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What is the Grand Chaco?

The Grand Chaco (El Gran Chaco in Spanish) is a vast wild of about 300,000 square miles in the heart of South America. It is a sparsely populated wild region of marshes, lagoons, tropical jungles, grassy plains and open woodlands. Some of it has never been thoroughly explored and some of the Indian tribes there have never submitted to any governments but their own. This "green hell" was called Chaco or Chacu by the Incas before Pizarro conquered Peru. The term is believed to signify "hunting ground" or "drive of wild animals." Chaco tribesmen, unable to cope with the trained Inca warriors, scattered in all directions like game in a hunting drive when their territory was invaded by the more civilized people from the Andes. Bolivian Indians apply chaco to an unctuous earth that they eat with chocolate. The Grand Chaco is composed of Chaco Boreal, Chaco Central and Chaco Astral. Its known natural resources consist of palms, cabinet and building woods, quebracho (source of tannin used in curing leather) and some minerals and oil. Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia began to fight over the control of this area soon after their liberation from Spain. Wars over the Chaco have cost more lives than the territory has inhabitants. That part of the Chaco [page 22] south of the Pilcomayo River—about 50,000 square miles—was definitely acquired by Argentina. A strip of the Chaco known as the "Hayes Zone" was awarded to Paraguay in 1878 when President Rutherford B. Hayes of the United States acted as arbiter. The remainder is still the subject of a century-old dispute between Paraguay and Bolivia. The crux of the Chaco dispute has landlocked Bolivia's demand for a port. on the upper stretches of the Paraguay River. That part of the Chaco claimed by Paraguay is larger than Paraguay proper. After intermittent fighting for years Paraguay formally declared war against Bolivia in 1933. When hostilities were suspended in 1935 this war had cost more than 100,000 lives. Bolivia got the worst of the contest because her troops, chiefly Indians reared in the high Andes, could not endure the hot, sultry and rainy climate in the Chaco lowlands. In 1938 the two countries agreed to a formula by which their boundaries in the Chaco were to be determined without further bloodshed.