September 15, 2007

Bolivia, the US and Drug Policy

MABB © ®

Reuters and AP, and by now the rest of the world, are reporting the US government's decision to continue giving Bolivia foreign aid. The press is talking about a report, due to be published within the next days, on the drug trafficking and production in the world. In this report, Bolivia, along with other countries, is listed as drug producing country. However, the US government says that because the Bolivian government has met some conditions in the drug production fighting efforts, it will not be listed as "having failed demonstrably", which would result in the cutting of foreign aid funds.

AP says: "But, it finds that Bolivia, which has long been a concern, has taken adequate steps to stave off the sanctions. Last year, there was heated debate about whether the government in La Paz deserved a pass and Washington delayed a decision." While Reuters writes: "U.S. officials cited two reasons for the decision. First, Bolivia met a U.S. target of eradicating at least 5,000 hectares (12,360 acres) of coca crop. Second, U.S. officials believe placing it on the list could undercut counter-narcotics cooperation. The presidential determination will likely paint a mixed picture of counter-narcotics work in Bolivia, showing increased drug seizures but suggesting those reflected higher cocaine production."

If I remember correctly, not a week ago, the US Ambassador in Bolivia, was making commentaries about the current Bolivian government having to work harder on the drug eradication problem. I am paraphrasing now.

The thing is, the current Bolivian government has become very important for the US administration. Not only the government, but the situation in Bolivia. The US is afraid or does not want to destabilize Bolivia further. Also, it does not want to push the Bolivian government towards Chavez even more. In addition, it serves better the US government to stay in Bolivia and monitor things from near, than with spy drones from Washington or even interceptions from Asuncion.

I haven't seen any Bolivian government with such power, until now.


Mar said...

do I read a hint of respect and perhaps, admiration, towards the current goverment?

miguel (mabb) said...

:-) Respect, always. I hope my criticism doesn't come across as respectless. For instance, I regard Morales as a person with a unique opportunity in Bolivian history right now. He has a chance to really make a difference by consolidating (liberal) democracy.

Admiration, I don't know, may be a little bit. I do admire how Morales was able to get where he is now, considering the political implications. I also wonder over what Morales' rise to power means for the indigenous population. I see a chance to fight racism and discrimination in Bolivian society.

I think that's just it. My critiques, you'll be able to read them in my post. And there are many. But, I think you already know that. :-)

Btw, congratulations on the Bloguivianos conference. It was a success, as I saw it. I am hoping that next time I will be able to attend.

Mar said...

Thanks! I am really looking forward to meet you in a "Bloguivianos" some day. As you know, I mostly agree with your views, and if I differ, I do enjoy the feedback...

GS said...


I enjoy reading your blog and agree with much of what you write, but surely you are kidding when you say that the US certification is due to the Bolivian government's "power," right?

miguel (mabb) said...

Actually, I am not. But, let me explain myself. First I'll tell you what I don't mean. I don't mean to say the current Bolivian government has so much weight/power (internationally) to 'make' the US government do what it's doing.

What I mean is that the current Bolivian government has another kind of power over the US government. This power emanates from the desire of the US government not to antagonize/alienate Bolivia and thus push it further to the Venezuelan side. I think, the US cannot afford another Chavez in Latin America, as well as it cannot afford to have many anti-US governments. Also, the US cannot afford to lose some control over the production of Coca, where it has invested so much. Let's remember, Bolivia was the poster child of US drug eradication policy. I don't need to talk about what kind of effect a failure would have in domestic politics.

GS said...

Miguel, I see what you mean, but is that really "power"? I agree with the scenario that you describe, but to me it sounds more like the US has painted itself in a corner and thus limited its own options to act. Not because of the Morales government, but because of the effects of its own policies and due to regional dynamics. The Morales government seems powerless in this equation, as does the US government. But the Chavez government doesn't. I think we may both agree with the scenario. I just wouldn't attribute the situation to Morales government power. Chavez, yes.

miguel (mabb) said...

Well, yes I agree. One can also argue the US gov't has placed itself in a corner by pursuing its drug and free trade policy. In theory, it could change its approach and engage Morales on its own proposals. But, that is just in theory. It is really not realistic to think the US will, any time soon, change its Bolivia policy.

Now, having said that, the degree of power the Morales government might have, I argue, is due precisely to the lack of power by the US government. You see, the lack of power of the US translates directly into some degree of power over the US by Bolivia. Just because the US cannot (may not be willing to) react as it may like to.

I agree, though, when you say Bolivia doesn't have 'real' power. The power Bolivia has is a reflection of the lack of power of the US gov't.

