It’s Not Just Morales: U.S. Rhetoric on Bolivia Also Problematic

Bolivian president Evo Morales’s frequent, blunt criticisms of the United States Government often provoke irritation and complaints in Washington about negative “rhetoric” impeding bilateral relations.

Unfortunate comments from some U.S. officials complicate relations

It’s important to note that although U.S. officials have generally made diplomatic statements regarding relations with Bolivia, there have been some notable exceptions. The most recent appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal: “[U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner] successfully argued against ripping up contracts that controversially allowed millions of dollars in bonuses to be paid to American International Group employees, stating: ‘This is not Bolivia,’ according to two people who heard him say it.”

Although what Geithner inferred about Bolivia is unclear, it’s interesting to note that Bolivia’s economy has weathered the global crisis quite well, and received a positive evaluation from the IMF (http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/2010/pn1009.htm). In the past several years, Bolivia has also witnessed significant increases in property values, something no U.S. homeowner currently enjoys (http://incakolanews.blogspot.com/2010/02/bolivias-property-boom.html).

Another U.S. official recently made strident comments about Evo Morales, demonstrating a general lack of knowledge about Bolivia. On January 21, 2010 Deputy Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff responded in a press conference to President Morales’ criticism of U.S. aid efforts in Haiti. Wolff claimed Morales’ accusations were “inhuman, savage and opportunistic” and “far from reality.” He went on to state, “This type of declaration has nothing to do with reality, and is due more to the psychology of the person speaking. [This attitude] is retrograde and has nothing to do with the actual situation.” (http://www.rpp.com.pe/2010-01-21-eeuu-le-dice-retrograda-a-evo-morales-noticia_237070.html).

This is not the best choice of words to describe any president, especially a Native American. His comments also reflect a misconception that continues to make the rounds in Washington: That Morales has an irrational hatred of the United States, and as a result, there is no way to improve bilateral relations.

UN official Wolff also said, he “would like to know more about how much the Bolivians are helping in Haiti,” apparently failing to acknowledge the presence of Bolivian UN peacekeeping forces in that country.

U.S. government reports further complicate relations

U.S. official reports also provoked friction in Bolivia and give the impression of a double discourse that contradicts positive statements from high-ranking U.S. officials. For example, the February 2, 2010 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence characterized the Morales administration (in conjunction with Chavez and other leaders) as “radical,” suggesting they were becoming more “authoritarian,” and that they are “seeking to undermine moderate, pro-U.S. governments.” The report continues:

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales easily was reelected in December 2009 for another five-year term after changing the Constitution. He is likely to continue to pursue an authoritarian, statist domestic agenda and an anti-U.S. foreign policy. Relations with the U.S. remain poor, and Morales has sharply curtailed cooperation with U.S. counter-drug programs since expelling the U.S. Ambassador in 2008 and three dozen DEA personnel in early 2009 (http://www.dni.gov/testimonies/20090212_testimony.pdf).

The Assessment fails to mention the continued effort to progress in the bilateral dialogue. It is also important to note that, in spite of the expulsion of the DEA, the U.S. and Bolivia maintain relatively fluid day-to-day coordination and cooperation on interdiction and coca reduction.  Although the U.S. recently announced a $4 million reduction in drug control assistance for the coming year, the Bolivian Drug Czar announced on February 20, 2010 that they were asking the U.S. to consider reinstating the funds, as well as seeking additional international support. “International donors are going to reconsider the budget cut we suffered.  We’ve been able to show results and the international donors have decided to reconsider their decision,” he stated.

In 2009 many U.S. documents and determinations also presented inaccurate critiques of the Morales administration.[i] Within the next few weeks both the Report on Human Rights Practices and the International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports should be released. Hopefully this year’s reports will contain more balanced, objective observations and constructive criticism when appropriate. If this does not occur, inaccurate reporting will create yet another impediment to rebuilding U.S.-Bolivia bilateral relations and throw another wrench into genuine efforts on the part of some diplomats from both countries to move forward.

 

Although frustration in Washington continues over the expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg and the Drug Enforcement Administration, that should not impede the recognition and frank evaluation of past problems with the U.S. role in Bolivia and the implementation of transparent strategies to overcome them. There is no guarantee that an across-the-board diplomatic stance from all U.S. officials and in all reports will end Morales’s pointed critiques, but taking the “high road” can only help build on  the concrete, existing opportunities for a new, positive dynamic in Bolivia relations.

Source: AIN

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