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



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