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Rosalio Negrete

Chaco – Imperialist Battleground

(January 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 1, 4 January 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Having raged for two years the war between the South American republics, Bolivia and Paraguay, for the possession of the Gran Chaco region continues almost without interruption. The complicated interests involved, the existence of various “peace” agencies interfering with each other’s activities, and the extreme difficulty of military operations in the region, are the principal reasons why this war has dragged on for so long a time without any solution.

The Seventh Pan-American Congress which met recently in Montevideo was unable to do anything to settle the Chaco dispute. In part this failure may be due to the fact that while U.S. imperialism dominated at the congress it was British imperialism’s protegee Paraguay, who appeared to have the upper hand in the war during the period of the Congress. While American imperialism emerged from the Pan American Congress with some gains, imperialist rival, Great Britain, is still far from defeated. The recent successes of the Paraguayan army indicate this, although the growing influence of Wall St. in Argentina may yet defeat their plans. Argentina, while formally working for peace in the region, has in reality given moral and material support to Paraguay. In this the Argentine government has only served the interests of British imperialism. If Secretary Hull’s efforts to win support in Argentina are successful, the Paraguayan generals are due for a major surprise.

British and American Oil Interests

The Chaco region which for years has been a bone of contention between Bolivia and Paraguay, is made up of an extensive grassy plain, an area of thorn forest and the swampy jungle bottoms lands along the Pilcomayo River. Both of the disputants have outside of the Chaco great undeveloped areas, and their real interest in the Chaco is not for their own use but rather for the interests of British and American oil companies.

The Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey has a virtual monopoly over the immense oil deposits of Bolivia proper, although these have been as yet very little developed. The Bolivian deposits are at the eastern base of the Andes and the piping of the oil over a mountain range more than 11,000 feet high is too expensive to be a practical undertaking. The natural outlet for Bolivian oil therefor is by pipe line to some point on the Paraguay River, accessible to ocean steamers.

There is reputed to be some oil in the Chaco itself but this is a matter of secondary importance, as are also the other natural resources of the Chaco, such as hardwoods grazing land, etc. The Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company is sparing no pains to block the interests of Standard Oil. In this, of course, the Royal Dutch counts on the full support of British imperialism, which has therefore for several years aided Paraguay in her long-standing rentier dispute over the arena.

War Two Years Old

The dispute over the Gran Chaco dates from Spanish colonial times, and has on numerous occasions threatened war. On several occasions in the late 1920’s frontier clashes were reported, but the actual warfare on a large scale did not commence until about two years ago. Since then a continual seesaw sort of fighting has been going on over a wide front, without either side gaining any decisive advantage. The same “forts” that were being captured and re-captured during the first few weeks of fighting are still being captured and re-captured today. There have been periods in which the Bolivian forces would win victory after victory and then it would be time for the Paraguayans to come in for their share. During the rainy season, operations had to be almost completely suspended, and during the dry season scouting parties would die of thirst in the grassy desert and the waterless forest. There have been close to a hundred thousand killed in all since the war commenced, which is a terrible toll when one considers, the population of the countries participating (Bolivia: 2½ million; Paraguay a scant 700,000).

Numerous attempts have been made at negotiations but without results. Armistices arranged are broken with regularity. One commission made up of representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru has just given way to a League of Nations commission which may or may not be able to arrange some sort of temporary compromise.

The Communist Parties of both Paraguay and Bolivia are very young, having been organized since the Sixth World Congress, and while very active “defending” the Soviet Union have been unable to organize any real mass movement in protest against the frightful slaughter taking place in the Chaco. A few protest movements have taken place locally and small army detachments in Bolivia have rebelled at different times. The South American secretariat of the C.I. has shown impotence in the whole situation succeeding only in organizing a “Barbusse” Anti-War Congress last year which did about as much to really end the war, as did the recently terminated Pan-American Congress.

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