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  • The Atlantic's Ed Yong notes the discovery of dated Homo sapiens fossils 300k years old in Morocco. (!)

  • The Atlantic reports on Twitter-driven science that has highlighted the remarkable visual acuity of the spider.

  • The Economist notes that multilingual societies can encounter more difficulties prospering than unilingual ones.

  • Torontoist notes a Thunder Bay park devoted to the idea of First Nations reconciliation.

  • The Inter Press Service reports on how gardens grown under solar tents in Bolivia can improve nutrition in poor highland villages.

  • The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume trolls Rob Ford's supporters over the new, well-designed, Etobicoke Civic Centre.Metro Toronto calculates just how many avocado toasts would go into a mortgage in the GTA.

  • MacLean's hosts a collection of twenty photos from gritty Niagara Falls, New York.

  • The National Post shows remarkable, heartbreaking photos from the flooded Toronto Islands.

  • Edward Keenan argues that the Toronto Islands' flooding should help prompt a local discussion on climate change.

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  • Bloomberg notes Venezuela is considering dollarization in order to save its auto industry, and looks at the possibility of an OAS intervention.

  • Bloomberg View looks at the anti-immigrant mindset.

  • The Inter Press Service notes political crisis in Nicaragua and examines the plundering of African fisheries by foreign fleets.

  • MacLean's notes Conrad Black's seeking an emergency hearing to let him sell his home.

  • National Geographic investigates the origins of the stars which produced the first detected gravitational wave.

  • The National Post notes Bolivia's interest in a new chronology.

  • Open Democracy examines the British Chinese perspective on Brexit and looks at the tremendous alienation in British society.

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At Al Jazeera, Michele Bertelli and Felix Lill describe, with abundant photos, the architecture of the homes of Bolivia's rising upper class, of indigenous cultural background. The usage of colour evokes South Africa's Cape, somehow.

From the fifth floor of El Alto's tallest building, the city looks like a flat red carpet, with thousands of low brick houses lining up towards the horizon.

Originally an indigenous slum built at 4,000 metres above sea level on the outskirts of La Paz, the country's administrative capital, El Alto has swollen over recent years as people have migrated from rural areas. The change is evident in its panorama, as unusual buildings have started to pierce the otherwise even red expanse.

"In 30 years, La Paz will become a suburb of El Alto," Freddy Mamani, 43, tells Al Jazeera as he observes the city's skyline.

Mamani is the architect behind many of these new "chalets", which with their irregular forms and playful windows stand out from their earth-coloured surroundings. "I want to give this city an identity," he says, "like an eternal exposition."

He quotes the local Aymara indigenous culture as his main source of inspiration: the circles, the Andean cross and the designs reminiscent of butterflies, snakes and frogs featured on the facades are taken from the ponchos usually worn in the High Andean plateau region.

"The Aymara culture has finally reclaimed its role in this country," he says.
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The Toronto Star features Carlos Valdez's Associated Press article looking at the alarming scale of the catastrophe in Bolivia.

Overturned fishing skiffs lie abandoned on the shores of what was Bolivia’s second-largest lake. Beetles dine on bird carcasses and gulls fight for scraps under a glaring sun in what marshes remain.

Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.

High on Bolivia’s semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 metres and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.

But recovery may no longer be possible, scientists say.

“This is a picture of the future of climate change,” says Dirk Hoffman, a German glaciologist who studies how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated glacial melting in Bolivia.

As Andean glaciers disappear so do the sources of Poopo’s water. But other factors are in play in the demise of Bolivia’s second-largest body of water behind Lake Titicaca.

Drought caused by the recurrent El Nino meteorological phenomenon is considered the main driver. Authorities say another factor is the diversion of water from Poopo’s tributaries, mostly for mining but also for agriculture.

National Geographic has more.

Lake Poopó gets most of its water from the Desaguadero River, which flows from Lake Titicaca (Bolivia's largest lake). According to the published management plan, water managers are supposed to allow flow down the river into Poopó, but they have recently allowed that to slow to a trickle.

