October 19, 2004

Bush, Kerry and Bolivia: Where does it stand?

MABB is a registered TM.

At just two weeks from the November 2, US elections, I compared the two candidates’ platforms and have not found much information about their policies concerning Bolivia. Of course, I think, it is to be expected that foreign policy discussions centers on more important topics like Iraq and Afghanistan and not on Bolivia. After all, Bolivia is not high in the priority list of neither candidate since it is seen in the context of a region rather than a country, with some exceptions. However, the strong influence US Foreign Policy has over Bolivian domestic politics, economics and the society in general is pretty much undisputed. We can cite countless examples where what the US Government (USG) has to say about Bolivian affairs is carefully weighted no only by the Government of Bolivia (GOB) but by politicians and business people as well. As it is expected, most Bolivians are opposed to such influence and meddling in domestic affairs by the USG. However, this is something Bolivians have to live with because it is somewhat out of their control. Bolivia, whether it wants it or not, lies within the geographic sphere of influence of the big neighbor to the north and as such, it both, benefits and hurts from such relationship.

I took a look at both candidate’s policies towards Bolivia and asked: How will Bolivia be affected by the outcome of the November elections? Will the same policies continue or will there be any change? What are the positions of Bush and Kerry concerning Bolivia?

The Bush administration and Bolivia
As far as the Bush agenda and the Republican party’s platform is concerned, current policies will pretty much continue in the case President Bush is re-elected.The Bush administration and thus the USG see US-Bolivian relations in basically four distinct dimensions: Drug trafficking control, strengthening of democracy, poverty alleviation or foreign aid, and as a part of a regional trade area.

Drug trafficking control: One of the first priorities of President Bush and his administration has been to fight against organized drug trafficking and narco-terrorists within Bolivia. According to the 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the principal USG counter narcotics goals in Bolivia are: to remove Bolivia as a major producer of coca leaf for the production of cocaine; to promote economic development and establish alternative licit crops and markets to provide farmers with viable options to cultivating coca; to disrupt the production of cocaine within Bolivia; to interdict and destroy illicit drugs and precursor chemicals moving within and through the country; to reduce and combat the market for the domestic abuse of cocaine and other illicit drugs; and to institutionalize a professional law enforcement system. The USG has also sought to work through various programs to promote institutional reform and to strengthen the elements within the GOB dedicated to addressing counter narcotics-related issues. The GOB and the US Embassy have been meeting routinely at all levels and across several functional entities to coordinate policy, to implement programs/operations and to resolve issues. This support is defined by Letters of Agreements (LOAs) signed annually with the GOB.

The Strengthening of Democracy: The Bush administration’s policy is to strengthen the region’s democratic institutions by working with leaders in the region to promote good governance and combat corruption and by promoting development and reforms. One approach has been the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account which provides funds in exchange of better governance (accountability and transparency), reforms (free markets) and investment in the areas of education, health and small companies. Bolivia is one such country which has been selected to receive funds.

Poverty alleviation: As we can see from the previous point, this objective of US foreign policy is closely related to strengthening democracy. The Bush administration created the Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA) program. Proposed by President Bush in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002 and passed by the republican congress in January 2004, the MCA provides funds to developing nations in exchange of greater responsibility, reform, governing with justice and equality, respect the state of law and fight against corruption. The funds should be used in education, health, and economic reform, free markets and less bureaucracy. Bolivia has been one of 16 countries selected to participate in this program. However, selection does not guarantee funding.

In addition, the Bush administration has sought to improve the effectiveness of the World Bank and other development banks in raising living standards; insisting upon measurable results to ensure that development assistance is actually making a difference in the lives of the world’s poor; increasing the amount of development assistance that is provided in the form of grants instead of loans.

Regional Free Trade Area: The Bush administration has so far negotiated trade agreements with Central America and Chile. Currently, it is negotiating a free trade agreement with the Andean nations (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as observer). This policy is most likely to continue under a new term of President Bush.

Kerry and Bolivia
The Kerry vision towards Bolivia is also framed by the broader picture of regional politics. Kerry’s policies stem from four ideas: Creating a new community of the Americas, strengthening democracy, free and fair trade and reforming America’s immigration laws.

Creating a new community of the Americas: Behind the motto “neighbors look after neighbors” Kerry wants to create a sense of community in the Americas. He is for promoting educational exchanges; encourage remittances by lowering the costs; create a social investment and development fund; work to create economic opportunities; develop a transportation master plan (Mexico-US-Canada) and form a North American Security Perimeter.

