Santa Cruz is a flash point for tension between the country’s eastern and western halves. The Chaco area in the south of the Santa Cruz region is rich in natural gas and oil and, as a result, Santa Cruz’s economic output represents around 30–40% of the country’s GDP. However, much of the wealth is filtered off to La Paz, which has caused a great deal of resentment. Santa Cruz has become the central focus for rallying calls for greater autonomy and even independence. In 2006, President Evo Morales put the national gas industry under state control in an effort to share the proceeds with the impoverished, indigenous majority, rather than continue to line the pockets of a privileged few. The terms of nationalization, however, seriously jeopardized agreements with the area’s foreign investors. Morales’ dramatic land reform policy (a proposed redistribution of two hundred thousand square kilometres of land) was also bitterly opposed by Santa Cruz landowners. Huge swathes of state-owned land have already been redistributed to help the nation’s poor recover from historical injustice, and the government has also started to seize privately owned land that is unproductive, or was obtained illegally, and distribute that as well. In Santa Cruz, the autonomia movement is very evident, with T-shirts, graffiti and green-and-white regional flags all bearing witness to the anti-government feeling. Tensions seem unlikely to dissipate any time soon.

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