Thursday, November 27, 2008

U.S. Pulls Bolivia's Trade Preferences

The U.S. government has formally suspended trade preferences for Bolivia under two Andean trade programs.

Yesterday, White House Spokesperson Dana Perino announced that the U.S. was removing Bolivia’s beneficiary status under the Andean Trade Pact and the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.

A document signed by President Bush on Tuesday formalized the suspensions which are set to take effect on December 15.

The Andean trade programs permit certain tariff-free exports from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in exchange for cooperation in U.S.-led anti-drug efforts.

The Bush Administration was determined to remove these preferences despite the fact that both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives favored granting Bolivia a 6-month extension.

In September the Bush Administration de-certified Bolivia claiming that the country has not done enough to eradicate coca leaf, paving the way for eliminating Bolivia from the trade program.

The U.S. government said Bolivia is not cooperating in anti-drug efforts, citing President Morales' refusal to allow U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration planes to fly over the country and his public stance on coca.

These policy moves by the U.S. are widely viewed as a reaction to Morales, who has aimed to exercise greater sovereignty over his country’s domestic affairs.

Three weeks ago, Morales suspended the work of the DEA, accusing the agency of spying and conspiring against his government. The DEA has been given three months to leave Bolivian territory.

This event was on the heels of Morales expelling U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg, who was cited for his role in creating division in Bolivia by meeting with opposition leaders such as Santa Cruz governor, Ruben Costas.

A few months earlier, coca farmers in the Chapare region of Bolivia, expelled the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from their territory, with complicit approval by the Morales administration.

By stemming U.S. influence in Bolivia, Morales is now the target of political retaliation by the U.S. When Goldberg left the country he said Morales was making a "grave mistake".

However these programs are important to Bolivia's economy - $150 million in trade and around 20,000 Bolivian jobs are on the line.

Bolivian Finance Minister Luis Arce and other Bolivian policymakers came to Washington in October to testify before the U.S. Trade Representative Office and show the progress Bolivia has made domestically in fighting illicit coca growing and drug trafficking.

Last week President Morales traveled to the U.S., visiting Washington DC for the first time where he delivered a speech at the Organization of American States. He met with members of Congress and lobbied on behalf of improved relations with the incoming Obama administration and renewing the ATPDEA.

But while speaking at the United Nations, Morales made it very clear that the the DEA will not be allowed to return to Bolivia while he is in office.

Perino said the trade benefits can be reinstated - at the president's discretion - if Bolivia demonstrates an improvement in performance under the requirements of both programs.

Meanwhile, President Morales is seeking trade opportunities with other countries. Last month Venezuela agreed to a buy $30 million in textiles from Bolivia.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Cracking Open the Door to U.S.-Bolivian Diplomacy

New York - (digitalwarriormedia) Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to the U.S. this past week, visiting New York and Washington D.C. He addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Organization of American States as well as the academic communities at American, Columbia and Fordham Universities.

Morales’ official visit brought renewed international attention to Bolivia’s constitutional referendum, defense of the coca leaf, and U.S. intervention in Bolivia.

He arrived during a particularly low point in bi-lateral relations between the two countries. In September, historically tense diplomatic ties reached their breaking point.

On September 10 President Morales removed U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg, calling him a persona non grata. The Morales administration charged the U.S. Embassy with supporting violent uprisings in eastern Bolivia.

Quid quo pro...the U.S. quickly responded by expelling Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S., Gustav Guzman.

And in November, Morales announced that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was financing violent opposition groups and had three months to remove its personnel from Bolivian territory.

Speaking at the UN on Monday, Morales announced that the DEA will not be permitted to return to Bolivia while he is president.

Despite these recent incidents, during a UN press conference, Morales expressed hope for improved diplomatic and trade relations with the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The symbolism of the first Afro-American U.S. president was not lost on Morales, who is himself the first indigenous president of Bolivia. He noted the historical significance that Obama’s victory represented for “our Afro-American brothers”.

He went to the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday to lay a wreath and commemorate the place where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

When asked about this gesture, Morales said, “I want to honor my brothers, the movement, the Afro-American movement. I have the obligation to honor the people who preceded us, the ones who fought for the respect of human rights and rights in general.”

Making Bolivia's Case

Consistent with his previous trips to the United States, Morales used these various forums to highlight Bolivia's progress and denounce U.S. interference in Bolivian society.

He thanked the international community for supporting his government during the political unrest that occured in Bolivia in September and October. And he also noted that the U.S. has yet to condemn the civil coup.

During his first speech before the OAS, Morales blasted the U.S. counter-narcotics annual certification process, saying that it “has to end”. He criticized the unilateral control of the U.S. to sanction certain countries for their drug fighting efforts and said it was used for political blackmail.