Titicaca has plenty of water in it, so that's not the problem, Borre says. Officials just aren't opening control gates often enough to send water down the river. Some of the water is being diverted for agriculture and mining. And even when water is available, the river is often clogged with sedimentation, due to the runoff from development and mining in the area.

Poopó is high, at 12,000 feet (3,680 meters), and the area has warmed an estimated one degree Celsius over the past century, leading to an increase in the rate of evaporation from the lake. And the lack of rain over the past year has sped the process even further. But these factors weren't surprises, Borre says, they were foreseeable changes that scientists anticipated.

What happened to Lake Poopó is not unlike the drying of the vast Aral Sea in Central Asia, says Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a National Geographic Explorer. In both cases, a closed water system was overdrawn, with more water going out than coming in.
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At NPR, Jasmine Garsd notes how, in an increasingly closed South America in the 1930s, Bolivia stood out for its continued welcome of refugees.

Consulates were under orders to stop giving visas. Ships carrying refugees were turned away. The most famous case is the St. Louis in May 1939. It was carrying 937 refugees. In Cuba, where the ship first attempted to dock, political infighting, economic crisis and right-wing xenophobia kept the passengers on board. The U.S denied the ship too, as did Canada. The St. Louis turned back to Europe.

All in all, Latin American governments officially permitted only about 84,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1945. That's less than half the number admitted during the previous 15 years.

There were exceptions — again, often in countries that were far from well-off. The Dominican Republic issued several thousand visas. In the '40s El Salvador gave 20,000 passports to Jews under Nazi occupation. Former Mexican Consul to France Gilberto Bosques Saldivar is known as the "Mexican Schindler." Working in France from 1939 to 1943, he issued visas to around 40,000 people, mostly Jews and Spaniards.

In South America, Bolivia was the anomaly. The government admitted more than 20,000 Jewish refugees between 1938 and 1941. The brains behind the operation was Mauricio Hochschild, a German Jew. He was a mining baron who had Bolivian President Germán Busch's ear (and who wanted to help his fellow Jews for humanitarian reasons).

This was a time of economic crisis and uncertainty for the whole world, but Bolivia was in particularly bad shape. The Chaco War, fought against Paraguay until 1935, had just ended. Ironically, Bolivia's weakness was why the government agreed to open those doors wide open. Even though Busch flirted with Nazi ideology, he hoped that that immigrants would help revitalize the economy.
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Bloomberg's Bill Faries writes about the continuing economic plunge of Venezuela, as it is being shown up by better-managed Bolivia.

Back in the late 1970s, when Venezuela’s oil wealth fueled the supersonic Concorde’s flights from Paris to Caracas, the idea that a poverty-stricken, landlocked nation known for bowler hats and coca leaves would someday surpass it was unthinkable. How times have changed.

Bolivia, South America’s poorest country on a per-capita GDP basis, leads or is poised to surpass Venezuela in a number of areas. Already plagued with a plunging currency and the world’s fastest inflation rate, Venezuela’s decline is stunning for a country that holds the world’s largest reserves of oil and whose late president, Hugo Chavez, once served as a mentor for Bolivia’s leader, Evo Morales.

While Morales took over Bolivia’s natural gas industry in 2006, his policies were never as radical as Chavez, who once walked through Caracas’s downtown, pointing at various companies and saying "nationalize it." Morales and Finance Minister Luis Arce “understood the importance of having orderly fiscal policy,” said Ben Ramsey, chief economist and head of sovereign debt strategy for the Andean region at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, who follows the two countries. “They have massive reserves vis-à-vis their economy.”

After peaking at more than $40 billion in 2008, Venezuela’s reserves have tumbled to less than $15 billion, much of that in gold. While falling energy prices have also affected Bolivia, its reserves have been on an upward or stable trajectory under Morales, peaking at about $15 billion last year from less than $5 billion when Morales took office in 2006.
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The 19th century War of the Pacific continues to overshadow Chile's relations with Peru, as it does more visibly Chile's relations with Bolivia. Bloomberg's John Quigley describes how bitterness over lost territory persists.

Andean neighbors Chile and Peru are at it again. After resolving a decades-old dispute over their maritime border last year, talks to deepen integration have broken down over a patch of arid sand and rock the size of six soccer fields -- and that is when the tide is out.

