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Dec 18, 2005 -- LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Jorge Quiroga, who exit polls showed running second in Bolivia's presidential race, conceded on Sunday, clearing the way for Evo Morales to become the country's first indigenous leader.
"I congratulate the candidates of MAS that have carried out a good campaign," he said, referring to Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party.
Media tabulations of official results showed Morales with close to 50 percent of the vote and Quiroga with between 31 percent and 34 percent.

To find out what this has to do with bird shit and why Bush already has troops in place at a new airbase 200 miles from the border for a new Bolivian war of intervention, please go below the fold.

Bolivia's history has been one of domination and exploitation by foreign powers. The population consists primarily of Amerindians who have been fighting for real democracy since colonial times. To understand the significance of a Native American being freely elected as president it helps to know a little history.

Bolivia lost her coastline in a war over bird shit. Also called the War of the Pacific, it took place from 1879 to 1884. It was fought between Chile and Bolivia over deposits of guano and saltpeter that were being exploited by British interests.

A most interesting story about how this war started involves the British ambassador to Bolivia making the mistake of disdainfully declining a cup of Bolivian beer at an official function. Bolivian officials were so offended by his condescending attitude that they dragged him through the streets of La Paz tied across the back of a donkey, then forced him to drink a whole barrel of the brew. This is said to have enraged Queen Victoria and to have led to the instigation of the Bird Shit War.

I don't know how much of the above is fact, but the war was very real, as was the loss of Bolivia's only access to the sea and the guano and saltpeter deposits. British officers fought on the Chilean side while Germany and the US egged on the Bolivians.

The War of the Pacific is but one example of how foreign powers have long treated Bolivia and exploited its resources.

Another example is the Bolivian tin mines run by local tin barons on behalf of US corporations. Thousands of miners to died due to a combination of inhumane working conditions and starvation wages.  This is what brought Che Guevara to Bolivia and cost him his life.

Yet another example of exploitation was the privatization of water (from Wikipedia):

In September 2001, following the advice of the World Bank, the Bolivian government declared that all water was to become corporate property, so that even drawing water from community wells or gathering rainwater on their own properties, peasants and urban dwellers had to first purchase and obtain permits from International Water Limited (a multinational largely owned by the Bechtel Corporation). The government, however, retracted and abolished the new water privatization rules following wide-scales uprisings and riots in protest of the legislation.

Bolivian's believe the huge deposits of natural gas under their country, an estimated 1.5 trillion cubic meters worth over 1.2 billion USD was also taken from them. To exploit the reserves, a consortium called Pacific LNG was formed by the British companies BG Group and BP, and Spain's Repsol YPF. The agreement with the consortium gave Bolivia only 18% of the future profits from the exportation of the gas. This and a host of other issues led to two recent periods of intense civil insurrection. Many among Bolivia's poor would like to see the gas and related infrastructure nationalized and the profit used to benefit all citizens, two thirds of whom live in poverty.

As if that were not enough, the US backed coca eradication program took away one of the only crops available to many Andean farmers. So it is no surprise that "Long live coca! Yankee go home!" is the "war cry" of the Aymaras and Quechuas, original nations of the Andes and strong constituents of Evo Morales an an Aymara Indian himself.

A BBC story about the elections in Bolivia is titled "Bolivia candidate 'US nightmare'". Indeed, Morales wants to legalize Coca growing, and is an ideological ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "I am not a drug trafficker," he once said. "I am a coca grower. I cultivate coca leaf, which is a natural product. I do not refine [it into] cocaine, and neither cocaine nor drugs have ever been part of the Andean culture."

He seeks national control over Bolivia's huge gas reserves to bring the benefits of the nation's hydrocarbons to the people. He is also a fierce critic of the US, and he will become the country's first indigenous head of state. Most feel he will undermine US influence in the region.

"The hour has arrived when we liberate ourselves completely. I feel a wave of uprising and rebellion all around Latin America and a growing courage to stop our subjugation at the hands of the North American empire.", Evo Morales said.

There is more at stake here than just the presidency of one small South American country. This is part of a shift to the left by much of Latin America. And some think Bush will go to war to prevent its spread, and they have pretty good evidence.  The map below shows the situation. This is a great interactive map and it worth going to the original BBC page to click on the links.

ManfromMiddletown recently posted a diary that did not get enough attention. It laid out why this could lead to American intervention. For more background and reason to worry about another Bolivian war, please read ManfromMiddletown's diary. I'm adding a little of what I've found below. Remember that the US has sent troops to interfere in Latin America 87 times.

This is by Benjamin Dangl from Canada's The Dominion:

Controversy is raging in Paraguay, where the US military is conducting secretive operations. 500 US troops arrived in the country on July 1st with planes, weapons and ammunition. Eyewitness reports prove that an airbase exists in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, which is 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia and may be utilized by the US military. Officials in Paraguay claim the military operations are routine humanitarian efforts and deny that any plans are underway for a US base. Yet human rights gropsin the area are deeply worried.