In September the Bush administration de-certified Bolivia, saying the government failed to make adequate progress in eradicating coca. The following month, President Bush suspended $150 million in trade benefits for Bolivia under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) which jeopardizes more than 20,000 Bolivian jobs.

During his speech before the Permanent Council of the OAS, Morales stressed that Bolivia was fighting drug trafficking domestically and through regional cooperation. The nation reached its domestic goals for surplus coca eradication in 2008.

"We are trying to make our contribution to fighting drug trafficking through international organizations,'' said Morales. He called on the international community to create an international organism aimed at controlling drug trafficking.

But while in the U.S., Morales also defended coca, saying that the leaf in its natural state is not harmful and full of nutritional value. He condemned drug trafficking as a scourge on humanity.

In recent weeks, Bolivia has turned to Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile for multi-lateral cooperation in fighting drug smuggling. Bolivia is also looking towards the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to direct a new regional counter-narcotics unit.

While speaking to academic communities, he described his ascent from a peasant farmer to the president Bolivia, weaving into the narrative a tale of the U.S. Embassy’s historical influence in Bolivia’s national affairs. Morales spoke of being called a narco-trafficker by the U.S. government and how U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Bolivia if Morales was elected in 2002, during his first bid for the presidency.

Addressing a full auditorium at Columbia University, Morales held up a copy of the new constitution. Morales stressed how the new charter recognizes political rights, civil, labor and cultural rights, including gender equality. He also noted how the new Bolivian constitution renounces war and will not allow any foreign military bases in the country. The coca leaf is protected within the framework of the new constitution and it is recognized for its importance to indigenous culture.

One objective of Morales’ first visit to Washington was to obtain meetings with members of President-elect Obama’s transition team, undoubtedly in part to address the loss of trade preferences. This did not occur, although Morales had meetings with four U.S. legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties, including Richard Lugar, a senior ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement from his office, Representative Lugar - a Republican from Indiana - expressed the hope to "develop a rapport grounded on respect and transparency," and re-establish ambassadorships in both nations. He acknowledged speaking with Morales about the importance of the ATPDEA trade preferences and indicated his support for lifting the suspension.

Congress voted to renew Bolivia's trade status under the ATPDEA. However the final decision rested with the White House, which called for a revocation of Bolivia's benefits.

Relations between Bolivia and the Bush administration have deteriorated rapidly over the last few months. And right now U.S-Bolivian diplomatic relations remained strained. However, with the recent election of Barack Obama, it appears that new possibilities for improved diplomatic ties are just on the horizon.

Sources: Democracy Now, Reuters, AP

Pictures: Digital Warrior Media, ABI


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Fugitive Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada

Bolivian officials said Tuesday they have formally requested that the United States process & extradite former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who ordered a military crackdown on 2003 & then fled the country at the pinnacle of that year’s unrest. He has yet to offer any public defense to charges.

Under Sanchez's command in 2003, Bolivian troops violently put down protests by Aymara Indians in the city of El Alto which resulted in the death of over 60 and the injury of 400 others.

The 2,700-page charging document containing allegations against the exiled leader including but not limited to ''genocide'', "corruption" was delivered Monday, by Foreign Ministry their US counterparts spokeswoman Consuelo Ponce told The Associated Press.

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is known to be residing in the Metropolitan Washington DC. traveling freely between there New York City & Miami. On December the 3rd, he is expected to attend Tulane University Law School in New Orleans for an event with Department of Justice officials on Fraud & Corruption. The execution of an arrest warrant may then be actionable.

As U.S. government offices were closed Tuesday for Veterans' Day and officials there could not be reached for comment. No comment has yet been made available by the President-Elect Barak Obama.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Why Bolivia Quit the U.S. War on Drugs

by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

LA PAZ - Nov. 4 - Some may see Bolivia's decision last weekend to opt out of Washington's war on drugs as the inevitable consequence of electing a President who was not only a leftist opponent of U.S. influence in the region but also a coca farmer himself. But President Evo Morales, elected in 2005, cast his decision on Saturday to suspend the activities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in his country as a matter of national security. "We have the obligation to defend the dignity and the sovereignty of the Bolivian people," said Morales. "There have been DEA agents who, carrying out espionage, financed rogue groups with the intention of taking the lives of [Bolivian government] officials, though not the President's."

No evidence has been produced to substantiate Morales' allegations, which mark a new escalation in tensions with Washington following September's ouster of U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg, also accused of conspiring against the leftist government.

