Egocentrism versus Heroism, Oruro and Bolivia must decide

Current Bolivia central government president has demonstrated how egocentric and superficial he can be. Huge and expensive museum for his mementos in his home town, a presidential airport facility, a new presidential palace, post stamps with his image, and now his name in the Oruro airport… well, follows the story of a real hero whose name must NOT be removed from that airport.

Juan Mendoza belongs to The Hall of Bolivian Fame!!

David Pizarro writes for Pagina Siete:

The Bolivian pilot Juan Mendoza’s aeronautical feat

History. The Orureno [Orureño, person from Oruro] crossed the skies of Bolivia in November 1921. Before, he had partnered with Alfredo Etienne to buy an aircraft Fiat R-2 in argentina, which was named Cobija.

2013-03-02 09.02.44 amThe morning of November 21, 1921, a never-before-seen spectacle occurred in the Papelpampa area, Southeast of the city of Oruro, where a crowd of excited people witnessed the landing of Cobija, a Fiat R-2, commanded by the first Bolivian pilot Juan Mendoza and his co-pilot Angel Mardesich.

The loud biplane departed at 6:45 from a makeshift track and spread their wings in the sunny and blue sky of the Poopo town. Fifteen minutes later he descended on the plain of Papelpampa.

It was a historic and memorable day. The hearts of the orurenos spectators jumped for joy and just Mendoza descended from the unit, people raised him on their shoulders. This, was recorded in the historical books of the Bolivian aviation.

The daughter of the flier, Sofía Mendoza, remembers the words with which the pilot described that moment: “I have never seen a more beautiful tribute to a landing site. There were carpets of flowers and men. It went from shoulder to shoulder. People fought for having me on his shoulders. I was their great hero”.

Before that feat for Bolivian aviation, foreign pilots rehearsed some glides in Bolivia, but always in shorter distances. Louis Pace, of Chilean nationality, raised an airplane in 1914, also in Papelpampa, and the American Donald Hudson flew in 1920 between El Alto and Viacha, the Bolivian skies in a Curtis triplane, with the objective of organizing the military aviation school in that region.

Obsession with aviation

The director of the historical archives of the Bolivian Air Force (FAB), Ramiro Molina, wrote a text about the life of Juan Mendoza, which highlights his concern for aviation. According to Molina, in 1914, Mendoza saw the flight of the Bathiat monoplane owned by Pace. He was just 22 years old, but already, he was proposed to follow that path.

“Nor his obsession decreased for aerial activity; on the contrary, he stubbornly sought to be an Aviator and become the first to fly the pristine skies of Bolivia”, Molina wrote.

Before the end of the second decade of the last century, Mendoza began his Aeronautics career by resorting to the Pro Aviation Committee of Oruro that help pay for his studies. His efforts allowed the departmental Treasury of Oruro to disburse 1,800 Bolivian pesos and the Committee, 1,500.

Thus coupled with the Bs3,300, enough to start his dream, and left for Argentina to obtain his credential. He traveled in February 1916 to Buenos Aires and a month later entered the school of Civil Aviation of Villa Lugano, directed by famous aviator Paul Castaibert, who was also a builder of airplanes.

The course lasted nearly four months. In this regard, Molina highlights his “admirable serenity, reflection, balance and other qualities” that helped Mendoza pass the tests without any problem.

In the process he made more than 90 flights and on July 9, 1916 he graduated with the “brevet” of flier No. 103.

Days later the Argentine press published the fact. “At the civil airfield of Villa Lugano, Juan Mendoza, a disciple of the active master Paul Castaibert yielded Aviator pilot test”, told journalists.

Mendoza returned to Oruro in August of the same year, while in the railway station, youngsters and members of the Committee Pro Aviation expected him to express him their affection. The objective had been accomplished in a short time and only thing missing, was the conquer of the Bolivian skies.


Juan had planned to form a school of aviation in Bolivia to transmit his knowledge to the youth. He began negotiations for the aeronautical establishment and in eight days, the Chamber of Deputies of the country tried to pass the Law.

But then some things started to go wrong and he was not even taken into account for the creation of the military aviation school, that was established by presidential decree in June 1920 in El Alto.

Frustrated, he decided to start the beginning of civil aviation in the country with the help of his partner, the Deputy Mayor Alfredo Etienne. Together acquired a Fiat R-2 biplane of 180 HP and of Italian industry in Argentina, at a cost of 16,000 Argentinian pesos (there are no data of the equivalent in local currency).

Then they hired the mechanical Angel Mardesich and baptized the airplane with the name Cobija, in homage to the captive Bolivian sea port [now Chile].

After some tests, they embarked the airplane by train heading to Bolivia, but the railroad broke and stayed in Uyuni, where the Cobija undertook its first flight reaching an altitude of 500 meters.

Encouraged by that achievement, Mendoza “was proposed making the raid Uyuni – Oruro – La Paz. Supporting that noble purpose, the military aviation school commissioned Lieutenant Colonel Meredia Villarreal to direct the construction of the air strip in Papelpampa”, says Molina.

However, the idea was thwarted by mechanical failure of the aircraft and lack of fuel. Then, the Fiat R-2 was transferred to the town of lake Poopó. Uyuni-Oruro – La Paz flight plan was still standing and was going to make from a makeshift track in Poopo to the town of Papelpampa, in Oruro.

Everything went perfectly and the rest of the story was already told. The first female Bolivian pilot, Amalia Villa de la Tapia, wrote in her book Wings of Bolivia, when Mendoza descended from the plane, a person of advanced age approached him amicably.

Villa de la Tapia wrote: “Upon landing successfully, a farmer knelt, intending to kiss his hand, recognizing his ability to lead a unit through the air”, tells about the latest famous Oruro aviator.

Last week there were a number of current president’s acolytes that tried to justify the change of the name of the Oruro Airport and even trying to demean Juan’s good name. Gladly, this article came to my hands, so I could translate for the world, and it could be known the difference between an egocentric individual and the first Bolivian to fly our skies!!

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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