Peru’s President Ollanta Humala on Saturday signed a law creating a municipality on its southern border that includes an coastal area measuring 3.7 hectares (9.1 acres) claimed by Chile. Chile’s Foreign Ministry said the triangle-shaped territory is “unquestionably Chilean” and canceled a meeting with Peruvian ministers scheduled for next month.

It is a sensitive issue for Chile. The country lost sovereignty over an area of sea the size of Costa Rica to Peru last year in a ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. That same court has just ruled that it will listen to Bolivian arguments for Chile to start negotiations over its demand for access to the sea, lost to Chile in the Pacific War of 1879. Chile doesn’t want to lose another ruling.

“What seem to be extremely minor issues play into really deep historical and
nationalist sentiment in both countries,” said Greg Weeks, a professor of
political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in a phone
interview. “Until the boundaries are agreed upon by both sides, down to the inch, you’ll just have disputes that keep popping up over and over again.”
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  • Anthropology.net reacts to the discovery of Neanderthal abstract carvings and what they say about the Neanderthal mind.

  • blogTO shares Toronto postcards from the 1980s and lists the five least used TTC subway stations.

  • Centauri Dreams reports that potentially habitable exoplanets Gliese 667Cc has been confirmed to exist.

  • Crooked Timber's Corey Robin describes the continuing Steven Salaita affair, with another Crooked Timber post and one at Lawyers, Guns and Money providing more context.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper placing HD 10180g in its star's habitable zone and links to another making the case for the potential habitability of exomoons.

  • The Dragon's Tales' Will Baird is very concerned for the fate of Ukraine.

  • Language Log's Victor Mair examines the pressing question of why Hello Kitty is not a cat.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at rape culture in England.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that Bolivians of different classes rarely marry each other and is relatively optimistic about the country's future.

  • Spacing Toronto has a lovely picture of a track on a ride at the CNE under construction.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that Kazakhstan is ready to leave the Euriasian Union to protect its independence, argues that the Ukrainian war is sparing Tatarstan and North Caucasus attention, and examines the depopulation of Pskov oblast next to the Baltic States.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the strengths and weaknesses of the Islamic State as described in an article: a willingness to risk death isn't always a plus.

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Walking north on Roncesvalles Avenue with a friend, we came across a small store enthusiastically advertising the Andean pseudocereal quinoa in all of its diversity.

"The Mother of Grain - Quinoa"
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  • Bag News Notes examines the use of a stock photo of some Dutch immigrant youths to illustrate a variety of different alarming articles.

  • Crasstalk's Maxichamp introduces readers to the Port Chicago disaster during the Second World War, which incidentally led to a notable civil rights case.

  • Daniel Drezner didn't find many surprises with the terms of the Cypriot bailout and notes that Russian disinterest in bailing Cyprus out underlines the extent to which it's a status quo, non-revisionist power.

  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh speculates that the current trend of emigration from Spain may put the Spanish health and pension systems at risk, especially inasmuch as Spain needs skilled labour to boost its productivity.

  • A Geocurrents comparison of Bolivia with Ecuador, two Andean republics with large indigenous populations and radical governments, underlines the differences (Ecuador's government draws its support from the coastal Hispanophone majority and is somewhat hostile to the indigenous minority of the interior).

  • Language Hat links to a site describing the small languages of Russia.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen seems much more worried about the outcomes of the Cypriot bailout than Drezner.

  • Whatever's John Scalzi notes the unsustainability of Ohio's current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, legally and in terms of popular opinion, and suggests it indicates current patterns of change.

  • Window on Eurasia's Paul Goble notes that the Moldovan enclave of Gagauzia, an autonomous Turkic-populated district, wants a voice in Moldovan foreign policy.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham notes the proportion of edits to geotagged English-language Wikipedia articles coming from users in the relevant countries. There are significant variations, with African articles being largely maintained by non-national users.

