Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bolivia Seeks Progressive Framework with U.S.

LA PAZ (digitalwarriormedia) Next month officials from Bolivia and the U.S. will meet in Washington D.C. to refine a framework agreement aimed at re-initiating bilateral relations, Bolivia's UN Ambassador Pablo Solon said on Saturday.

The date of the meeting has yet to be determined for the next phase of restoring normalized diplomacy between the two countries.

According to Solon the framework agreement could be ready by the June meeting, as the document contains only 10 main points. However, the ambassador indicated that a third meeting may be necessary.

Reporting by ABI shows the document outlines progressive ideals such as “absolute respect for human rights and fundamental respect for the diversity of approaches to political, economic, social and cultural rights, promoting peace and nonviolence, social justice, equitable development and harmony with nature for a sustainable development,” in addition to unrestricted respect for domestic law, sovereignty and the self-determination of peoples.

Last week, a high-level delegation led by US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon traveled to La Paz for a two-day meeting where Bolivia delivered its proposal for mending ties.

Relations between the two countries, which deteriorated precipitously in September of last year, are finally on the road to recovery with the cooperation of a new administration in the White House.

Main issues that must be resolved between both nations are the increase of trade, cooperation in combating drug trafficking and the extradition of former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his former deputies who currently reside in the U.S. and are wanted to face charges of genocide in Bolivia’s Supreme Court.

Last week during Shannon’s visit, President Morales expressed his desire to re-establish relations with the U.S., but only if they were based on mutual respect.

While visiting Bolivia in early May, former President Jimmy Carter expressed hope for increased diplomacy and said he expected an exchange of ambassadors in the coming months, possibly as early as June.

Photos: ABI and AP


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mending Broken Fences

LA PAZ (digitalwarriormedia) Bolivia and the U.S. have committed to increase cooperation and re-establish bilateral relations following a two-day meeting in La Paz this week.

It was the first high-level face-to-face in almost a year. And it marked a turning point in a relationship that reached an unprecedented level of tension when ambassadors from each country were expelled in September 2008.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon led a delegation that arrived in La Paz on Wednesday and included members from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

On the agenda was the creation of a new framework to govern commitments between the two countries which have been operating under an agreement first signed in 1951. The Bolivian government presented the delegation with a draft document of guiding principles for improving relations, stated the Associated Press.

Much has changed within Bolivia over the decades, but in particular since Evo Morales became the country’s first indigenous president in 2006.

“After having problems in the past few years... the government and I hope that bilateral relations with the United States will improve," Morales said after the talks with Shannon at the Presidential Palace on Thursday. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana.

Morales has been a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Bolivia exercised by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, as well as the activities of USAID and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

When Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg in September, it was on the heels of a scandal that implicated the Embassy in recruiting Peace Corps volunteers to spy on Cuban and Venezuelan nationals working in Bolivia.

Goldberg was declared persona non grata after meeting with Rubén Costas, governor of Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department and a key figure in an opposition movement seeking unilateral autonomy from the central government.

Morales said moving forward that relations with the U.S. “must not be based on subjugation or subordination or political meddling; we must have relations based on respect.”

During a joint press conference with Shannon on Thursday, Minister Quintana said the meetings also addressed increasing trade between the two countries, in particular through the reinstatement of trade preferences for Bolivia under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.

Preferences were allowed to expire by the Bush Administration after Morales indefinitely suspended cooperation with the DEA’s anti-drug operations in Bolivia. Morales maintains that the DEA will not return to their territory, but that Bolivia is committed to share responsibility with furthering anti-drug trafficking measures.

The other major pillar of discussions was the extradition of former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his ministers who currently reside in the United States but are wanted to stand trial on charges of genocide for ordering military attacks that left 67 people dead in 2003.

Quintana said the U.S. delegation committed to streamline the procedures involved in the extradition process. A Bolivian commission will travel to the U.S. to meet with the Department of Justice and the State Department to assist with these arrangements. The trial against Goni and his ministers began in Bolivian Supreme Court this week.

Shannon characterized these meetings as a “good start”. However neither side gave a date for when their ambassadors would return to Washington and La Paz.

This high-level delegation marks the first move in a series of steps needed to eventually normalize U.S.-Bolivia relations, demonstrating that the Obama administration is serious about improving ties with Latin America and that a small country like Bolivia can maintain its national dignity on the world stage.

