”
His buddy requested him to compose a music about chuteros, for chuteros. And so he wrote Chutero Yo Soy, which he began performing in cities alongside the Bolivia-Chile border.
Then they requested him to carry out in Challapata. “What a welcome. Actually, I didn’t know Challapata earlier than that, however once I went to carry out a great deal of individuals turned up, and so they knew my songs and sang alongside. There’s nothing higher as an artist.”
Tania Jiménez, a sociologist who carried out years of fieldwork amongst chuteros, and extra not too long ago a digital ethnography, notes that being a chutero is a sort of id, with a tradition of rituals, fiestas and songs round it.
Only a few girls are concerned, and the songs replicate that. “They’re about sacrifice, and having the braveness to dare to do it – there’s a marked sense of masculinity.”
The vice-minister of the struggle towards contraband not too long ago in contrast chutero tradition to that of drug-trafficking gangs. “That’s ridiculous,” laughed Jiménez. “Very compelled.” She mentioned that teams having their songs is commonplace in Andean tradition. “In case you strip it of its cultural context, in fact it might appear to be the tradition of prison teams in Mexico.
“However actually,” she provides, “I feel it’s silly that they’re placing these movies up. Everyone knows that they’re on Fb: in case you go and search ‘autos chutos’, there are a great deal of teams. Individuals will even ship one to you. However these movies are a sort of ostentation of what they do.”
That the music went viral has been a supply of some anxiousness for Latorre. “I generally fear that the Bolivian authorities would possibly flip towards me, asking why Simon is singing these songs devoted to chuteros. However I’m only a songwriter – I don’t do that work myself,” mentioned Latorre. “I hope that’s how the authorities see it.”
In the meantime the chuto enterprise drives on. Analysts reckon maybe 25,000 chutos enter Bolivia yearly, and among the cash earned will get piled again into fiestas the place Latorre would possibly carry out. His consultant says he does two or three gigs a month in Bolivia. “Individuals name me each day asking for a shoutout in my subsequent music,” mentioned Latorre. He mirrored for a second. “I’ve extra followers in Bolivia than in Peru. Some individuals know me right here – however not like in Bolivia.”