LA PAZ, Bolivia, March 31 (UPI) -- Military suppliers hoping to take part in Bolivia's military regeneration program have been beaten to the game by the Chinese, who are supplying the Latin American country with military vehicles and possibly more.
Military and security industries, often backed by governments, have been pursuing Latin American markets to expand their customer base on the continent. Both France and Russia sent high-powered delegations to South America in 2009 to pitch for lucrative arms sales on preferential credit terms. Russia signed deals with Venezuela and France initialed agreements in Brazil worth tens of billions of dollars.
Brazil insists on transfer of technology and deals that will enable it to develop its own defense manufacturing industries. The smaller countries, however, lack both financial and human resources to take on technology-transfer arrangements and prefer instead a straightforward import of manufactured defense items.
The China-Bolivia agreement is one such deal, in which the Chinese have begun supplying Bolivia with military vehicles and spare parts and more, possibly on easy repayment terms, analysts said.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said China would also help Bolivia launch a low-orbit satellite to fight drug cartels.
Bolivia has been struggling with outmoded defense equipment but its deal with China sparked speculation that military modernization signaled border problems with neighboring Paraguay.
Bolivia and Paraguay went to war in the 1930s over rumors of oil deposits in the bordering Gran Chaco region, a find never confirmed with a discovery. In the fighting, the bloodiest in South America in the 20th century, Paraguay captured some Bolivian land, which it continues to hold. The loss of land to Paraguay is a sore point with Bolivians who officially mourn each year the loss to Chile of their access to the sea in the 1883 War of the Pacific.
Despite a return to peacetime conditions, any military armament triggers tension between the two countries, which Morales was keen to defuse in comments this week.
He denied that Bolivia's military purchases from China were a provocation to Paraguay,
and condemned critics for trying to stir up trouble between the neighbors.
He called for peaceful coexistence to deliver more effective economic programs to the people of the two countries.
Paraguay media reported Bolivia has eight bases and 9,000 troops near the Paraguayan border. Morales said Bolivia needs to strengthen its border security against drug smuggling and armed militants usually working with drug smugglers.
In provincial polls scheduled for Sunday, Morales expects to consolidate power in elections to governors' posts, provincial assemblies and other local posts.
About 5 million Bolivian registered voters will elect provincial governors, members of regional legislative assemblies, mayors, councilors and local indigenous authorities.
This will be the first time that voters will be able to elect autonomous provincial governments in Bolivia under its new constitution. The government says it wants to restore normal security conditions, eradicate crime and drug smuggling with the cooperation of all citizens.