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Inter Press Service's Mario Osava writes about Bolivia's interest in joining Mercosur, the South American trade bloc co-founded by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and the recently-suspended Paraguay and recently expanded to include Argentina. Politically, Mercosur seems suited for Bolivia; economically, Bolivia has a large trading deficit with its potential trading partners if natural gas is excluded. Moreover, the future of the bloc as a meaningful entity seems open to question, between Paraguay's suspension and perennial disunity in trade talks with the European Union.

“Before Bolivia has even entered Mercosur, the bloc has already entered Bolivia, and it is doing so to a growing extent,” through bilateral trade agreements, observed Gary Rodríguez, general manager of the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE).

When natural gas, which represents 96 percent of Bolivia’s exports to Mercosur, is added to the equation, the balance is reversed, leaving Bolivia with a 1.692-billion-dollar trade surplus.

But gas exports are based on operations and agreements between national governments and do not involve the private sector, stressed Rodríguez in an interview with IPS at the IBCE headquarters in Santa Cruz, where he shares the same concerns and the same office tower with powerful business owners in the eastern Bolivian department (province) of the same name.

His greatest concern is for the future of Bolivian private companies. Last year, for example, 30 million dollars worth of shoes were imported from Brazil. In conditions like these, “we won’t be able to continue manufacturing ourselves,” said Rodríguez, who fears that the Bolivian market will be flooded with these and other goods in the event of a devaluation of the Argentine peso and Brazilian real against the dollar.

But Mercosur membership, the path chosen by the government of leftist President Evo Morales, could open up new prospects for Bolivian business owners “especially those involved in big agribusiness in eastern Bolivia,” Tullo Vigévani, a professor at Paulista State University in Brazil, told IPS.
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  • 80 Beats' Smitri Rao makes me wish that Canada, too, had a black R&D budget, since the United States Air Force came up with a very cool and equally mysterious space plane.

  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton points out that even though streetcars are an old technology, they're still a very useful technology.

  • Daniel Drezner makes the point that just because the new governments in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are friendly to Russia than their predecessors, it doesn't mean that they're hostile to the United States. (It also doesn't mean that they're not democratic, but that's a different issue.)

  • Extraordinary Observations' Rob Pitingolo strongly dislikes escalators and elevators, which he sees as essentially pointless wastes of energy.

  • At A Fistful of Euros, Douglas Muir writes about how Kosovo now has its own cell phone network, notwithstanding the Serbian government's unwillingness to let the UNMIK-mandated authority operate.

  • Geocurrents blogs about how the devastation of the Aral Sea has devastated the environment of the aquatic Karakalpak of Uzbekistan.

  • Joe. My. God reports that long-time Toronto gay bathhouse Club Toronto is about to become a straight swingers' club.

  • Marginal Revolution cites a new study suggesting that increased acceptance of queer men corresponds to decreased rates of HIV infection, by encouraging low-risk men to be active and by discourage some high-risk men from taking risks.

  • Michael's Bloor-Lansdowne blog reveals how the Dufferin Mall's site was occupied for fifty years by a race track.

  • At Passing Strangeness, [livejournal.com profile] pauldrye writes about how mysterious radio signals emanating from spots within the former Soviet Union turned out to be over-the-horizon radar systems.

  • Slap Upside the Head mocks Bolivian president Evo Morales for blaming homosexuality on chicken consumption.

  • At Sublime Oblivion, Anatoly Karlin criticizes Vladimir Putin for not having done enough, early enough, to deal with Russia's socioeconomic problems, in addition to his unrealistic plans for expanding Russian influence and power despite a lacking infrastructure.

  • Towleroad writes about the news that Archie comics now has an out gay teen character, and more, than his first storyline isn't going to be the learning-to-be-tolerant one so typical of these introductions.

  • Wasatch Economics' Scott Peterson suggests that the speed of the demographic transition in Mexico will diminish the number of immigrants to the United States from that country. Perhaps; then again, natural population decrease is quite compatible with mass emigration, as much of central and eastern Europe shows.

  • Window on Eurasia cites an article suggesting, on the basis of a comment by a diplomat at the Russian embassy to Estonia, that Russia may explicitly recognize the occupation of the Baltic States.

