January 29, 2007

Bolivian - US Policy

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The folks at Western Hemisphere Policy Watch (WHPW) posted an interesting question: "It is a cold and rainy day in our nation's capital city so we decided to stay in and blog some more. So, what of the Venezuelan military advisers invited without Bolivian congressional approval into Bolivian territory by Bolivian president Evo Morales? Besides fueling an already brimming political dispute between Morales and the eastern provinces controlled by anti-Bolivarian leaders, it was a dumb move by Morales but should not have come as a surprise (that is if you were paying attention to Morales as he campaigned for President). So what do we do now?"

The relationship between Morales and Chavez has been the object of much discussion (my posts here). Just do a search on both and literally thousands of links will come up. One part of that discussion is how that relationship affects the US. That is when WHPW come in with their post. The question they pose is an interesting one: What should the US do? A long time ago I published a post arguing that the US was doing pretty much everything wrong when it came to Bolivia and Evo Morales. Sorry I did not find that post, but I stand by that assessment, with one exception. The Andean Trade Preference expansion (for six more months) the US government just passed.

First, the US tries to negotiate with the Bolivian government based on its assumptions, which some of them by the way do not reflect new historical developments and are caught up way back in cold war history. Second, the old method of "carrot and stick" has not brought very many successes either. In my opinion it serves to create partnerships based on mistrust. Lastly, the US does not take the rest of the Americas seriously. This attitude has hindered real partnerships and has helped make America's bully image.

The people at WHPW are very worried with the Chavez-Morales marriage. They write "WHPW Editors continue to see a trend with Chavez and his antics that should be cause for concern to the U.S. The Bolivarian mission is de facto control of South America and beyond. These bases in Bolivia, the new and evolving relationship with Ecuador, the ties with the ideological base for all of the movement in Cuba, and the new front in Nicaragua, are all part of a scheme to undermine U.S. interests throughout Latin America and the Caribbean." They also rightfully wonder "The eastern provinces, we hear, are still firmly in control of the anti-Morales parties. One wonders what the military will do if called upon by Morales to use force against the opposition leaders? In addition to bases, could that be what the Venezuelan military advisers are in Bolivia to do?"

To these questions the folks at WHPW answer, "We should begin by taking a long and hard look at U.S. foreign assistance to Bolivia, including training and assistance monies to the Bolivian Armed Forces. On this latter point, the next few months will be a test of WHINSEC programs and related efforts to professionalize the military of Latin America." and "We must turn this around and become a little more specific and act, like we do when addressing Middle East challenges, and stop the political pussyfooting with Chavez, Morales, and the whole lot of them. The Western Hemisphere is at its strongest when democracies based on free markets, democracy, respect for neighbors, and rule of law are in power. We have a majority in that latter camp today. Let's keep it that way by taking these Bolivarian lunatics head on."

But, what does the US government say? Well, in the same post there is a reference to a speech by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. at CSIS. After introducing the speech with symbolism, Shannon touches the core of the approach of US policy towards Latin America: Pan-Americanism. This approach aims to lump together in one basket the entire American continent, the US included. Shannon said it was important to recall OUR Pan-American heritage, and that only through collaboration, integration and rethinking our identity (because of immigration) America was going to face forward to the 21st century. Additionally, Shannon talks about "political effervescence" in the region. This effervescence, he says, is the way the governments in the continent are dealing with poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

Furthermore, Shannon outlines the US' agenda in the region: "... well, obviously having just gone through a year of elections, we face in front of us a year that we have described, both myself and Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, as a year of engagement. And what we mean by that is with so many new governments in place, some with familiar faces, but some with new faces, we have to go back out into the region and rebuild our dialogue, reconnect not just with governments but societies, and make sure that we have an openness and a fluidness and a frankness of dialogue that will allow us to understand each other well, but a dialogue that we think, while principled and interest based, is intent on finding points of convergence and recognizing that now, more than ever, points of convergence are going to be important to the future of the region."

By reading the whole document it sounds to me that the approach hasn't really changed. That is, the US still places importance on commercial cooperation as a means to promote integration. Also, that paternalistic mentality of "we only want what's best for you" seems to remain intact. Whereas, this is one way of promoting better relations, I think the US should realize and appreciate the importance of "its backyard". No matter how chaotic it may look. It should also start to take each country seriously and as a potential partner with equal rights. So, in short, the US needs to change its approach fundamentally to one of mutual respect and understanding. And, stop imposing, but rather persuading with arguments.

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