One exampe. Why is it the US is praising the drug fighting efforts of the Bolivian gov't just now, when before it was highly critical of the same actions?

The US has no alternative, I think. It has lost power (influence) over Bolivia and therefore is forced to pursue the diplomatic line its currently pursuing. It does not want to push Bolivia further away.

On the Bolivian side, the government has repeatedly shown the US the door. It has basically said, we don't need the support of the US. It has, at least for the time being, rhetorically ended the dependence Bolivia had on the US. This new independence has given some power to the Morales gov't. Of course, this is a dangerous position to take, because one day, the US is really going to leave.

galloglass said...

What would the reaction be if the US government stopped all aid to Bolivia? Will Evo show the Peace Corps and other organizations the door?

miguel (mabb) said...

That's just the thing. The US cannot do that. As GS said, it has its hands tied, and that gives some degree of power (notice I am qualifying my def of power now :-)) to the Morales gov't.

GS said...

...Why is it the US is praising the drug fighting efforts of the Bolivian gov't just now, when before it was highly critical of the same actions...

I don't think the US is praising the drug fighting efforts. If you read the Department of State statement on Bolivia's drug efforts, it is very qualified and the conclusion reached is that there is "mixed" progress. That's hardly a praise. I think a more accurate word than "praising" is "accepting."

You are right in that the Morales administration is playing a dangerous game with the US. The US is not retaliating (i.e., withholding aid) because it's playing smart politics. But when it comes to questions of aid, it's not solely up to Bush, Rice, or Thomas Shannon. 535 members of congress get a say and this is why the game Evo is playing is dangerous--it's harder to predict what will happen when the players are so diverse and so parochial. Bolivia, in my opinion, has consistently underestimated the power of Capitol Hill in the formulation of US drug and foreign assistance policy. And this is not just a hit on Evo, it's a historic problem.

miguel (mabb) said...

Yes, you are right. The words were careful. Praising is a bit too much.

But, now that we are into semantics... :-) I would not call it 'smart' politics. At the moment, I think, they are not so smart. But, that is another discussion.

Well, for what I understand, the current Bolivian government has received encouraging words from Congress. And that was in various occasions.

So, while it might be a historical fact that the Bolivian government has underestimated (as you put it) Congress (btw, the same applies to the US), it seems as though the Morales government is being 'encouraged' or better yet, 'understood' and 'supported' by Congress.

Last time that Garcia was in Washington, DC, he had he came back (again) encouraged to Bolivia.

So, it seems that at present time it is less dangerous for the Morales government than in other times. The US Congress seems to be inclined to 'support', 'tolerate', 'accept', I don't know what to call it. But it is doing it.

GS said...

Sorry for the semantics. It's my hobgoblin... We'll agree to disagree on the "smart politics" bit, since it is a separate issue.

But on the other stuff, I think you're right. But the calculation Morales makes has to be done carefully. If he keeps on, eventually there will be a "straw that breaks the camel's back."

I don't think US policy cares about his government reforms (issues of autonomy, where the capital is, education reform, judicial reform, etc). They care much more about his coca policy. They also care a lot about the nature of his relationship with Chavez. His continued anti-American outbursts do not help. And now his flirting with Iran at a time when the US and allies might very well be planning a war, is, I think, also ill-advised.

It will be interesting to see how far he can go, how provacative he can be before the US sends its own signals.

miguel (mabb) said...

You are exactly right! And that is why I call US policy towards Bolivia 'not so smart'. To anchor foreign policy on a couple of issues is not smart. Specially when relationships between nations are not so simple. I would argue a more complex approach would serve the US better, not only with Bolivia, but in all Latin America. That way it would have more influence on Bolivia.

I think, so long as Chavez is holding Evo's back (with $$$), he'll be pushing and testing the US' patience. I also think, the US has basically two options to follow. Either antagonize Bolivia once and for all, or keep trying not to loose influence.

Anonymous said...

(off topic)

Hey Miguel, could you please adjust your "bolivian-blogs-search" at top right of page? If you go to Google Advanced Blog Search (link on Google Blog Search page), beside "without these words" type NC and carolina. You'll lose all the pages referring to the town of Bolivia, North Carolina. Don't type "north" though--you'll lose lots of good links.


miguel (mabb) said...

John: Done!

GS said...

And that is why I call US policy towards Bolivia 'not so smart'. To anchor foreign policy on a couple of issues is not smart. Specially when relationships between nations are not so simple. I would argue a more complex approach would serve the US better, not only with Bolivia, but in all Latin America. That way it would have more influence on Bolivia.

