The Chaco takes up about 60% of Paraguay and has less than 3% of the population. It is desolate and beyond what we think of as backward or "civilized." It is in this vast and remote region-- no towns, no roads, people don't even speak Spanish here-- that Bush is rumored to have bought his gigantic estate. When rumors first started surfacing about it people assumed he would be using it as a backup in case he had to escape the war crimes charges that could well come after he is out of office. In Latin America the suspicion is that he was making a play for the area's huge acquifer which is said to be more valuable than an oil field, at least for those who think in terms of generations when doing their financial planning. That the two Bush daughters have been down here a few times has added fuel to the fire. I reported the rumors at Down With Tyranny but I wasn't certain it was actually true, even after reading quotes from the governor of the province and other Paraguayan public officials.
Since I got to Paraguay I've been trying to track down the ranch-- with no luck. Some people swear it is true--as did the Paraguayan consul in the U.S. I had spoken to-- and some say it is just a fake rumor. In any case, everyone agrees it would be virtually impossible to find out for sure because the region is so vast and remote. The desk clerk at the Sheraton suggested I hire a private plane to find it since there aren't even roads, let alone buses.
Yesterday I called the U.S. Embassy and had a long, friendly chat with a diplomat. He doesn't seem too enamoured of Paraguay, although he reckons it's better than Pakistan. He complained that Asuncion is remote and cut off from the rest of the world. He also said that they checked and that there is no Bush ranch and no secret U.S. military base. Of course if it were secret, he would hardly be advertising its existence. He suggested I read a State Department statement about both. The official U.S. line is that the Bush ranch is some Cuban disinformation propogated by Prensa Latina.
People tend not to believe anything diplomats say that serve the national interests they represent. Under Bush the credibility of the U.S. State Department has fallen to new lows. Their claims are utterly worthless. That doesn't prove that there is a Bush ranch, however. Is it possible that the daughters were here because one of them works for UNICEF? I doubt it. And even the diplomat admitted to me that she was up in the Chaco visiting backward Menonite communities. It doesn't add up.
I spoke to the wife of a Brazilian general who told me that the base is real and that the ranch has been "100% confirmed" by the Brazilian military intelligence. Is she a good source? She has less reason to lie than the U.S. State Department.
I don't think there's much more I can find out about this whole thing from here. I keep reminding myself I'm on vacation and that I need to get to Tierra del Fuego. I'm going to take a bus to Encarnacion on the Argentine border, cross over to Posadas, the capital of Missiones Province and sniff out the possibilities of going down to Esterios de Iberrà in Corrientes. This is supposed to be the Western Hemisphere's version of the Serengeti. It is a vast, sparcely populated swamp. I don't know what's wrong with me.