September 27, 2005

Bolivia: World News Round-up

MABB © ®
A series of interesting news, having to do with Bolivia, are making their way around the world. This post will briefly review some of these news.
The first report I'd like to call your attention to is the decision of the IMF and World Bank (WB) over the weekend to forgive 100% the debt of four Latin American countries, Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua (along with many African countries). This proposal stems chiefly out of the initiative of the UK government, which made the appeal on this year's G-8 meeting in Scotland. Trevor Manuel, the Bank's policy making committee said:

"The (debt) agreement now carries the full weight of support of all member states of the IMF and the World Bank and sets the basis for the next moment. These agreements are premised firstly on 100 percent debt relief,"

In a first phase the initiative would provide multilateral debt cancellation worth about 40 billion dollars to 18 of the world's most impoverished nations, including Bolivia. This is, of course, good news for Bolivia.

While on the debt issue, Bolivia is doing relatively well, on other issues is not. The White House is deeply troubled about current events in Bolivia and it is taking some steps in anticipation. In a memorandum to the Secretary of State, the President identified several countries as major drug transit or illicit drug-producing country for the fiscal year 2006. One of these countries is Bolivia. In the directive President Bush says:

Pursuant to section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107 228)(FRAA), I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

President Bush goes on to direct the secretary of state to pass this information to Congress. And, as a result of actions like these, Congress has taken the steps to call for a congressional hearing on the topic of "Hot Spots in Latin America". This hearing, sponsored by Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), will be held tomorrow Wednesday. The background document speaks of the current and worrying situation in the region and describes it as:

Despite two decades of political and economic progress among many Latin American and Caribbean basin nations, systemic problems continue to plague the continent, including persistent poverty; violent guerrilla conflicts; autocratic leaders; drug trafficking, crime and corruption; weak judicial systems; political polarization; and the rise of virulent populism. Frustration and a growing lack of confidence by citizens in many countries are echoed in the respected Latinobarometro surveys for 2004 that indicate an erosion in public confidence in democratic governments over the past ten years.

Specifically about Bolivia, it says:

Bolivia and Ecuador have had a number of presidents ousted since 2000.

The hearing should provide an assessment of U.S. policies to advance and reinforce democratic reforms and democratic institutional capacity within Latin America, as well as assess the potential threats to the stability of those institutions.

At the same time, the US government is doing its part to make not only Bolivia uncomfortable, but Brazil and Argentina and Paraguay. The reason is the joint military exercises being carried out by U.S. and Paraguayan soldiers in the region close to the town of Pilar. The agreement allows for the participation of 400 U.S. troops over a year-and-a-half period. Critics to the military exercises say:

The US is "establishing a military base here to monitor natural gas reserves in neighboring Bolivia where leftists could soon take power. Others charge U.S. financial interest in a nearby fresh water reserve, one of the world's largest."

While the Paraguayan government explains it is simple terms:

"This is an opportunity for our forces to get professional training," Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila Rachid told Reuters by telephone from Washington. "It's as simple as that."

And the US military says:

"We're doing the same exercises that we've been doing here for years. We aren't doing any more of them and we aren't doing any different ones," said Kevin Johnson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Asuncion. "We have no interest in a base."

The uneasiness comes on the back of the US government's history of interventions in the region. Horacio Galeano Perrone, a former Paraguayan education minister and military analyst said:

"... the country offered a central location bordering Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia and an enormous but largely dormant airfield at the Mariscal Estigarribia base in the northern Paraguay that could prove attractive to U.S. forces at some point. The base includes an airstrip built by U.S. technicians in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Paraguayan strongman Alfredo Stroessner that is longer than the one at Asuncion's international airport and exceeds the needs of the Paraguayan air force and its fleet of six planes. "

In Bolivia itself there has been a lot of speculation on the ulterior motives of the US government. Many have uttered the very same criticism expressed by many in the region. Specially concerned are the people of MAS. They see this latest move as particularly troubling. The MAS has been an instrumental tool to stop the Bolivian Congress to even debate the issue of immunity for US troops from the International Tribunal. MAS' presidential candidate, Evo Morales, has made a campaign promise to abolish the current Coca eradication program implemented during the Banzer government. This program has been seen in Washington as one of the major victories in the war against drugs and the major counter argument against critics of this policy.