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What Bolivia's Chaos Means

The forced resignation of Bolivia's President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, following a month of violent demonstrations, marks a tragic milestone whose meaning extends far beyond his impoverished country. Bolivia's civil and political breakdown provides another vivid example of the poverty of US foreign policy.

Sánchez de Lozada is one of Latin America's true heroes, a leader who helped usher in democracy and modest--if fragile--economic growth during the past 20 years, including two terms as president. Yet now he has fled Bolivia in fear for his life. American arrogance and neglect played a big part in this stunning reversal.

Virtually all of South America has been in deep economic malaise of late, with high unemployment, rising poverty, and growing social unrest. Argentina endured economic collapse and four failed presidencies during the past three years. Brazil is battling recession and rising unemployment. Political systems have fallen apart in Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Colombia is in open civil war.

As a landlocked Andean country, Bolivia suffers its own special distress. Its transport costs are among the highest in the world, reflecting mountainous terrain and international trade routes that must cross political boundaries and depend on foreign ports. This discourages inward investment and strains relations with coastal neighbors.