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Lithium: element #3 on the periodic table and the lightest metal. The metal is probably most famous for its role in the treatment of psychological illnesses, especially bipolar depression. The element's fame in this role is such that it inspired the 1992 Nirvana song of the same name.

Of late, however, lithium has attracted public attention thanks to the possibility of the element serving in lithium-ion batteries, these being powerful enough to accumulate the energy needed for sustained use of electric cars. At Foreign Policy, as part of an extended analysis of the consequences facing the world if oil stopped being as critical to our society as it is now, David J. Rothkopf wonders if lithium might drive conflicts. It can only be extracted from salt pans and brine lakes in a select number of locals.

In Asia, Europe, and the United States, people are getting excited about the electric car -- and for good reason. Electric cars will enable greater independence from oil and could play a significant role in lowering carbon dioxide emissions. But the major fly in the ointment for the electric car is the battery.

Many solutions are being considered, including "air" batteries that produce electricity from the direct reaction of lithium metal with oxygen. The most likely option for now, though, is the lithium-ion battery used in cameras, computers, and cellphones. Lithium-ion batteries offer better storage and longer life than the older nickel-metal hydride models, making them ideal for a space-constrained, long-running vehicle.

All this means that lithium is likely to be a hot commodity in the years immediately ahead. It so happens that about three quarters of the world's known lithium reserves are concentrated in the southern cone of Latin America-to be precise, in the Atacama Desert, which is shared by two countries: Chile and Bolivia. Other than these reserves and the Spanish language, the one thing these two countries have in common is a historical animosity, cemented by their late 19th-century War of the Pacific. Chile was able to cut off Bolivia's access to the sea, a maneuver that rankles bitterly in La Paz to this day.

Could, Rothkopf wonders, competition over lithium create a Chilean-Bolivian conflict? Bolivia-Chile relations are quite strained, with ambassadorial relations between the two countries being disrupted since 1978 and Bolivia's sustained, impossible insistence that the territories lost by Bolivia in the War of the Pacific be returned. Will there be war?The Chileans seem to me unlikely to start a conflict with Bolivia, since they already have the frontiers that they want. Will the Bolivians? Certainly the anger persists, but is Bolivia likely to lose its good sense? The Chilean military is one of the most powerful in South America, with a rather richer Chile spending a good deal more money, absolutely and relatively, on its military and on equipping its military. Should Bolivia actually try to invade, I'd expect the war to end up like--well--the outcome of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. At best. I hardly see Evo Morales or his successors wishing their regimes' destruction.

There's another, more likely, source of lithium-related conflict. What's the other large countries with large economical lithium deposits? China, actually. These resources will surely come in handy when Chinese automobile manufacturers manufacture their own battery electric cars. Where in China are the deposits located? Tibet. Already, it's a source of some conflict on the Internet. Given past protests and riots, is it unlikely that the lithium mines in Tibet won't become a major local and international issue?
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The New York Times's Simon Rivero has produced an interesting article about Bolivia's role in the upcoming generation of electric cars and the nationalism that may complicate the introduction of its lithium into international markets.

In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia — a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.

Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment about the lithium is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries.

For now, the government talks of closely controlling the lithium and keeping foreigners at bay. Adding to the pressure, indigenous groups here in the remote salt desert where the mineral lies are pushing for a share in the eventual bounty.

“We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants. The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.”

The new Constitution that Mr. Morales managed to get handily passed by voters last month bolstered such claims. One provision could give Indians control over the natural resources in their territory, strengthening their ability to win concessions from the authorities and private companies, or even block mining projects.

None of this is dampening efforts by foreigners, including the Japanese conglomerates Mitsubishi and Sumitomo and a group led by a French industrialist, Vincent Bolloré. In recent months all three have sent representatives to La Paz, the capital, to meet with Mr. Morales’s government about gaining access to the lithium, a critical component for the batteries that power cars and other electronics.

