On October 2, President Morales refused a request by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration which sought to fly anti-narcotics operations over Bolivian territory.
Saying his nation wishes to be “free and sovereign”, Morales continues to repudiate U.S. activities that suppress Bolivia’s independence, while the Bush Administration tries to impose its will upon one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
"It's important that the international community knows that here, we don't need control of the United States on coca cultivation," said Morales according to the Associated Press. "We can control ourselves internally. We don't need any spying from anybody."
This is the latest incident in U.S.-Bolivia relations that may jeopardize trade preferences for Bolivia under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act - a U.S. trade program for countries participating in anti-drug efforts.
At risk are almost $150 million in trade benefits and possibly as many as 20,000 Bolivian jobs.
The program - which began in 1991 as the Andean Trade Preference Act – permits Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to export tariff-free products to the U.S. in return for their efforts to battle international drug smuggling.
The trade preferences are set to expire in December, with a final decision on the ATPDEA expected by the White House by the end of October.
Despite calls from President Bush and a group of business leaders that Bolivia no longer deserved special trade consideration, the U.S. Congress approved an extension of the ATPDEA -offering a six-month extension to Bolivia and Ecuador, while providing a one-year renewal for Colombia and Peru.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the Emergency Committee for American Trade and the National Foreign Trade Council sent a letter to Congress calling for Bolivia and Ecuador to lose their trade preferences.
"There are serious concerns within the U.S. business community about breaches of the basic rule of law that are occurring in Ecuador and Bolivia," wrote the group, referring to Bolivia’s nationalization of its hydrocarbon sector and the telecom company, Entel.
The Bush Administration shares the same opinion as a group of U.S. business associations, although the justifications for repealing Bolivia’s trade benefits were widely divergent.
In a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, President Bush proposed suspending Bolivia’s preferred trade status, stating that the country failed to cooperate in anti-narcotics efforts.
Citing the recent expulsion of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel and the removal of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials from the main areas of Bolivia's illegal coca production a press release from the U.S. Trade Representative also indicated that Bolivia had a marked increase in coca production.
"The Morales administration's recent actions related to narcotics cooperation are not those of a partner and are not consistent with the rules of these programs," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab in a statement, “the suspension could be lifted as soon as the Bolivian government improves its performance."
However, according to the United Nations, Bolivia has shown a willingness to counter domestic coca production and the world’s third largest producer of coca has demonstrated progress in combating illicit coca cultivation.
Nonetheless, President Bush recently placed Bolivia on an anti-narcotics blacklist, accusing the Morales administration of failing to cooperate sufficiently in fighting drug trafficking.
Meanwhile the Bush administration earnestly seeks a free trade agreement with Colombia – the world’s largest producer of coca and cocaine, which produces almost 3.5 times the amount of coca grown in Bolivia.
Punishing the Little Guy
US.-Bolivia relations have remained strained since the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg on September 10. In response the U.S. government promptly followed suit with the expulsion of Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S., Gustav Guzman.
President Morales declared Goldberg a persona non grata and accused the U.S. Embassy in La Paz of fomenting violence in Bolivia.
In early September Morales was forced to call a state of martial law in the department of Pando after the massacre of eighteen indigenous government supporters near Cobija. Opposition groups attacked and looted government buildings throughout the eastern regions of the country.
Since November of last year, Morales had accused Goldberg of conspiring against the Bolivian government in part by funneling money and resources to opposition groups through the USAID.
And while the U.S. government remained completely silent on the cold-blooded murders of indigenous peasants and the wanton disrespect for the rule of law in these provinces, President Bush spoke loud and clear on the misguided “War on Drugs”.
On Sept 15, Bush added Bolivia to a “blacklist” of countries that have failed to cooperate in the fight against illegal drugs. Bolivia was the only country to be added this year – the remaining 20 were already on the list in 2007.
Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca called the U.S. government’s blacklisting “another threat against Bolivia’s democracy”. He said Bolivia would like to see the trade benefits extended but that his country would strive to strengthen economic ties with other nations.
A report from the United Nations throws into question the claims of the Bush Administration. That “performance” so coyly referred to by Schwab, was a 5% increase in coca production over the last year.
A review of the latest report on coca cultivation in the Andean Region from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that illicit coca growth in Bolivia was up 5% in 2007. For the Andean Region, production was up 16%, largely driven by Colombia.
“The increase was driven by a 27% rise in Colombia, and smaller increases of 5% and 4% respectively in Bolivia and Peru,” said the UNODC report.
Colombia’s ATPDEA trade status was never questioned when Congress was voting on extending trade preferences even though Colombia’s production increased last year from 78,000 to 99,000 hectares.
Meanwhile Bolivia’s coca production increased from 27,500 to 28,900 hectares. Legal limits on coca cultivation remained the same in Bolivia between 2006 and 2007 at 12,000 hectares or almost 30,000 acres.
The UNODC report also indicated that Bolivia increased the eradication of illicit coca by 24% and outperformed Columbia in seizures of cocaine, which was up 29% from 2006.
In Bolivia, the coca leaf is a sacred part of Andean culture and is revered for its medicinal properties. Morales, a former coca farmer, upholds the stance that coca leaf is not a drug and his administration’s position of “Coca Yes, Cocaine No”.
New Friends & Allies
The ATP and ATPDEA were designed to reduce illegal crop production and promote economic development in the Andean region, but with certain political conditions.
President Morales has repeatedly said Bolivia wants partners not masters and relationships with nations that are based upon reciprocity and mutual respect.
Recently, one of Bolivia’s most widely circulated papers, La Razon, claimed that Bolivia is becoming more isolated because of its separation from the U.S. However, this view is shortsighted.
The Morales administration aims to improve international relations and diversify its national economic policies, inking billions of dollars in hydrocarbon and mining deals with Russia, Iran, and India as well as increasing regional contracts with Argentina and Brazil.
Bolivia’s timing could not be better as the U.S. – fraught from fighting two ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as an economic crisis that is jeopardizing the global economic system – is losing influence, not only in Latin America, but around the world.
As this economic hurricane hits countries around the globe, those most closely tied to the U.S. economy in trade, tourism and development aid will likely suffer a fate worse than those nations that choose to charter their own course and diversify.
In general U.S. policy towards Latin America is pushing former allies towards mutually beneficial trade relations with other countries, such as in the case of Bolivia and Venezuela who have earnestly sought increased economic ties with Russia and Iran. These bi-lateral relations should be looked at in the context of national sovereignty as countries seek to diversify their economies with willing partners.
As has been historically clearly demonstrated by the U.S. and in the last eight years of the Bush administration, international relationships are dictated by the priorities of the U.S. – independent-minded leaders need not apply.