Saturday, May 23, 2009

The U.S. and Bolivia Seek a Peace Agreement

The trajectory of recent U.S. Bolivian relations is a bit like the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. It isn't that the roller coaster within the darkened mountain is any more curvy or extreme than the average roller coaster. It's just that, because you don't have a clue where you're headed, it seems more dramatic.

The underlying conflicts between Bolivian and the U.S. governments aren't that difficult to understand. It is the unpredictability of U.S./Bolivia relations that makes for most of the drama.

And so it is that the drama-averse Obama administration came to La Paz last week to see if it could infuse a little diplomatic normalcy into its relations with the government of Evo Morales.

Following Up on the Sour Note of the Americas Summit

The timing of the U.S. mission to La Paz was not an accident.

The unofficial word after President Obama's trip to Tobago last month for the Summit of the Americas was that relations between the new administration and its Latin American neighbors looked almost universally warm and fuzzy – with everyone but Morales.

While Cuba and the U.S. were making tentative overtures to one another, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was cheerily adding a book to the White House library, Morales was demanding that Obama publicly declare that the U.S. had nothing to do with an alleged assassination plot against him, despite the absence of any evidence that the U.S. was involved.

At the summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who during the campaign last year had warm and fuzzy things to say about Morales) and her Bolivian counterpart, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, agreed to send a U.S. delegation to La Paz to see if the two governments couldn't get off to a new start with one another.

On the U.S. side, President Obama seemed to have a political interest in seeing the new diplomatic love in the Americas fill in the last piece of the map. With two Middle East wars to deal with and nuclear Pakistan facing a meltdown it would be handy for the U.S. to have relations with Latin America run on auto-pilot for a while. On the Bolivian side Morales very much wants Obama to reverse President Bush's move last year, axing Bolivia from trade preferences with the U.S. That put more than 20,000 Bolivian jobs in jeopardy.

So a high level dialog between the two governments seemed to be something of strong mutual interest.

The Return of Mr. Shannon

The Obama administration's emissary to La Paz last week was not a fresh face, but a familiar one. Thomas Shannon, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs is a career diplomat who has held the post since 2005. He was the Bush administration's official representative to Morales's inauguration in January 2006 and came back again last year to try to patch things up when relations between the two countries went deeply sour under U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg.

During his brief Bolivian tenure, Ambassador Goldberg demonstrated a genuine mastery of ineptness. Members of his staff imported bullets in a relative's suitcase and asked Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright Scholar to gather intelligence for the Embassy. In Cochabamba Goldberg made a joke about a woman in El Alto being lynched. Then last September, when governors hostile to Morales started amping up their rhetoric against the government and their supporters were readying to torch government buildings, Goldberg visited Morales's adversaries for a smiling photo-op.

It was that move by Mr. Goldberg that led Morales to send the U.S. Ambassador home, charging that he was deliberately trying to undermine his presidency.

To be clear, almost any Ambassador from the U.S. is going to run into conflicts with the Morales government, but Goldberg seemed to eagerly look for them.

In contrast, Mr. Shannon is a diplomatic 'grown-up'. He is a man who chooses his words and his moves carefully and who has seemed genuinely committed to decent U.S./Bolivia relations even as other actors in the Bush administration were pushing hard in the other direction.

In comparison to several of his most notable predecessors in the post, Shannon seems almost a progressive. President Bush's first appointee to the position, Otto Reich, was a behind the scenes booster of the 2002 attempted coup against Hugo Chavez. In the Reagan years the post was held by the infamous Elliot Abrams, whose participation in secret arms deliveries to the Nicaraguan Contras ended in a plea bargain to escape jail (and a Presidential pardon).

Mr. Shannon's trip to Bolivia last week was also likely to be his last, as an Obama-appointed successor readies to take over his position next month, with Mr. Shannon likely headed to Brazil to be the new U.S. Ambassador there.

Drugs, Jobs, Meddling, Ambassadors, and 'Goni'

What precisely was discussed in meetings between Mr. Morales and Mr. Shannon during the two-day visit last week is still hidden behind the vague diplomatic pronouncements each side made afterwards.

President Morales told reporters, "After having problems in the past few years ... the government and I hope bilateral relations with the United States will improve." Secretary Shannon weighed in with the equally vague declaration, "What the U.S. delegation has found here in La Paz is a strong willingness from the Bolivian government ... to find a way to write a new chapter in the relations between the United States and Bolivia."

However, it doesn't take much guesswork to know that five topics dominated those conversations: drugs, jobs, meddling, ambassadors, and 'Goni'.


The U.S. basically has one diplomatic objective in Bolivia, and that is its long-standing and much-questioned "War on Drugs" aimed at Bolivia's coca crop. Mr. Shannon no doubt complained to Bolivian officials about Morales' ouster of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last year – its Cochabamba headquarters is now a spiffy new Toyota dealership. Morales no doubt restated a commitment to fighting cocaine production and to defending the growing of coca.