White House officials are using rhetoric about terrorist threats in the tri-border region (where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet) in order to build their case for military operations, in many ways reminiscent to the build up to the invasion of Iraq. [1]

The tri-border area is home to the Guarani Aquifer, one of the world's largest reserves of water. Near the Estigarribia airbase are Bolivia's natural gas reserves, the second largest in Latin America. Political analysts believe US operations in Paraguay are part of a preventative war to control these natural resources and suppress social uprisings in Bolivia.

Argentine Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel commented on the situation in Paraguay, "Once the United States arrives, it takes it a long time to leave. And that really frightens me." [2]

The Estigarribia airbase was constructed in the 1980s for US technicians hired by the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, and is capable of housing 16,000 troops. A journalist writing for the Argentine newspaper Clarin, recently visited the base and reported it to be in perfect condition, capable of handling large military planes. It's oversized for the Paraguayan air force, which only has a handful of small aircraft. The base has an enormous radar system, huge hangars and an air traffic control tower. The airstrip itself is larger than the one at the international airport in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital. Near the base is a military camp which has recently grown in size. [3] -snip-

The proximity of the Estigarribia base to Bolivian natural gas reserves, and the fact that the military operations coincide with a presidential election in Bolivia, has also been a cause for concern. The election is scheduled to take place on Dec. 4, 2005. Bolivian Workers Union leader Jaime Solares and Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) legislator Antonio Peredo, have warned of US plans for a military coup to frustrate the elections. Solares said the US Embassy backs right wing ex-president Jorge Quiroga in his bid for office, and will go as far as necessary to prevent any other candidate's victory.

And here are some details from

·  The Estigarribia airbase  was constructed in the 1980s for US technicians hired by the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, and is capable of housing 16,000 troops

·  The base has an enormous radar system, huge hangars and an air traffic control tower. The airstrip itself is larger than the one at the international airport in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital. It's oversized for the Paraguayan air force, which only has a handful of small aircrafts

·  Pope John Paul II was there in May 1988 when he visited the town of Santa Teresita, 3 kilometers away

·  Estigarribia has a population of about 2000, which 300 belongs to the 6th Infantry Division, 3rd Corps, paraguayan army garrison

·  On a May 2005 agreement, Paraguay allows United States to use the base

The location is 22 deg 2 mins S    /    60 deg 37 mins W

This is from Foreign Policy In Focus:

Some 500 special forces arrived July 1 for a three-month counterterrorism training exercise, code named Operation Commando Force 6.  

Paraguayan denials that Mariscal Estigarribia is now a U.S. base have met with considerable skepticism by Brazil and Argentina . There is a disturbing resemblance between U.S. denials about Mariscal Estigarribia, and similar disclaimers made by the Pentagon about Eloy Alfaro airbase in Manta , Ecuador . The United States claimed the Manta base was a "dirt strip" used for weather surveillance. When local journalists revealed its size, however, the United States admitted the base harbored thousands of mercenaries and hundreds of U.S. troops, and Washington had signed a 10-year basing agreement with Ecuador .

The Eloy Alfaro base is used to rotate U.S. troops in and out of Columbia, and to house an immense network of private corporations who do most of the military's dirty work in Columbia. According to the Miami Herald , U.S. mercenaries armed with M-16s have gotten into fire fights with guerrillas in southern Columbia, and American civilians working for Air Scan International of Florida called in air strikes that killed 19 civilians and wounded 25 others in the town of Santo Domingo.

The base is crawling with U.S. civilians--many of them retired military--working for Military Professional Resources Inc., Virginia Electronics, DynCorp, Lockheed Martin (the world's largest arms maker), Northrop Grumman, TRW, and dozens of others.

It was U.S. intelligence agents working out of Manta who fingered Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leader Ricardo Palmera last year, and several leaders of the U.S.-supported coup against Haitian President Bertram Aristide spent several months there before launching the 2004 coup that exiled Aristide to South Africa.

"Privatizing" war is not only the logical extension of the Bush administration's mania for contracting everything out to the private sector; it also shields the White House's activities from the U.S. Congress. "My complaint about the use of private contractors," says U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsy (D-IL), "is their ability to fly under the radar to avoid accountability."

And just to put things in focus:
For the Bush administration, however, Bolivia is all about subversion, not poverty and powerlessness.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Paraguay this past August, he told reporters that, "There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways."

A Rumsfeld aide told the press that Cuba was involved in the unrest, a charge that even one of Bolivia's ousted presidents, Carlos Mesa, denies.

A major focus of the unrest in Bolivia is who controls its vast natural gas deposits, the second largest in the Western Hemisphere. Under pressure from the United States and the IMF, Bolivia sold off its oil and gas to Enron and Shell in 1995 for $263.5 million, less than 1% of what the deposits are worth.

Will Morales’ election finally bring democracy and freedom to Bolivians? Or will this election bring Bush’s new war and the 88th instance of US interference? If it is, we should call this one the Chicken-Hawk War.

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 03:22 AM PST.

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