As Bolivian forests burn, Evo's bet on Big Farming comes under fire

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SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA/LA PAZ, Bolivia: In the tropical Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a wealthy farming hub on the edge on the Amazon ...

SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA/LA PAZ, Bolivia: In the tropical Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a wealthy farming hub on the edge on the Amazon rainforest, President Evo Morales gathered with ranchers late last month to celebrate a maiden shipment of beef to China.

The scale of the fires is massive, threatening what is seen as a natural bulwark against climate change. In recent weeks, they have swept over 2.1 million hectares in land-locked Bolivia, an area almost the size of New Jersey, burning more than 700,000 hectares of forest in protected reserves, according to a report by local conservation group FAN.

After a wave of criticism over his government's initial slow response to the fires, Morales leapt into action late last month, hiring a Boeing SuperTanker to douse flames with water and joining firefighters battling them on the ground with hoses. Morales, once a coca farmer himself, placed the blame on periodic droughts that hit hard this year."If you smoke a cigarette and toss it out it'll spark and there's a fire," Morales told ranchers at the ceremony in Santa Cruz last week.A decade ago, Morales was so despised in Santa Cruz he avoided the agriculture fair it hosts ever year. The traditionally conservative farming province feared his plans to break up large rural estates.

 

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