Bolivia builds defenses against 'poachers' of resources

Aug. 9, 2010 at 5:15 PM
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LA PAZ, Bolivia, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Bolivia is building defenses against what it calls poachers from neighboring countries who are out to deprive the country of minerals and natural resources.

The buildup involves arms and military purchases from China, Europe, Latin America and Russia, although the government of President Evo Morales says it is still spending less than its neighbors on defense.

The government says Bolivia's landlocked geographical position and inadequate security infrastructure makes it vulnerable to poaching along its borders, though it didn't name a country for the alleged offenses. Bolivia is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west.

Officials said Bolivia's timber, gold and other natural resources were at risk from foreign elements that they didn't name.

Bolivian purchases include Chinese-built K-8 aircraft for combating narcotics traffic and patrolling the border regions. Bolivia is also seeking from China and Russia a range of weapons and ammunition that it has been unable to obtain from the United States or other Latin American suppliers because of barred U.S. components.

Morales told a military ceremony in the border town of Cobija Sunday he was concerned about lack of border controls and foreign elements' attempts to deprive Bolivia of its natural resources.

He told his military commanders he would pursue a military buildup in the border areas as a major priority. Last year, his aides countered criticism of Bolivian arms purchases and challenged critics who said La Paz could be contributing to a Latin American arms race.

Defense Minister Walker San Miguel told news media, "Bolivia is a country that spends least on military hardware. We are very consistent with our commitment to the principles of peace ... but we can't have armed forces that do not access to the minimum equipment for their professional training and action if needed."

In addition to purchase from China, Bolivia has begun to use a $100 million line of credit for military hardware from Russia. Details of Bolivian purchases are yet to be released.

San Miguel said that Bolivia's armed forces had been neglected for two decades and lacked operational logistical equipment and elementary military hardware. Some elements of the Bolivian armed forces are operating with obsolete equipment, he said.

Bolivia has said it bought the Chinese aircraft because Beijing offered attractive terms and its first choice, aircraft made in the Czech Republic, couldn't be obtained because of Washington' disapproval.

Five helicopters donated by Brazil similarly couldn't be delivered because of U.S. disapproval as the aircraft had U.S. technology.

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