“There are salt lakes in Chile and Argentina, and a promising lithium deposit in Tibet, but the prize is clearly in Bolivia,” Oji Baba, an executive in Mitsubishi’s Base Metals Unit, said in La Paz. “If we want to be a force in the next wave of automobiles and the batteries that power them, then we must be here.”
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Over at The Power and the Fury, Noel Maurer takes a look at the economic and political situation in Latin America's radical nations, starting with Venezuela and continuing through Central America and the Andes to Argentina. Suffice it to say that they have problems, not the least of which are the increasingly low prices commanded by Venezuelan (or any nation's) oil.
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  • Bear Left writes about how soccer can be a vehicle for international amity, whether between Cubans and Americans or Turks and Armenians (this last also described by Douglas Muir at A Fistful of Euros). That said, there's also case studies of conflicts like the Football War of 1969.

  • Centauri Dreams touches upon the idea of interstellar panspermia, the belief that microorganisms suitably prepared could not only traverse the vast distances within a planetary system but the vaster gaps between planetary systems. It's an evocative idea.

  • Daniel Drezner addresses the question through links of whether or not al-Qaeda is still a threat, with Bruce Hoffman pro and Juan Cole con. I lean towards a moderate version of con--the organization proper might be down but the ideology has a lot of support.

  • The Dragon's Tales' Will Baird wonders whether the poor showing of Russia's military equipment and its soldiers as evidenced in the Georgian war and its ongoing financial issues means that the current troubles are the reactions of a declining power.

  • Gideon Rachman reports on polls suggesting that in only 9 out of 17 countries does a majority of the population believe that al-Qaeda was responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th, with the American government coming next, then Israel

  • Hunting Monsters takes a look at the increasingly publicized tendency for some Egyptian men to grope woman, making the plausible suggestion that this phenomenon is likely a product of sexual and other frustrations felt by young Egyptians.

  • If not for The Pagan Prattle I would not have learned that the computer game Spore is evil because it deals with evolution. Sigh.
  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer reports that Bolivia is nearing civil war thanks to ethnic conflict and disputes over the sharing of hydrocarbon revenues.

  • Wis(s)e Words reports on a remarkably reckless American military adviser who suggests that Georgia should model its armed forces on those of Hezbollah, combining light and highly mobile infantry with modern weapons. As if that would work in the face of an upset Russia.

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    The recent article Washington Post article "Brazil-Bolivia Relations Go South" touches upon the two causes for the recent sharp deterioration in Brazilian-Bolivian relations. Not only has the Bolivian government demanded a renegotiation of the terms of natural gas sales to Brazil and threatened to nationalize Petrobras' investments in Bolivia, but the tenure of Bolivian land held by Brazilian farmers has been called into question. Brazil's foreign minister has warned of a potential break in diplomatic relations if things continue to deteriorate.

    The department of Santa Cruz in the east of Bolivia is the locus. Santa Cruz is in many wayus atypical by Bolivian standards, a territory that occupies lowland plains instead of Andean plateaus and with a generally mestizo population, with a relatively dynamic capitalist economy. Last year, Jonathan Edelstein suggested that the Santa Cruz situation was akin to eastern Ukrainian regionalism, at least inasmuch as Santa Cruz was a relatively wealthy region with a distinctive regional identity that was closely associated to that of the neighbouring country. As noted in The Economist in April 2005, the basic principles of Evo Morales' populist movement don't sit well with the people of Santa Cruz.

    [Morales' supporters] expect the constituent assembly to prise open institutions, possibly with quotas, and redistribute wealth, largely through land reform. This stirs alarm above all in Santa Cruz, where big landholdings underpin both entrepreneurial agriculture and feudal privilege. The province has some good reasons for wanting autonomy: the central government's power of appointment extends from school-teachers to provincial governors. La Paz province, with roughly the same population as Santa Cruz, has seven times the number of policemen, says Óscar Ortiz, of the regional chamber of trade and industry. But the most emotive issue is land. The regionalist cause attracted 400,000 people, a fifth of the province's population, to a rally in January. The confrontation between them and the social movements is a “catastrophic stalemate,” says Álvaro Linera, a sociologist in La Paz.

