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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 December 2007, 12:35 GMT
Our own correspondent, Lola Almudevar
Last Sunday, BBC reporter Lola Almudevar was killed in a car crash to the south of the Bolivian capital La Paz. Nick Caistor reflects on his meeting with Lola before she started on her posting in the country.

Lola Almudevar (family photograph)
Read and listen to Lola Almudevar's reports for From Our Own Correspondent

I met Lola only once when she came to see me before heading off to Latin America in 2006.

She wanted to know in particular about Bolivia, and whether I thought it would "make a good story" with the new indigenous president Evo Morales who had just been elected.

In fact, she did not need me to suggest any stories, she herself was overflowing with ideas and obviously had more than enough energy to track down people and events for herself.

Her passion was above all to report on ordinary lives, on the uniqueness of people we in Britain seldom hear very much about

With a Spanish father, Lola was keen to go to Latin America and start her career as a foreign correspondent.

She gave a typically beaming smile and said she had been working in Brussels for some time, and wanted to get away from official news and European Commission reports and do some "real work".

Ordinary lives

In fact, though I have reported on Latin American for 30 years, I do not know much about Bolivia. It is one of those places that few people know much about.

But that is exactly why Lola was interested in it. She wanted to go somewhere that was not in the frontline of reporting - Iraq or Afghanistan for example - somewhere she could get beyond the headlines.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales (Photo: Javier Mamani/AFP/Getty Images)
Evo Morales won the presidential elections in 2005
It was obvious, even from our brief meeting, that her passion was above all to report on ordinary lives, on the uniqueness of people we seldom hear very much about.

Lola may not have been risking her life in a country at war, but she died because she got up in the middle of the night and in the freezing cold - the Bolivian capital La Paz is up in the Andes at over 10,000ft (3,000m) altitude - and climbed into a taxi with a colleague to drive more than 200 miles (320km) to get her story.

This one was about the many problems President Morales is facing as he tries to change the national constitution through the deliberations of a constitutional assembly.

Not something that may immediately seem related to ordinary people, but as Lola herself wrote to the BBC: "I feel sorry for the assembly members who are all non-political types carrying the dreams of many, which now sit in disarray."

Hairpin bends

I do know how dangerous those roads in the Andes mountains are.

Vehicle by the cliff edge
Bolivia has some of the world's most dangerous roads
From Colombia in the north, down to Argentina in the south, this huge backbone of the continent is crisscrossed with dirt tracks that hang on the side of mountains, with a drop of several thousand feet on one side, and no safety barriers on any of the hundreds of hairpin bends.

Along these tracks hurtle huge Mercedes-Benz lorries, the only means of transport for goods and often for passengers as well, now that nearly all of Latin America's railways have been closed down.

Competing with the trucks are taxis sometimes driven far too fast. To add to the dangers, both lorries and taxis often set out at night, to avoid more traffic.

It seems as if Lola's taxi crashed into a lorry which had already had an accident on one of these mountain roads.

She and two other people in her car were killed, and a Reuters correspondent seriously injured.

Greater understanding

Lola had been hoping to travel by plane to Sucre, where the unrest caused by the Constituent Assembly had led to riots and several deaths.

Demonstrators in Sucre protesting about changes to the constitution (Photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty Images)
At least four people died during the violent protests in Sucre
When flights were cancelled because of the violence, Lola was more determined than ever to get there.

In a world where it seems that journalism all too often consists of blogs, and second-hand news from television screens or official reports, she had the old-fashioned reporter's instinct of wanting to go and see for herself what was going on.

Lola was passionate about this need to meet people and tell their stories
Lola wanted her listeners and viewers to be able to trust whatever she told them, because she had made the effort to go to the place involved, to talk to the people in their own language, to see them - with her own eyes - in their surroundings and to try to understand for herself what was going on.

Lola was passionate about this need to meet people and tell their stories.

Different perspective

In the six months she had been in Bolivia, she had already been on From Our Own Correspondent several times. Telling us about how so many Bolivians are forced to leave their country and work abroad in order to send back money, and for once sympathising with the migrant workers, rather than seeing them as a problem.

Or telling us about the way frustrated slum dwellers were taking justice into their own hands.

A map showing the Bolivian capital La Paz and Sucre
Coincidentally, the same day I heard of Lola's death in Bolivia, I got an e-mail from a young Vietnamese woman journalist.

She wanted to know about the possibilities of studying journalism in Britain, because she is convinced that it is only by visiting and writing about the world outside Vietnam that her fellow countrymen can become more receptive to other people's reality.

It may seem naive for her - or someone like Lola - to think that they can make a difference in a world where the powerful rarely listen, but that fact that Lola and many others - and in particular young women - are so enthusiastic about trying to see, understand and communicate what is going on in the world around them does a great honour to journalism.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 1 December, 2007 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

SEE ALSO
Lola Almudevar: a tribute
30 Nov 07 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Bolivia crash kills BBC reporter
26 Nov 07 |  Americas
Fuelling Bolivia's crisis?
08 Nov 07 |  Business
Commercialising the coca leaf
03 Sep 07 |  Americas
The world's most dangerous road
11 Nov 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Bolivia
09 Nov 07 |  Country profiles


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