March 27, 2009

Bolivia, the US and Drug Eradication

MABB © ®

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.