    Though the natural gas issue is obviously emotive in an age of energy geopolitics, it seems to be the land question that has the greatest potential emotional effect on Bolivian. Jeb Blount touches upon this in his Bloomberg News Service article "Bolivia's Nationalism Threatens Property of Brazilian Settlers"

    Brazilian farmers, who have helped make Brazil the world's second-largest soybean producer and exporter after the U.S., found it easy to move across the border and open up land in Bolivia.

    [. . .]

    For Oscar Flores, who left his depressed Andean highland town for Santa Cruz four years ago, the lowlands sometimes seem like another country.

    ``I know this is Bolivia, but everything is different, hardly anyone speaks Quechua,'' said Flores, 22, referring to the modern-Inca language spoken in his hometown of Sucre. ``The women dress differently and there are so many foreigners.''

    Resentment among the poverty-stricken Indians who inhabit Bolivia's highland plateau and provide the base of Morales's support, may be behind land redistribution plans for the relatively wealthy lowlands, said Walter Guevara, 65, a political scientist and former superintendent of Bolivia's civil service board.

    [. . .]

    For Flores, who struggles to survive on the $2 that farmers around Santa Cruz pay for a day's labor, the redistribution would be an answer to his prayers.

    ``It's my dream to have my own farm, plant soybeans, corn, potatoes,'' said Flores, who speaks Spanish as well as Quechua. ``It's not fair that so many foreigners own so much land.'

    What Blount doesn't mention is the resentment felt by Bolivia towards the neighbours responsible for the annexation of much of its national territory. The loss of Bolivia's Pacific coastline to Chile is well-known, but what isn't as well-known is the extent of Bolivia's territorial losses to a Brazil with a long history of westward expansion as described this past March.

    In Brazilian history the occupation of the Amazon played a role similar to the United States' expansion to the Pacific. The long march west began as soon as the first Portuguese colonists put foot on solid ground, quickly spilling over the boundaries set forth by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) between Spain and Portugal, which fixed the limits at a maximum of 600 kilometers from the eastern tip of the continental coast. The impressive expansion to the West reached the slopes of the Andean mountain range and the Silver River Basin. It was led by colonists from San Pablo who organized major expeditions to the interior ( las bandeiras ) in search of Indians for slaves, gold, and precious metals. By forging partnerships with these bandeirantes , poor colonists who saw the adventure as a way to improve their situation gave shape to the borders of what would become an independent Brazil in 1822.

    Although formally incorporated as part of national territory, the Amazon was an immense green desert—remote and difficult to access. In the mid-twentieth century Couto e Silva described the area as “the marginal part of Brazil, in large part unexplored, devitalized by its lack of people and creative energy, but deserving to be earnestly incorporated into the nation.” With over 1.5 million square miles, the Amazon makes up nearly half of the country's territory and is its greatest source of potential energy, fresh water, minerals, and biodiversity. Between 1850 and 1950, Brazil's “Amazonian territory” doubled at the cost of its neighbors; Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela lost portions of their land during that timeframe. In the 1865 Triple Alliance War (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay) alone, Brazil made off with almost 35,000 square miles of Paraguay's territory. But the expansion continued to be a basically irregular process that required populating isolated regions and entailed a systematic disregard for international law, in addition to blatant military force.

    The Brazilian state of Acre was annexed from Bolivia at the beginning of the 20th century. It's not at all surprising that, given Brazil's emergence as a global economic power of note and Bolivia's profound weakness, that the question of Santa Cruz' allegiance in the context of Brazilian investment and Brazilian immigration at least appears to be open to question. Democratic 21st century Brazil is almost certainly unlikely to press any territorial claims against Bolivia, not least because it would be inconsistent with its professed "Good Neighbor" policy, but the fear of domination must seem plausible. And so, the popularity of the attitudes expressed by one Bolivian quoted by Blount:

    ``The Brazilians have become very arrogant; they think our natural gas, forests, mines and farmlands are theirs to use as they please,'' said Alejandro Colanzi, 47, a lawyer and legislator, whose Union Nacional party supports Morales's plan to boost government control of oil, gas and mining ventures, said in an interview in his office in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. ``Morales is ending our complicity in this exploitation, he's recovering our dignity and self esteem.''

    Needless to say, this doesn't augur good things for South American integration.


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