Morales' government has accused a DEA agent of delivering money to opposition groups in the Amazon region during the wave of antigovernment violence that peaked on Sept. 11, claiming the lives of more than 25 indigenous peasants and wounding hundreds of others. Over the past year, Bolivia's eastern lowlands have been wracked with conflict as opposition groups have sought to wrest control from the central government over vast natural-gas reserves and laws governing the ownership of land. The Bolivian government has continually blamed the U.S. for fomenting the violence, but Washington routinely denies any malicious meddling.

"These accusations are false and absurd," said a senior State Department official in response to Saturday's announcement. "The DEA has a 35-year track record of working effectively and professionally with our Bolivian partners," the official added.

Morales' government, in fact, was acknowledged by the U.S. earlier this year to have successfully brought coca cultivation under control and increased Bolivia's rate of interdiction of coca destined for cocaine production. But Washington has been skeptical of Morales' talk of expanding the production of coca for non-narcotic uses such as teas and other products. Morales, for his part, was elected in some measure because of his strident opposition to the decades-long U.S. war on coca cultivation in his country. The leaf has for centuries traditionally been brewed in tea to stave off hunger and fatigue and combat altitude sickness, and the U.S.-led campaign to militarily eradicate the crop had claimed over 70 lives and wounded more than 1,000 people in Bolivia since the late '80s.

The details and possible consequences of effectively expelling the DEA are unclear. The U.S. embassy will not reveal the number of DEA officials working in Bolivia, but it's assumed to be several dozen, most of whom work out of the embassy in La Paz training Bolivian antidrug personnel and coordinating intelligence efforts with other South American countries. Bolivia's antidrug police, the Anti-Narcotics Special Forces, have yet to explain how this will affect their operations. The State Department fears the worst.

"Should U.S. cooperation be ended, more narcotics will be produced and shipped from Bolivia," says a senior official, adding that "the corrupting effects, violence and tragedy which will result will mainly harm Bolivia as well as the principal consumers of Bolivian cocaine in neighboring Latin American countries, Europe and West Africa."

But Morales points to his track record over the past three years in containing coca cultivation and improving interdiction numbers. He says Bolivia is capable of fighting drug trafficking without U.S. intervention and has called on the Union of South American Nations to begin playing the international-coordination role that the DEA has been playing. There has been no comment from the U.S. thus far on how Morales' latest move will affect the annual $35 million Bolivia receives from Washington to fund drug-control efforts.

Some suspect that Bolivia's move against the DEA could be part of a tit-for-tat escalation that began after Ambassador Goldberg's expulsion, when the State Department put the Andean nation on its "drug blacklist," accusing it of having "not cooperated with the U.S. in important efforts to combat drug trafficking." Bolivia counters that while its coca production has increased 5% in Colombia — Washington's No. 1 ally in the region — it has increased 26%, according to the U.N.'s drug-monitoring agency, without Colombia's being added to the blacklist.

In October, the Bush Administration announced the upcoming suspension of legislation that has since 1991 offered Andean nation trade benefits in exchange for drug-war cooperation. That legislation currently allows about $150 million in Bolivian goods, primarily textiles, to enter the U.S. tariff-free — exports that help sustain about 20,000 Bolivian jobs. "Bush's decision is a mistake because it sanctions the industrialized sector," says Marcos Iberkleid, owner of Ameritex, Bolivia's largest private employer, whose 4,000-worker textile factory does $30 million a year in tariff-free business with the U.S. under the suspended legislation. "The U.S.'s biggest concern should be limiting the growth of illegal sectors and promoting economic development, and this suspension does exactly the opposite."

Bolivia has already been moving to replace the U.S. with alternative markets for its industrial exports. Last week it signed an accord with its main regional ally, Venezuela, to import all those products recently denied tariff-free entry into the U.S., although this deal involves government-to-government trade rather than between private enterprises. Mexico, Brazil and possibly also European countries have offered to take Bolivia's exports on the same beneficial terms offered by the U.S. until last month.

But Bolivians are hoping Tuesday's U.S. election produces a government with which La Paz can make a fresh start. "I don't want this to be taken as me campaigning for anyone, but let's hope the U.S. goes blue too," said Morales on Saturday — his party's colors are the same as those of Senator Barack Obama. The Bolivian President made clear he envisages repairing the relationship as soon as President Bush has gone. More than once, he referred to his own victory in Bolivia as having brought "the change we need."

Republished from Time Magazine

Read more by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky at Ukhampacha Bolivia


Monday, November 03, 2008

Morales Halts U.S. "War on Drugs" in Bolivia

New York (digitalwarriormedia) President Morales suspended the operations of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Bolivia indefinitely – accusing the anti-drug force of funding and inciting violent groups in a civil coup attempt that rocked the nation during September.

