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.