Tuesday, January 05, 2010

U.S. & Bolivia: What's Old is New Again

(digitalwarriormedia) Relations between Bolivia and the United States ended on a sour note in 2009, as President Obama failed to re-instate trade preferences for the Andean nation and a Bolivian politician escaped arrest by fleeing to the U.S.

These most recent events have widened the rift between the two nations and could jeopardize the normalization of bilateral relations which were stalled in September 2008.

Not so Free Trade

President Obama followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush, by extending the suspension of Bolivia’s participation in a program made possible by the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). The ATPDEA grants duty-free preferences to exports from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia – encouraging trade in exchange for cooperation with combating drug production and trafficking.

On December 28, Obama signed a bill that extended trade preferences for all participating countries - except Bolivia - until December 31, 2010.

According to the White House, Bolivia must improve anti-drug trafficking cooperation with the U.S. before it can benefit from ATPDEA.

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera criticized Obama for his position.

Last week during a press conference at the Presidential Palace, Morales said, “Unfortunately it was thought that with the accession to power of President Barack Obama, that relations...would change, when in fact it has not happened."

Morales called Obama’s actions a “political vendetta by an Administration that does not accept that a small country defends its sovereignty and expels an ambassador that meddled in {its} internal affairs."

Bolivia’s trade preferences were initially suspended by President Bush in 2008 just months after Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg - a move prompted by Goldberg’s meeting with opposition leaders in the city of Santa Cruz. The U.S. expelled Bolivia’s Ambassador Gustavo Guzman in response.

Bilateral relations remained at an all-time low between the two nations until Obama’s election breathed new life into the prospect of a U.S. policy shift towards Bolivia.

Following high-level meetings in both Washington and La Paz, it appeared that broken diplomatic ties were close to being reinstated.

But Obama’s recent decision, coupled with the arrival of political leader Manfred Reyes Villa on U.S. soil in mid-December, further complicates the U.S-Bolivia relationship.

Harboring Another Bolivian “Refugee”

On Thursday, Bolivia’s Interior Minister Alfredo Rada confirmed that Manfred Reyes Villa – the former governor of Cochabamba - crossed into Peru on December 14th. The following day Reyes Villa boarded a plane from Lima to the U.S.

An arrest warrant was issued for Manfred Reyes Villa on grounds of tax evasion and election fraud, involving 11 counts of corruption during his term as governor of Cochabamba.

His attorney, Daniel Humerez, has denounced the latest verdict as a "politicized" investigation, said PressTV.

Most recently Reyes Villa ran in the presidential elections held on December 6. He was the second most popular presidential candidate, taking 27% of the vote in contrast to Morales’ 64%.
He was also a member of CONALDE (National Democratic Council) a group of political and civic leaders that strongly opposed the central government.

In the days leading up the national elections, Bolivian media widely published rumors that he had booked airline tickets destined to the U.S. According to reports, he was set to depart the day after the elections. Reyes Villa vehemently denied the rumors.

However, just shortly after the election, Reyes Villa supposedly went into hiding and was not seen in public. In November, when formal charges were brought against him, a judge ruled that Reyes Villa was not permitted to leave Bolivia.

He was removed from office as the governor of Cochabamba in August 2007 during a recall referendum vote. The ex-military officer has been widely criticized for his participation with the School of the Americas (SOA) – now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - in Fort Benning, GA.

Reyes Villa’s whereabouts in the U.S. are unknown.
There are three other Bolivian fugitives living in the U.S., wanted by the Morales administration on charges of genocide for the massacre of 67 and wounding of over 400 in October 2003. Former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) and two of his deputies - Jorge Berindoague Alcocer and Carlos Sanchez Berzain - fled Bolivia for the U.S. Currently Goni resides in Chevy Chase, MD.

In 2008, the Morales administration filed extradition requests so that Goni and his former ministers can stand trial in Bolivian court. The Bush administration ignored the extradition requests and to date, the U.S. has made no movement on the matter.

Dignity and Sovereignty
On Monday Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said Bolivia plans to normalize relations with the U.S. but that it requires a new mindset among America’s leadership who must understand Bolivia’s rights to sovereignty, self-determination and development.

"If (the White House) maintains this attitude, it is likely that this cooling of relations is maintained longer," said Garcia Linera indicating that international diplomatic ties must be based on mutual respect of sovereignty.

During the fall of last year, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanaca forecasted that U.S.-Bolivia relations would normalize in December 2009. Instead last month’s developments are derailing this delicate process as trade and the extradition of Bolivian nationals are two main pillars upon which any acceptable agreement with the U.S. would stand.

Photos: ABI and Telesur



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