July 04, 2008

Attempting to Renew the Relationship USA-Bolivia

MABB © ®

After a heavy exchange of words between the Bolivian government and the US diplomatic service and State, there seems to be a renewed attempt at detente and rapprochement. In the last days, the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg and interim Secretary of State (in Bolivia called Canciller or Chancellor) met to discuss the relationship and make amends. After the meeting, the two sides felt it necessary to acknowledge that there was a problem and to then work to solve it or them. As such, there is an agenda, which will guide the upcoming conversations. The agenda looks like this:

Agenda Estados Unidos – Bolivia

1) Diálogo Político

- Relaciones de mutuo respeto y no intervención en asuntos internos

- Situación internacional hemisférica

2) Cooperación

- Mecanismos que aseguren la compatibilidad con el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo

- Transparencia y control estatal

- Programas de cooperación

- Evaluación conjunta de los impactos de la cooperación

- Cuenta del Milenio

3) Comercio


- Acuerdo Comercial Asimétrico de largo aliento

4) Cooperación judicial

- Caso Sánchez de Lozada, Sánchez Berzaín y Berindoague

- Caso Arce Gómez

5) Lucha contra el narcotráfico

- Desarrollo Integral

- Interdicción, NAS, FELCN

6) Cooperación en temas migratorios

- Programa conjunto de Derechos humanos de migrantes bolivianos en Estados Unidos

- Cooperación en el ejercicio de del derecho al voto en el exterior (EE.UU.)

- Cédula de registro consular

7) Otros temas

Agenda US – Bolivia

1) Political Dialog

- Mutual respect relations and no meddling in internal affairs

- International hemispheric situation

2) Cooperation

- Mechanisms that will assure the compatibility with the National Development Plan

- Transparency and state control

- Cooperation programs

- Joint evaluation of the cooperation’s impacts

- Millennium account

3) Commerce


- Long run asymmetric commercial agreement

4) Judicial cooperation

- Sanchez de Lozada, Sanchez Berzain and Berindoague cases

- Arce Gomez case

5) Drug trafficking fight

- Integral development

- Interdiction, NAS, FELCN

6) Cooperation on immigration topics

- Human rights joint program for Bolivian migrants in the US

- Cooperation in the topic of absentee voting (in US)

7) Other topics (USAID perhaps?)

The topics seem too general and vague to me, but usual in such situations, I guess. The two issues I expect to dominate the agenda and the consultations or conversations (however you want to call them) are the issue of Sanchez de Lozada and Berzain and the one about meddling in internal affairs.

On the first issue is clear that the government wants to keep its promise to bring to Sanchez de Lozada and Berzain to justice. This has been a point present in almost every demand coming from the MAS supporters. If the US delivers these two people to the Bolivian government it would be able to say it fulfilled its promises.

The second issue is key for Morales and brings us into a more complex conversation. He seems to be convinced the US is working to topple his government. The funny thing is, he might not be way too off with this. Let's consider what the US says in its website. It states as its common goals for the relationship with Bolivia thus: "Some of the most important areas of bi-lateral assistance are: the strengthening of Bolivian democracy, economic prosperity, expanding U.S. exports and investments, improved family health conditions, counternarcotics efforts, and promoting alternative development in coca-producing regions as well as environmental protection."

If you look at some of these goals, in principle, they run contrary to what the Morales government is trying to achieve, i.e. they are contrary to Morales' goals. For example, if we take the goal of economic prosperity. Here we have to think about how does the US think economic prosperity comes along. A rapid and simplistic way to put it, nonetheless true, is to say that, in general, the US thinks economic prosperity is the result of commercial exchange, accumulation of capital, investment, free economy, etc. I can already hear Morales, all red and irked, yelling capitalst, neoliberal, imperialist. Take the goal of expanding US exports and investment, for example. This would be imperialist noise in Morales' ears. I think, more than Morales' ear, the ears of those around him would suffocate in an instant. In essence, there is a fundamental difference on how does the US thinks all these goals should be achieved, and what the Morales camp thinks they should be achieved.

The difference, I think is in the approach to such problems. On the one side, I think the US bases its approach on the 1+1=3 principle. In general terms, I argue, as usual. First and foremost are the national interests. I should cooperate with people, or in this case with nations, making sure I also benefit. Or put it in another way, I want to cooperate with you, but my expectation is that through that cooperation I will get something too. In the most extreme case, I will not do anything that would be disadvantageous for me. So, the US cooperates with other nations, as well as with Bolivia, based on "mutual" cooperation and "mutual" benefits expectations. I won't get on the question if this approach is good or not. That is for another post.

On the other side, although it is not entirely clear, it seems to me that the Morales government wants, or shall I say expects, cooperation in a "communal" sense. That would mean that the whole is more important than the individual. For a region such as America (the new world) that would mean that all nations cooperate disinterestedly, some times even at own costs. That way, Venezuela subsidizes gas, diesel and oil to the detriment of its own economy; Bolivia sells natural (at least it used to) gas to Brazil and Argentina at solidary prices; that would involve the US donating money without asking in exchange the opening of markets or the development of commercial networks.

The two, almost antagonist, way to approach these issues provoke friction when it comes to the diplomatic relations between the US and Bolivia. The Bolivian government feels apprehensive and distrustful, to say the least, with how the US sees and carries out these diplomatic relations. Both are, at least should be, aware of the differences, and hopefully now that they recognized there are problems, they'll be able to move forward in a more positive path.