Sources: ABI, Los Tiempos, BBC, AP

Photos: Los Tiempos


Monday, May 18, 2009

Change on the Horizon -- Improved Diplomacy

A high-level delegation from the United States will arrive in La Paz on Wednesday to hold the first official meeting aimed at restoring diplomatic relations with Bolivia.

While speaking on state television TVB on Sunday, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said discussions will center on creating a new framework between the two countries.

According to Choquehuanca the high-level dialogue was agreed upon when he met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Summit of the Americas, held last month in Trinidad and Tobago.

During the two-day meeting, officials will address development cooperation, the struggle against drug trafficking, and the suspension of Bolivia’s trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Enforcement Act.

Choquehuanca also expressed the need to discuss “judicial cooperation”, particularly as it relates to former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his ministers, who fled to the US in 2003. The Morales administration has sought their extradition to face charges of genocide for the Black October massacre in which 67 people were killed and 400 injured when Bolivian security forces attacked a group of protesters.

To date, formal requests for extradition have gone unheeded by the US government; this despite a 1995 bilateral extradition treaty that was ratified by both countries.

Tensions between Bolivia and the US reached an all-time high last September when US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled by the Morales administration for conspiring against the central government with Bolivian opposition leaders and civic groups.

The Bush administration promptly responded by expelling Bolivia's Ambassdor Gustavo Guzman and then blacklisted Bolivia for failing to adhere to its obligations of combatting international drug trafficking. Data provided by the Bolivian government and the United Nations contradicted the US critique of current anti-trafficking efforts.

Nonetheless, the White House allowed Bolivia's trade preferences under the ATPDEA to expire in December - costing Bolivia between $200-400 million in exports - even though both the House and Senate had voted in favor of extending the program.

But recent statements made by U.S. officials indicate that the Obama administration is taking a much different approach to its relations with Latin America.

Last week Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon opened the 39th Washington Conference on the Americas. He discussed the goal of improving relations with Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba, as well as a future five-point agenda for diplomacy with Bolivia.

Shannon will lead the delegation traveling to La Paz this week.

Sources: ABI, EFE, Houston Chronicle

Photos: ABI & Democratic Underground


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sowing the Seeds of Diplomacy

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made a 2-day stop in Bolivia -visiting with government officials in the cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz - while on a Latin American tour that also included Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

The Nobel Laureate traveled with a delegation from The Carter Center – based in Atlanta, GA - and his wife Rosalynn.

On May Day, the group met with Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and the Land Reform Institute as well as media executives and international organizations working with the Carter Center’s “Community of Practice”. Carter delivered a speech on Friday evening where he called on Bolivia’s political class to build a co-existence and maintain a democratic attitude in their actions.

On Saturday, President Evo Morales and Carter met at the Presidential Palace. Both leaders expressed hopes that relations between the U.S. and Bolivia would improve under the Obama Administration. Diplomatic ties were suspended in September 2008 after the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg whom the Bolivian government accused of conspiracy.

Carter said he would file a report with the White House and State Department to have Peace Corps volunteers return to Bolivia. Corps volunteers were pulled out of Bolivia in the fall of last year by the Bush Administration. They had been viewed with suspicion after a scandal broke in February 2008. A Fulbright Scholar charged that he and members of the Peace Corps were instructed by the U.S. Embassy to spy on Venezuelan and Cuban nationals working in Bolivia. During his meeting with Carter, Morales stated that the Peace Corps were welcome to return.

While in country, Carter expressed his belief that bilateral relations between the two countries could resume as early as next month. He reported that in June a delegation from the United States is scheduled to travel to Bolivia “to resume the exchange of ambassadors”.

The delegation also met with the four opposition governors in the city of Santa Cruz. According to reporting by Dr. Jennifer McCoy, the governors expressed their dissatisfaction with the new Constitution and how changes were being implemented in Bolivia, but they did not question the legitimacy of the Morales administration.

In a public appearance on Monday, Morales said Carter had praised the political and social reforms that are taking place in the country. Morales also mentioned that he had persuaded Carter to visit his farm in the Chapare to harvest coca the next time the former head of state travels to Bolivia. Morales had previously visited Carter's peanut farm in Georgia.

Members from the Carter Center will be in Bolivia to act as international observers to the general elections taking place on December 6.

The Carter Center has worked with the Bolivian government since 2003, initially to promote access to information but the organization has also collaborated with public officials on land reform issues and training in conflict resolution and negotiation. Currently the Center maintains a field office in Bolivia and since January 2008 has worked with the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) to provide technical assistance for public policy design.

Read more about The Carter Center trip to Latin America here.

Photo: ABI