In response to the growing political insurgency between the poorer, Amerindian-dominated western part of Bolivia and the richer, Hispanic-dominated eastern provinces, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it has temporarily transferred 102 missionaries of North American origin from Bolivia to Peru, where they'll be farmed out amongst Peru's three LDS mission districts, all part of the Church's South America West Area. Full story published in the Deseret Morning News, the Mormon Times, and KSL Channel 5.
According to a news release by the LDS Church, the transfer was made "in consultation with U.S. government representatives in Bolivia and with the cooperation of Bolivian immigration authorities as a precautionary measure during the present unsettled conditions there". Unlike the U.S. government, the Church has a good relationship with the Bolivian government and has a significant humanitarian aid program in the country. Most recently, 1,000 wheelchairs were delivered to Bolivia as a part of that humanitarian effort.
This is the latest of a number of precautions taken by official agencies to protect foreigners against the growing Bolivian insurgency. After last week's expulsion of U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg, the United States suspended the Peace Corps program in Bolivia, evacuating its 130 volunteers to Peru. The U.S. Embassy has also advised other Americans to leave Bolivia if they can. In addition, American Airlines has temporarily suspended flights between Miami and Bolivia because of the political unrest.
The specific trigger for the LDS evacuation appears to be the arrest of an opposition governor inside the country on charges of organizing a massacre. Pando province Governor Leopoldo Fernandez is being charged with genocide in what Bolivian President Evo Morales calls an "ambush" of his supporters last week, which left at least 15 dead and 37 injured. More specific media reports on this arrest from ABC News and the BBC. However, the Washington Post reports that talks between some opposition governors and Morales are still on, despite the arrest.
The seeds of the Bolivian conflict lie in demographics and natural resources. The western part of Bolivia is mountainous, poorer, and dominated by an Amerinidian majority. In contrast, the eastern part of Bolivia is flat, dominated by a more Hispanic majority, and has benefited from significant natural gas discoveries. The country's president, Evo Morales, is Amerindian, and one of his objectives was to equalize economic opportunities within all of Bolivia. Part of his reform package includes land transfers to Amerindians, which has sparked strong opposition from the eastern part of the country. Anti-government demonstrations erupted in Pando and provinces in the east to protest Mr. Morales's plans to rewrite the constitution, redistribute land to the poor and give them more political power. Many of his reforms sound suspiciously like "affirmative action" for Amerindians.
Many other South American leaders have expressed support for President Morales' actions. In particular, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez sees it as an opportunity to extend his pernicious influence deeper into South America. Chavez remarked that if Evo Morales was overthrown, he [Chavez] "wouldn't remain with arms crossed", implying military intervention, but Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel warned Chavez off. While America's military strength and budgets have been severely strained by our interventions all over the world, Hugo Chavez is clearly a cancer which must be excised for the sake of stability in Latin America.
More information about the history, culture, people, and economics of Bolivia can be found HERE. A major factor in Bolivian history was the War of The Pacific, fought from 1879-1883 between Chile and the allied forces of Bolivia and Peru. Chile won the war, costing Bolivia its short coastline and turning it into a landlocked nation, although Chile subsequently agreed to give Bolivia special transit rights to the lost seaports. However, this issue continues to affect Bolivian-Chilean relations to this day; official diplomatic relations between the two countries do not exist, although they have normal commercial relations.