October 09, 2008

Letter to the Editor

MABB © ®

The New York Times published on October 6 an editorial entitled, "Playing into Mr. Morales' Hands"

In it, the Times asks the Bush administration to reconsider its decision to remove Bolivia from the beneficiary country list of the ATPA. It says this move would be "self-defeating" and would mean playing into Mr Morales' hands.

As a kind of response and/or commentary, I wrote a letter to the Editor, which I reproduce here in its entirety.

Letter to the editor – New York Times

A real dilemma – What is the US government to do?

In your editorial, published October 6, 2008 (Playing into Mr. Morales’ hands) you point out the US government’s annoyance with the government of Bolivia. This, due to the, by now, pretty clear unwillingness of Mr. Morales to continue cooperating with the US on the war on drugs. You also point out, that while the Bush administration has been adopting a, in your eyes, more sensitive approach to foreign policy, now its mind has been clouded with the anger stemming from the expulsion of the US Ambassador in Bolivia, P. Goldberg. As a result, you conclude that the US government is playing right into Mr. Morales’ hands and therefore you suggest the government should reconsider its decision.

The question here is not, what the government should do, but rather can it do anything. The US government has been playing into Mr. Morales’ hands since a long time. Mr. Morales is who he is partly because of the US government. Ever since his days as the leader of the Bolivian Coca Growers Union and his countless confrontations against antidrug-enforcing government forces, which were supported by US forces, Mr. Morales defined himself as an enemy of what he determines as the “empire”. Later, as Mr. Morales was running for office in 2002, Ambassador Rocha suggested Bolivian voters not to vote for Morales. Because of those very comments, Morales can candidly joke now about the US being his best campaign manager. As you may well know, those comments help Morales significantly better his polling numbers.

Now that Mr. Morales is in office, his strategy is to play to wide-spread anti American sentiments among Bolivians. He repeatedly defines the US as the empire and therefore as the enemy. Consequent to that strategy, Mr. Morales is trying to show the door, not only to the US Ambassador, but to the US government as well. As you well point out, he has been attacking US policy in the world and in Bolivia, he has launched a series of accusations against Mr. Goldberg suggesting he was involved in efforts to overthrow his government, he has publicly congratulated Coca growers organizations for expulsing USAID from the Chapare region, and he has actively sought to establish relations with states such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. It is clear that Mr. Morales wants the US out of Bolivia.

So in light of this situation, what can the US do? It seems to me the US government has his hands tied. It cannot forcefully react against a government where the president has so much symbolism that transcends Bolivia’s borders. It cannot be too soft against a government which uses anti-American sentiment to legitimize itself. What can the US do?

At the moment I see the US government has no alternative other than to play into Mr. Morales’ hands.


Anonymous said...

What does it mean in an American forum to say a country actively seeks good relations with Iran and North Korea? What are you accusing Bolivia of?


Frank_IBC said...

I think it means the same thing as it would in any other English-speaking forum, John.

kevin said...

Probably none of you have ever worked with the MAS. I have. Unfortunatly they can't be trusted, speak from two sides of the same mouth and denegrate the people that they accept help from for political purposes. US aid funding to Bolivia is gone - forget about it. Trust and accountabilty is the new criteria for US support and there is none of either with Bolivia thanks to the MAS. The USA should walk away.

Anonymous said...


What is the connection Morales has with North Korea, I was unaware of this development...

- Mr. Lord

mabb said...

@ John: First of all, thanks for asking. That way I have an opportunity to clarify myself.

If you read the paragraph in its entirety, you'll see that the I enumerate a number of actions I think the Morales government has been taking in order to carry out its anti-America campaign. Because I think Morales wants the US government out of Bolivia.

I cite Iran, North Korea and Venezuela because these are countries which the US sees as "problem" countries, to put it mildly. Any relationship Bolivia could establish with any of these countries, such as the one with Iran, for example, is a problem for the US. It represents many other things for the US government, which I am sure you are aware of, so I don't need to repeat them.

So, Bolivia, whether it wants to provoke the US or has other intentions, actively seeks relations with all or some of these countries.

You ask, what am I trying to accuse Bolivia of? I guess I am saying that Bolivia wants to provoke the US government and that it wants it our of Bolivia and its business.

@Kevin: I don't think walking away is in the interest of the US. You walk away and you lose contact, and therefore influence.

Dear Lord:

check the links below.


Anonymous said...

OK. I see your point, and you had stated it more clearly than I read it. But I think the image that will be taken by casual NYTimes readers, if they take the time to read such a letter at all, is a Bolivia close to the axis-terrorist countries.


Kevin said...


