Tuesday, February 07, 2006

U.S. Watches Bolivia for Coca, Little Else

If one is not characterizing the new government of Evo Morales as “radical”, punching holes in the support structure of his 12-day old administration or discussing coca production, the United States is showing very little personal interest in Bolivia.

One major indicator of the U.S. attitude towards Morales was President Bush’s belated congratulatory call on February 1st – ten days after Morales’ inauguration on January 22nd and a whole 45 days after he was elected in an overwhelming demonstration of Bolivian democracy.

Speaking at a National Press Club event last week, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated that “elections like Evo Morales in Bolivia take place that clearly are worrisome," as he lamented the left swing of Latin American politics.

More than 85% of eligible Bolivians turned out to vote Morales into office with a 54% majority. By contrast, in the U.S. the most recent 2004 Presidential election had a voter turnout of 60% with Bush losing the popular vote, but winning the election by the electoral college system.

Scanning the stories about Bolivia that are most readily featured in the U.S. media, the American corporate press has chosen to focus on Morales’ developing drug policy. Major media outlets from the Associated Press and CNN to local papers of North Carolina and Utah are highlighting Morales’ cocalero constituency and his appointment of Felipe Caceres, a "radical" and former coca farmer, as the country’s drug czar.

To move beyond Morales’ drug policy, one may need to search European, Latin American and Chinese news sources to find other initiatives that are moving forward in his country.

Bolivia is already working with Cuba to eliminate illiteracy in the country within two years. Venezuela’s Chavez has reached agreements to supply Bolivia with diesel and is offering technicians and scholarships to further Bolivian education. And although Venezuela had provided emergency aid to Bolivia last week, Chavez, who was just granted the UNESCO's 2005 Jose Marti International Prize, chose to donate the $5,000 award for additional relief efforts in Bolivia's flooded regions.

White House Spokesperson Scott McClellan failed to mention that President Bush extended our condolences for the recent loss of life caused by flooding throughout the country when he made that congratulatory call. He also neglected to mention whether the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world offered Bolivia - the poorest country in the Western hemisphere - any emergency aid.

Considering the lack of national or international press highlighting the charitable actions of the Bush administration, those words were probably never spoken.

Even while Bolivia is overcoming this national emergency, the country's aid from the U.S. does not remain secure. According to Bolivia’s La Razon, the Bush budget for 2007 removed another $13 million in aid. This is the second cut in funding Bolivia has received since the 2005 fiscal year. Critics of Morales, both here and abroad, blame Bolivia’s shift in drug policy for the loss of additional U.S. funds for drug enforcement. Some believe this is a tactic to pressure the Morales government into pushing a more American friendly coca policy.