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‘Risky, profitable, exciting’: TikTok fuels Bolivia’s contraband car craze | Bolivia

High in the Bolivian Altiplano, Challapata is where the road from La Paz splits: one way to Potosí and the other to Uyuni and the salt flats. It seems an unremarkable place; many tourists steam through without even realising. But Bolivians know it to be home to the country’s biggest contraband car fair, a hub in a trade network that reaches from Japan to the Bolivian Amazon.

Contraband cars – known as chutos – are nothing new in Bolivia. But those behind the business have recently received a fresh burst of attention, as a younger generation has taken to posting videos of their adrenaline-fueled border runs on Tiktok.

Efraín, 35, said he started out as a chutero when he was 12. In the ensuing years, the fundamentals of the trade have stayed the same: second-hand cars from richer countries, like Japan, are bought and shipped to Iquique, a free port in Chile. From there – along with other cars stolen in Chile – they are spirited across the long desert border with Bolivia, using clandestine paths to avoid military patrols.

“It’s very risky, but it’s profitable, too,” said Efraín. “And it’s exciting. It’s like taking part in the Dakar Rally. At least I see it that way, because you have to drive through the night with no lights. That way, the soldiers don’t see you. You can pass under their noses without them realizing. But if you turn the lights on, suddenly you see in the distance, one, three, five, 10 lights coming for you.”

At 35 years old, Efraín is a veteran– and he said it’s the teenagers that are using TikTok. Videos show groups of chuteros drinking and making ritualistic offerings before journeys; others show convoys of SUVs tearing across the salt flats; some show wrecked and burnt-out vehicles lost on the way.

Almost all of these videos are set to one song – Chutero Yo Soy, by Simon Latorre – that has become an unlikely viral hit. A conversation with a chutero close to Latorre yielded a phone number. When he answered the phone, he did so in the third person: “Simon Latorre at your service.”

Latorre himself is not a chutero, nor even Bolivian: he’s from Juliaca, a city in southern Peru. But he had a Bolivian friend who was a chutero, and it was through him that he saw the lifestyle.

“He would go bravely into the night, and come back with his cars,” said Latorre. “Then he would go out again. He didn’t even have time to sleep. Such is the sacrifice he had to make. Sometimes he would say he’d had problems, that he’d run into the army, they’d opened fire, things like that.”

His friend asked him to compose a song about chuteros, for chuteros. And so he wrote Chutero Yo Soy, which he started performing in towns along the Bolivia-Chile border.

Then they asked him to perform in Challapata. “What a welcome. Honestly, I didn’t know Challapata before that, but when I went to perform loads of people turned up, and they knew my songs and sang along. There’s nothing better as an artist.”

Tania Jiménez, a sociologist who carried out years of fieldwork among chuteros, and more recently a digital ethnography, notes that being a chutero is a kind of identity, with a culture of rituals, fiestas and songs around it.

Very few women are involved, and the songs reflect that. “They’re about sacrifice, and having the courage to dare to do it – there’s a marked sense of masculinity.”

The vice-minister of the fight against contraband recently compared chutero culture to that of drug-trafficking gangs. “That’s ridiculous,” laughed Jiménez. “Very forced.” She said that groups having their songs is commonplace in Andean culture. “If you strip it of its cultural context, of course it could look like the culture of criminal groups in Mexico.

“But honestly,” she adds, “I think it’s stupid that they’re putting these videos up. We all know that they’re on Facebook: if you go and search ‘autos chutos’, there are loads of groups. People will even deliver one to you. But these videos are a kind of ostentation of what they do.”

That the song went viral has been a source of some anxiety for Latorre. “I sometimes worry that the Bolivian authorities might turn against me, asking why Simon is singing these songs dedicated to chuteros. But I’m just a songwriter – I don’t do this work myself,” said Latorre. “I hope that’s how the authorities see it.”

Meanwhile the chuto business drives on. Analysts reckon perhaps 25,000 chutos enter Bolivia every year, and some of the money earned gets piled back into fiestas where Latorre might perform. His representative says he does two or three gigs a month in Bolivia. “People call me every day asking for a shoutout in my next song,” said Latorre. He reflected for a moment. “I have more fans in Bolivia than in Peru. Some people know me here – but not like in Bolivia.”

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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