I see your point. When I referred to it as “smart politics” I meant the tactical move of granting the certification and thus not pushing Evo closer to Hugo. But I see what you mean about the policy aspect of it.

Your comment also raises some interesting questions. What do you mean by a more complex approach? We both agree that Bolivia’s drug policy is the most significant policy issue for the US, right? Are you suggesting that the US should raise the profile of other issues to be on par with drug policy? I’m intrigued by your comment and I just want to know what you have in mind.

My initial reaction was that, from the US perspective, you wouldn’t want to make the relationship any more complex because by doing that you restrict your policy options. So, for example, if the US only cares deeply about drug policy, then fewer issues can raise to the level necessary to cause problems with the relationship. But as I write this I’m thinking that this is the case now for the US and the relationship is still full of problems so my theory is obviously wrong.

Also, Evo has more than his fair share of blame for the state of US-Bolivian relations, don’t you think? In your opinion, what would a more influential US policy look like given current personalities in power in Bolivia?

miguel (mabb) said...

Well, I agree that drug trade is a very important issue, and should be dealt with priority. But, at the same time there are other issues that are important. Yes, I am saying that the US should incorporate other issues as well.

You say it yourself, from the US point of view..... But, what about from the Bolivian point of view? Is drug eradication a priority for the Bolivian government?

My inclination is that drug eradication is important, but there are other more important issues at the time.

In contrast to what you say, I think the US is constraining itself by just dealing with Bolivia with the issue of drug eradication. It makes a multidimensional area, such as the relations with other nations, one dimensional.

For example, if the US would have more dimensions in its relationship with Bolivia, it would have more leverage. If the drug eradication issue is not going well for the US, then perhaps it could support Bolivia on its bid to attain an important post in the UN (hypothetically speaking). This example is just illustrative.

Of course, Evo shares the blame. In a relationship there is always two ways. In fact, I think Morales has been shooting himself in the foot by attacking the US. He is also limiting his possibilities just by sticking with Hugo.

Some potential areas for Bolivian-American relations would be: immigration, trade, democracy promotion, education, health, etc. Those come to mind right now.

But, I am not saying these issues are not being addressed by the two countries. What I am saying is that perhaps the US is giving drug eradication too much weight.

GS said...

Okay, I see what you mean. That’s a good point and it’s worth examining. I agree that having a more “multidimensional” foreign policy is generally better (e.g., raising the weight of other issues so that they match the importance the US places on drug policy). But I’m not sure (1) if it’s possible to implement such a policy so that US interests are still represented (i.e., the US is not “giving away the farm” by not getting anything in return) and (2) if it will actually translate to more leverage or influence, particularly with the Morales administration.

I wonder what a more nuanced and a better-weighted policy towards Bolivia would look like? Maybe that means shifting the US stance on some issues, such as actively supporting Evo’s vision of a re-founded Bolivia (as opposed to now, where the US simply withholds comment), or encouraging the Media Luna/autonomists to come to the negotiating table ready to make deals (as opposed to now, where we quietly sympathize with the opposition but are too scared to really get involved). But Evo would have to show he is willing to play with the US. He would have to also make some concessions to the US, and I really don’t think that’s in his genetics to do.

miguel (mabb) said...

I think the long term strategic paradigm of the US towards Bolivia (and other countries as well) must change.

The goal to having a relationship with Bolivia should be based on "mutual (observable) benefit". Not that it is not already, but the benefits must be more palpable.

One positive side of this relationship is the trade deal they have. Access for Bolivian products to the American market is having an incredible effect, yet overlooked by the government.

I agree fully when you question the willingness of the Morales government to play its part. I think Morales benefits (at the moment) more from antagonizing the US than doing anything else. I would guess that he thinks he needs an enemy (such as the US) to scare people into supporting him (Chavista-logic).

What should the US do? I think the US should engage Evo fully. That would mean establishing more cooperation or networks between small and medium size enterprises, perhaps even open up some more markets for Bolivian products, programs to transfer technology, change its rhetoric, going from a giving country to a partner country, together with the government establish programs to build schools and so this way in the future companies could Bolivianize some part of production, etc.

Again, you are right, to do all this there have to be two parties. Otherwise it does not work. I am not sure what Morales do if all of the sudden he starts receiving all this offers from the US to help him develop Bolivian industry or help him solve the problem of natural gas supply he has or bringing development to the local level. Perhaps he would be willing to leave Chavez aside?

Of course, there is a fundamental difference with the US: Capitalism is bad for the world!

GS said...


Yes, you are right, on all counts. For what it's worth, I think your ideas are very thought provoking and valuable. Thanks.