On September 15, the La Paz government started a dialogue with representatives of the county's breakaway departments (provinces). Bolivia has been divided into two equal parts by an almost straight line going from the north to the south - the insurgent eastern plains and loyal western mountains. The situation is so grave that Chile's President Michelle Bachelet had to convene an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) - an association of 12 countries. Chile now chairs that regional organization.
It's hard to say what the UNASUR can do under the present circumstances apart from calling on the fighting parties to start a dialogue and all other parties not to interfere. The conflict threatens Bolivia with a civil war, which could spread to other Latin American states, and the world - with another hot spot, which could rapidly turn from a regional into a global conflict. A conflict could be on so large a scale that the "Georgian war" and its consequences will appear a far less acute regional challenge. There is now every precondition for it.
Accusing the U.S. of staging the anti-government uprisings in the east of the country, Bolivia expelled the U.S. Ambassador. Naturally, Washington responded with the same, adding that "charges leveled against our fine ambassadors by the leaders of Bolivia and Venezuela are false". The irony of it is that "the exchange of ambassadors" was carried out on the 35th anniversary of the anti-government coup in Chile of September 11, 1973. At that time the U.S. also argued the CIA had no hand in it. However, later the CIA was found to have plotted it. Meanwhile, "showing solidarity with his Bolivian brothers", Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez "threw away" the U.S. Ambassador from his country. The U.S. would have acted the same way unless Chavez had recalled his Ambassador from Washington in advance. The U.S. could do nothing but declare him persona non grata in absentia. Hugo Chavez stated that he would render any and all assistance, including military, to his brother Evo Morales, and threatened the U.S. with termination of Bolivian oil supplies to the "empire" in case the U.S. interfered.
As luck would have it, this increase in tensions developed as Russian Tu-160 heavy bombers arrived in Venezuela "for a visit". This prompted Chavez to make a series of statements about stepping up military cooperation with Russia. In November Russian ships are to arrive in Venezuela for joint maneuvers. All in all, the prospects are not bright.
The eastern provinces' revolt against Evo Morales - the first Amerindian ever elected president of a Latin American country on December 18, 2005 - had been brewing for a long time. He was too vigorous in his bid to re-orient the entire Bolivian foundation - from politics to the economy. An Aymara by origin, he nationalized many of the industrial concerns, and brought oil production and distribution under state control. He also declared an overhaul of the land allocation policy, with large landowners' allotments reduced to 10,000 ha. Oil and gas revenues were to be equitably distributed among all social groups.
Evo Morales' coming to power once again demonstrated what is called "the rose flow" of left-wing and left-of-center governments in Latin America. Currently, one can refer to the governments or presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and certainly Bolivia as either politically left or as socialist forces. "The rose flow" was doomed to break against somebody or something. Apparently, Bolivia is that something.
Given what Evo Morales - or El Evo, as his adherents have dubbed him - has done, you can't help recollecting Vladimir Lenin's prophecy that some day "even cooks will learn to govern states". Evo has already managed to turn it all upside down in his country; and not all of his "alterations" are sure to benefit the state. This is often the case when rural activists with a keen sense of justice come to power.
But there is the other side of the coin. Few people know that before Morales came to power, Bolivia was an almost exact replica of the South African apartheid regime - it practised functional apartheid on a scale no country of the continent could fathom. Before the Bolivian revolution of 1952, Amerindians were banned from even approaching the presidential palace in La Paz. Those were half-people and half-slaves. Even now Indians work at the haciendas of the rich east practically in the capacity of serfs. Including Bolivia in their Vice-Kingdom of Peru 500 years ago, Spaniards trained Bolivians to acquiesce to the "power of the White", who, accounting for just 15% of the population, own almost everything in the country.
Rich in natural resources (compared with the other countries of the region) - tin, zinc, silver, lead, gold, tungsten, hydro-electric power as well as impressive oil deposits (the recoverable reserves amount to 440.5 million barrels) and gas (651.8 billion cubic meters) - Bolivia remains South America's poorest inland country in terms of the standard of living. According to the CIA's annual World Factbook report, 60% of Bolivia's 9.2 million population live below the poverty line, with 38% being destitute. Bolivia's Catholic Church - Spaniards inculcated Catholicism in 95% of the population - calculated that only 50,000 of the richest Bolivian families own 90% of the land in the country. Bolivia is the world's third producer of coca leaves and cocaine after Colombia and Peru.
Statistics show that the six breakaway provinces (Beni, Cochabamba, Pando, Tarija, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca), whose line verges on pure separatism since they aim to found a sort of new state formation - the Nation of the Plains, account for 60% of the population, 80% of the GDP and 85% of proven gas fields. The opposition argues that this fact gives it a full right to broad autonomy down to complete secession from La Paz with its "Lama-President" (in his youth Evo Morales shepherded lamas) and all his Kollas (a tribe exterminated by the Inca; now it is a scornful nickname white Bolivians give the country's Indians). The statistics are correct, of course, but, as always, they don't reveal the exact truth. Quechuas and Aymara (the tribe President Morales belongs to) account for 60% of the country's population, with the majority - some 67% - supporting Evo Morales.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.