March 27, 2009

Mesa for Candidate - Cartoon

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Here is a cartoon from Opinion. It shows Carlos Mesa thinking about his candidacy in the upcoming elections. Enjoy!

Bolivia, the US and Drug Eradication

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Here is the 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, of which the Bolivian government is complaining because it is too hard on the government. The report does give the impression that the US government has opted for a stronger stance than under the prior administration. Here is the summary:


I. Summary

September 15, 2008, the President of the United States determined for the first time that Bolivia had “failed demonstrably” to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements. This determination was made due to a number of factors, including the forced departure of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the coca growing Chapare region, continued increases in coca cultivation and cocaine production, the Government of Bolivia's (GOB) policies to expand the cultivation of “licit” coca, and its unwillingness to regulate coca markets. The GOB’s decisions to expel the U.S. Ambassador in September and all Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel in November, based on false accusations of conspiracy – seriously damaged counternarcotics cooperation, and call into question whether the GOB will continue any bilateral efforts with the United States in this area.

In 2008, the GOB eradicated over 5,000 hectares of coca nationwide, about 95 percent of which took place in the Cochabamba tropics (Chapare) and Yapacani region. Nonetheless, coca cultivation and cocaine production capacity increased rapidly due both to greater cultivation as well as Bolivian traffickers adopting more efficient cocaine manufacturing methods. Bolivia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

I have bolded the statements that the Bolivian government is taking to heart.

In a response to the report, the Bolivian foreign relations Minister, Choquehuanca, said "if the US government doesn't want to cooperate under Bolivian conditions, it can stop the cooperation."

In prior posts I have argued that Bolivia was in a relative "position of strength" against the US government. As I see it, the US has more to loose than the Bolivian government with the end of cooperation efforts. The most obvious reason is the shrinking of the sphere of influence for the US. Another problem would be a noticeable diplomatic defeat for the US. Lastly, the drug eradication policy will be severely compromised.

If the US leaves Bolivia, it will be seen as an act of arrogance (within the region). That would have repercussions in the region. Let's take into account that Brazil, Chile and Argentina (not to mention Venezuela and Ecuador) are greatly interested to keep maverick Bolivia engaged. Isolation, from the part of the US, will not work this time.

If the US leaves, it will be seen as a severe hit to Washington's diplomatic efforts. The US cannot take another faux pas in the international arena. The Europeans, just to cite some example, will surely watch with scorn and displeasure if the US leaves Bolivia. Domestically, it would also be a tragedy for the current administration. I bet, many Obama voters are sympathetic to the Bolivian President (however romanticized that support might be).

If the US leaves Bolivia, one of the major pillars in US foreign policy will be in trouble. Drug eradication has been a major issue providing a framework in the relations between the US and the Latin American region. Bolivia, as one of the former (and now again potentially major) sources of Coca leaves is of much importance for this policy.

March 17, 2009

Federalism in Bolivia

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1871 debate in the National Assembly in Sucre between Lucas Mendoza de la Tapia (Cbba) and Evaristo Valle (La Paz), leader of the "unitarios". Mendoza de la Tapia argued that federalism would end the revolutions and dictatorships by giving the regions more autonomy. Valle never argued against adopting federalism, but simply said that the country was not ready for it. Before engaging in institutional reforms the customs should be changed.

1874 - 1877 Andres Ibanez (Sta. Cruz) was a leader of the Santa Cruz delegation in the National Assembly, and amalgamated federalist and, what he called "igualitarian" ideals, which really were socialist. The elites were scared of his political advancements. He established the Junta Superior del Estado Federativo Oriental. He was persecuted by President H. Daza and killed in 1877.

1898 - 1899 Federal Civil War between La Paz and Sucre. Arguments for bringing the government to La Paz: Most of the state revenue came from La Paz, Sucre did not produce anything, it had too few inhabitants and was too isolated. Liberales in La Paz against Conservadores in Sucre. Federico Zuazo and Jose Manuel Pando are the leaders of the movement. Zuazo left the National Assembly after it passed the infamous Ley de radicatoria, rendering the debate over federalism and La Paz as capital as ended.

March 14, 2009

Evo and Coca

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Going through my daily doses of news, I found myself reading Evo Morales' op-ed in the New York Times. This short, yet well exposed argument for the decriminalization of the coca leaf gives the reason(s) why the leaf should be taken out of the narcotics list.

I think Morales argues eloquently and thus has a powerful impact. He concludes:
The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.
He also talks about the significance of the leaf for his culture:

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.
I just thought, this was a nicely written op-ed. One that, in short, effectively lays out the argument. I wonder who helped Morales write this?

March 11, 2009

More of the Same: Report from the Inter-American Dialoge on US Foreign Policy Towards Latin America

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More of the same, the IAD published a report advising the US administration to do more of the same in Latin America. The report reads:
This report does not propose a new vision for the Western Hemisphere
or a dramatic redirection of U.S. relations with Latin America and
the Caribbean. Nor does it suggest that the United States reassert its traditional
role and pervading influence in the hemisphere. Instead, it urges
the new administration in Washington, first, to focus on an agenda of
concrete problems and opportunities; and, second, to respond to them
in continuing consultation and cooperation with the nations of Latin
America and the Caribbean.
It is also a call for pragmatism—for Washington to adjust its policies to
take account of the profound changes that have taken place in the United
States itself, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the wider world.
The new administration must recognize that the United States’ ability
to exert authority and determine outcomes has diminished; that Latin
American governments now regularly take the lead in dealing with regional
problems (last year, for example, they addressed Bolivia’s political impasse
and helped settle Colombia’s conflict with Ecuador and Venezuela); and
that extra-hemispheric actors, such as China, Russia, and Spain, have
expanded their profile and influence in the region. Washington should
not view these changes as setbacks or defeats for U.S. interests. Rather,
stronger leadership and more vigorous initiative from Latin America and
the Caribbean should be seen as offering new opportunities for productive
cooperation on issues of importance to both the United States and
the region.
You can find the report here.