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



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