Good point about USA walking away - but how many times do you turn a blind eye/the other cheek to these acts - giving Secretary Rice a coca studded ukeleye to directly embarass her at the first public meeting of the Morales govt., going on Jon Stewart and saying please Mr Bush - don't include Bolivia in the Axis of Evil, throwing USAID out of the Chapare after 10 years of demonstrated proress, letting some MAS-paid mob threathen the US Embassy, tossing the US Ambassador for political purposes with silly 'proof' of supporting the opposition.
Sure it is in the Bolivia interest to work with USA - but the coca diregente has it backwards. And after how much anti-american and childish diplomatic nonsense do you say - enough? That point has been reached and surpassed.
Answer - adios - amigable amigos Bolvianos.

Kevin said...

Question for he audience.... how long can President Chavez continue to give out Chavez Checks to Bolivia when oil is now under $80/barrel and his domestic, as well as the latina america and global hand outs are all based financially on $120-140/barrel?
What happens when the Venezuelan Commisars start losing buying power?
Thoughts please.

mabb said...

@John: I think if you read certain media, you will have that impression anyway. I think we already talked about this before. It is hard to find a truly unbiased source. Everyone has an opinion, and it is hard to get away from it. No matter how much I try, my idiosyncrasies will seep through in my writing, I take.

Personally, I just about gave up my search for such a source and instead try to consciously read both sides of the argument and from there discern the facts.

But coming back to the possible image Bolivia might get. As I said, it depends on which media outlets you read, you'll get the impression (or the suggestion, if you will) that Bolivia is aligning itself with the axis of evil. In fact, if I remember correctly, it has already been suggested, I don't remember where though.

@Kevin: I think one has to realize it is not that Bolivia has the interest of maintaining relations with the US anymore. That is what I have been arguing all along in prior posts. I think, to a certain degree, the situation has turn around 180°. I am convinced, the US has, at the moment, more interest to maintain these relations than Bolivia has.
Read here and here. That is why I say, while the US might say, in the end, by, it will not do so willingly. It is not good for the US to lose the opportunity of asserting some kind of influence over these countries. One of the tenets of US foreign policy is engagement. How will they do this if they are in no speaking terms with a country?

To your question: I think the answer has already come. Last week I read that Venezuela's coffer guardian, Ali Rodriguez, has said that Venezuela will enter a period of austerity. They will plan next year's expenditures based on this concept and that most probably they will cut foreign aid programs as well as some domestic programs. In the article there was also the speculation that unemployment will rise because the government will have to (for the sake of efficiency in light of lower prices) cut some of the over 2 million public servant jobs.

Anonymous said...

North Korea has been taken off the list of countries considered terrorist by the US.

Jorge said...

I think that the relations between US and Bolivia have hit a point of non return. What is the US to do? Neither the carrot nor the stick nor any combination of the two seem to work. Maybe the US should just leave Bolivia alone for a while until more amenable regimes emerge in both countries.

The Bolivian government apparently does not really care about the suspension of ATPDEA and said that they will find alternative markets. Everybody knows that that is not so easy to do, and there is no evidence that they are working on that at all, but they are getting away with it. There has been no political fallout from the ATPDEA suspension on Evo so far. If anything, it only helped give more credence to Evo's anti-US rethoric.

On the same day of the Times editorial there was one in the Washington Post that seems to advocate a heavy-handed approach to anti-US governments in Latin America. This editorial states "Sooner or later they [Morales, Correa et al.] must be forced to choose between Mr. Chávez's half-baked socialism and the democracy of the 21st century". I do not think this language is helpful either. What do they mean by "they must be forced"? Are they suggesting military force? I hope not. An anycase, this sounds a lot like Bush's "for us or against us" and I find it scary that an otherwise mostly reasonable editorial page would be using this language.

mabb said...

Jorge, I think you hit it right on the nail. The carrot and stick foreign policy approach from the US towards Latin America have miserably failed. The reaction from these approach is to have an unwilling partner. Someone who smiles with clenched teeth.

And yes, in the short term it might help Morales, but in the middle term it will be hard to cope with.

About the Post's editorial, I think it is based on a distant and therefore not so accurate idea of Bolivia and its relationship with the US. Just the subtitle hints to this. I don't think one can call subsidization what the US was doing in Bolivia. Especially if you look at the ATPA.

In addition, I see an unbelievable carelessness about the particulars of the topic. While is true the US had large leverage as a result of the ATPA, this leverage has been diminished by the number of checks Chavez is sending to these governments. So these presidents don't have the same problems their prior counterparts had, their coffers are in good standings.

I also see a bit of an arrogant and therefore pretty blind view of the topic. The fact that the Post says these countries "should not be allowed to dismantle democratic institutions..." speaks for itself, don't you think?

FYI, here is another opinion, from a friend, of how the US should handle its relations with Bolivia.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, or is it really Kevin Healy? You seem to parrot the US line concerning it's impact on Bolivian politics. Although it has been a few(?) years since you and Dawn were here, have you not seen the important changes that have taken place since Evo was elected to represent Bolivians? And there is more to come. Evo cumple.

Buffy :)