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



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