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Boiling point in Bolivia

Internal conflict could destabilize the region. Here's what Washington can do.

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While America's foreign-policy debate centers on the Middle East and Russia, unrest is mounting in South America. Bolivia is teetering on the brink of conflict, threatening to destabilize a region much closer to home and further damage our troubled economy.

The crisis represents what the United States might increasingly face: waning power and rabid anti-Americanism, limiting Washington's options in trouble spots. In this case, the best the US can do is help support efforts led by Brazil and other South American states.

Bolivia is synonymous with political and social strife. Long known for its deep social inequities and political turmoil, this country of 9 million people has increasingly been divided geographically, economically, and even culturally. Two groups now fight for control of the state: those in the lowlands, mostly capitalist mestizos (people of mixed European ancestry) who support globalization and benefit from Brazil's booming economy, versus the indigenous groups in the Andes, the anti-American Aymara and Quechua, who prefer state control of the economy.

Bolivia's mineral resources complicate this picture. Not only are the country's abundant hydrocarbon reserves concentrated in the four wealthier lowland provinces but centuries of elite exploitation have left indigenous groups deeply distrustful of any scheme that might deprive them of these riches.

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