While speaking in Chimoré, Cochabamba on Saturday, Morales delivered a report of the DEA’s actions to conspire against the Bolivian government during a ceremony to commemorate Bolivia’s annual efforts against drug trafficking.

According to President Morales, the DEA conducted activities outside of its authority, which is limited to cooperation in combating drugs.

"It is my decision,” said Morales to a gathering of military leaders, government officials and international representatives, “from today the DEA’s normal activities are cancelled indefinitely in Bolivia. We are defending our dignity and sovereignty".

The allegations were made public last week by Prime Minister Juan Ramona Quintana, who indicated the DEA was involved in violent attacks within the provinces of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija when airports, government buildings and the Bolivian police were physically attacked.

"In recent days, in recent months, the DEA of the United States has had a policy,” said Morales, “This means participating in a conspiracy against the national government.”

On September 11, President Morales declared a state of emergency in Pando after an attack on indigenous peasants left 18 dead. Within one week of the incident, Leopoldo Fernandez, was removed as governor of Pando and arrested for his role in the killings.

Morales released the name of DEA agent Steven Faucett, who carried out "political espionage” by financing the operations of opposition civic leaders who instigated the sabotage of airports in Beni and Pando and the seizure of runways.

Faucett made trips to Trinidad and Riberalta during the time of the coup. He is “listed as a regional agent of the DEA in Santa Cruz” and also affiliated with the diplomatic mission of the U.S. Embassy. Santa Cruz - the wealthiest department in Bolivia possesses a well coordinated network of regional leaders and civic committees which have led the strongest opposition to the central government.

Morales also released intelligence that the DEA operated seven “safe houses” in Bolivia which were used by agents for "spying and monitoring telephone calls."

Saturday’s ceremony was attended by diplomats from South America, Europe and Asia; members of the executive branch, the High Command of the Armed Forces and the Chief of Police; delegates from the European Union, as well as representatives of Bolivia in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Indigenous Fund.

During the ceremony where he announced annual targets for coca eradication and anti-drug trafficking, Morales noted that his government had eradicated more than 12,300 acres of illegally planted coca last year. And the goal was reached two months early while strictly respecting the human rights of coca-growing communities.

In the Chapare, where the majority of Bolivia’s coca is grown, both USAID and the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) have been evicted in the past three months by coca growers unions.

President Morales is the head of the largest coca growers union in the Chapare, however his administration started eradicating illicit coca as early as April 2006, less than four months after Morales assumed the presidency.

The U.S. warned that a suspension of cooperation with the DEA will increase the production of cocaine.

In recent weeks, the U.S. government stepped up its pressure on the Bolivian government to cooperate with U.S.-led anti-drug effort by threatening to suspend the trade preferences for Bolivia under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) and adding Bolivia to a blacklist of non-cooperating nations.

The ATPDEA agreement allowed Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to export tariff-free goods to the U.S. in exchange for anti-drug cooperation.

But Morales stood firm, including the refusal of a DEA request to fly anti-drug plane missions over Bolivia. At the time Morales said they did not need the U.S. spying on Bolivian territory and the Bolivian government would continue to handle anti-drug efforts internally.

On October 23, U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice announced that the U.S. government was suspending the ATPDEA preferences for Bolivia which could result in the loss of approximately $150 million in trade and thousands of Bolivian jobs.
Despite both houses of the U.S. Congress approving a six-month extension for Bolivia, the program was pulled by the White House. It was a move that had been threatened by the Bush Administration for several weeks and lobbied for by a group of well-connected U.S. businesses organizations, including most prominently the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

However, the latest Andean report from the UNODC showed that in 2007 Bolivia increased its seizure of illicit coca leaf and cocaine. Bolivia’s coca leaf seizures are up 40 times the amount seized as 2002.

“In Bolivia, the amount of cocaine seized increased for the third consecutive year. About one fifth of the total amount was cocaine HCl, a much higher proportion than in the past three years. Coca leaf seizures also increased significantly in 2007… 40 times the amount seized in 2002,” said the report.

The UNODC attributed the increased seizures to the strengthening of Bolivia’s Special Force for the Control of Coca Leaves (GECC) and tighter road controls.

President Morales said the U.S. used its fight against drug trafficking as a tool of recolonization. He called into question these U.S. policies that punish a government which is making progess against drugs production and trafficking. Morales also announced the move towards regional anti-drug cooperation, to be headed by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
As of Sunday, Bolivia’s La Prensa reported that the DEA had not received official notification from the Bolivian government.

Sources: ABI, Telesur, La Prensa, Associated Press

Photos: ABI, La Prensa