Strengthening Democracy: Kerry wants to support strong democratic states with transparent rules and procedures, as well as those states that have broad respect for the rule of law. According to Kerry, these conditions are essential to alleviating poverty and inequality. He is committed to strong and steady support for democratic processes and institutions, to consolidate democracy where it exists and assist democracy where it is in trouble.

In this manner, Senator Kerry wants to establish a council for democracy to strengthen regional organizations. He also wants to triple the funds to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED is a USG funded organization which seeks to promote democracy in the world. In addition, Kerry want to stay neutral in free elections, support democratically elected leaders and support peaceful democratic opposition.

Free and fair trade: Kerry supports free trade in the Americas, as long as the agreements are not detrimental for the respective societies. Every agreement must be fair and assure the lifting of standards of living in the US and the partner country’countries.

Reforming America’s immigration laws: Kerry will seek to make it easier for law abiding, thoroughly checked immigrants who pay their taxes, have it easier to legalize their status. He will make it easier for families to reunify. An finally, he will establish an orderly channel for future temporary workers coming into the United States, with stronger protections against displacement for US workers, and stronger wage and working condition protections for incoming workers.

So, where does Bolivia stand?
As stated earlier, Bolivia is not a focus of attention, but rather a part in the Latin American regional puzzle. Both Kerry and Bush see Bolivia in terms of regional politics. The focus on the region, for both candidates starts from the top down. Within this frame, Bolivia fits along with the rest of the Latin American countries.

If president Bush is re-elected, Bolivia can expect a continuation of the current policies in place. The MCA and the effort to fight drug trafficking and coca eradication are most likely to remain the main instruments of USG foreign policy in Bolivia.

President Bush argues that decades of massive development assistance have failed to spur economic growth in the poorest countries and that development aid has often served to prop up failed policies, relieving the pressure for reform and perpetuating misery. Mr. Bush further argues, the results of aid are typically measured in dollars spent by donors, not in the rates of growth and poverty reduction achieved by recipients. Therefore his answer is the MCA.

To this day, Bolivia is held as a success story of the US government’s drugs eradication programs. The USG and the GOB, most likely, if the Bush administration is still in power, will continue to work together strengthening the Special Drug Police Force (FELCN) by expanding personnel; upgrading existing physical infrastructure; and constructing new bases. The USG will also continue to support Bolivia with its Alternative Development assistance programs which provide funds for farmers to grow licit crops.

According to President Bush’s vision of the Americas, the region will be “a fully democratic hemisphere, working together to achieve representative democracy, security, and market-based development as well as advancing trade liberalization in the Americas in order to promote economic development and democratic governance.”(1)That is one objective the MCA programs seeks to achieve.

In the case Senator Kerry is elected President of the US, the focus is most likely to be also within regional politics. Kerry’s idea of creating a regional community and to take the region’s relations with the US to the level of neighbors will certainly be challenging. In fact, some might suggest that the idea is a bit naive and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the region’s politics, which is more like a dysfunctional marriage rather than neighborly love.

The one policy that is most likely to have an impact on Bolivia, as it is the case with the Bush administration, is strengthening democracy. The shape of this policy is not yet clear, however it could be similar to the policies President Clinton had during his terms, considering that many of Clinton’s advisors are advising Kerry. In this manner, I think, Bolivia can expect more continuity with the same policy of conditional foreign aid. The Kerry camp is not radically different from the Bush camp in this aspect.

One interesting idea that catches my attention is the USG staying neutral on free elections. Given that the current administration was more of a biased observer, this neutral approach should prove to be difficult to carry out. Specially if a radical, ani-capitalist incumbent like Evo Morales happens to win elections in Bolivia. In the last elections, the USG was far from neutral in light of Morales’ second place in the elections. It would be interesting to see a Kerry administration staying quiet and neutral in the face of such an outcome.

The Kerry approach to “free and fair” trade would also mark a change from current policies. A Kerry administration would seem to be more populist and protectionist. I would think that the current negotiations between the Andean nations and the USG will be even longer under a Kerry administration. Bolivia could expect to have more difficulty selling its agricultural products to the US and to the world. Protectionist policies in favor of American farmers are most likely to strengthen under a Kerry watch.

John Kerry for president, www.johnKerry.com.

(1) Bush agenda, Republican party’s platform, various speeches of government officials.

2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2003/vol1/html/29832.htm

State Department’s Information Agency, Speech from Ambassador Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Conference for the AmĂ©ricas organized by the Miami Herald,Coral Gables, Florida, 30 de September de 2004.