Meanwhile, as drug labs continue to expand in the hills above Cochabamba's outskirts, it remains unclear what practical effect the coca conversation last week in La Paz will have on anything.


The Obama administration will need to make a decision at some point soon on whether it intends to reverse or continue the Bush administration's suspension of the ATPDEA trade preferences for Bolivia. Mr. Bush yanked those preferences in September in retaliation for the ouster of Washington's ambassador, but blamed it on Bolivia's lack of cooperation in the War on Drugs.

Reversing that decision is an obvious part of the package of restoring friendly relations and it will be made at a political level in the administration not by bureaucrats in the office of the Trade Representative. So watch this issue as a litmus test of how Secretary of State Clinton plans to handle her relations with Morales.


One of the issues most often mentioned from the Bolivian side is the various charges of U.S. meddling in Bolivia's domestic politics. The Morales government has charged a broad conspiracy of interference involving USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the DEA and others.

Mr. Shannon most likely reiterated the U.S. position that U.S. assistance is benign and aimed at legitimate development goals including 'democracy building.' President Morales probably said in private what he and other members of the government have said in public, that aid from the U.S. should be funneled through the national government (which Morales controls) and not rival governors or NGOs. Bolivian officials have also suggested that funds for so-called "democracy building" projects be re-directed to straight development projects like building roads. Keep an eye out to see if there are any changes in how U.S. funding comes into the country.


The first sign of return to normalcy in relations between the two countries will be a new exchange of ambassadors. The posts in both countries have been vacant since last September. For now Bolivian relations in the U.S. are being handled by its representative to the U.N. Pablo Solon, one of the more competent members of the Morales government. Even with a new Ambassador in place in Washington, Mr. Solon will probably still be directing things (he just recently met with Secretary Clinton in Washington). I'd bet that Washington's new Ambassador to La Paz will be a career diplomat and one with a cooler demeanor that Mr. Goldberg. I also bet that the exchange will happen soon to follow-up on the momentary goodwill left from last week's visit.

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada

The 'wild card' in the diplomatic road ahead is the pending Bolivian criminal case against former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. The former President, charged with murder in connection with his repression of protests in 2003, lives under U.S. political protection in suburban Maryland.

This is where the timing of the U.S. visit is particularly strange. By either coincidence or bad diplomatic planning by the U.S., Secretary Shannon landed in La Paz just as the nation's Supreme Court was opening its hearings in the historic trial of Sanchez de Lozada and his top Ministers. That in turn elevated the profile of one of the diplomatic disputes between the two countries that seems least likely to be resolved – Bolivia's demand that 'Goni' be returned for trial.

After the Shannon visit Morales' top Minister, Juan Ramón Quintana declared that the U.S. had committed to process the papers required for the ex-President's extradition. But I think there is a good chance that this is a wildly inflated version of some lesser bureaucratic commitment made by the U.S. representatives. Watch for Goni's protection under Obama to continue (President Obama's White House Counsel, Greg Craig was formerly Sanchez de Lozada's defense lawyer on the case).

Getting Off the Roller Coaster

The thing about roller coaster rides is that while some people find them exciting, they make other people ill. So it is that while the twists and turns of the diplomatic battles between Washington and La Paz make for great material to write about, most Bolivians and U.S. citizens would be better off if the two countries could resolve their differences. Bolivia needs the jobs that U.S. trade preferences provide. The U.S. gains if Bolivia becomes more politically stable. Bolivian orphans need the door re-opened for adoption to U.S. families.

Each of the issues outlined above deserves a much fuller discussion that I can offer in this Blog post (though I have included links to past writings we have published). Each is complicated, some more than others. What is new however is that the overtures from the Obama administration should be taken as genuine. Under President Bush the U.S. was always internally at conflict and often hostile.

However, as I have written before -- U.S./Bolivia relations can't just be defined as the relationship between two governments. It is a relationship between two peoples who have no quarrel with one another and have much to gain from getting along. Leaving that relationship to the diplomats to sort out, even if they are good ones, is not enough. And that is where the rest of us come in.


Blogger Con said...

"Morales was demanding that Obama publicly declare that the U.S. had nothing to do with an alleged assassination plot against him, despite the absence of any evidence that the U.S. was involved."
Of course he may have had some intelligence he preferred not to reveal. In any case, is it too unreasonable to demand such an assurance from the US govt? On the basis of past experience it's hardly a great leap of logic.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your lighting Jim. I learned a lot by reading this comment here. I will continue to diligently read you, because your blog is proving to be an excellent source of information and lighting. Again thank you very much.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three (!) mistakes in one sentence!
You write "...infamous Elliot Abrams, whose participation in secret arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras landed him a criminal conviction (and Presidential pardon)."
First, Abrams was never convicted, he plead guilty.
Second, he plead guilty to a misdemeanor count, not a criminal count.
Third, Abrams plead guilty to withholding information from congress regarding a trip he made to London to solicit money from the Sultan of Brunei for the Contras. The Iran-Contra investigation, Oliver North's trial and the Independent Council investigation never found any connection between Abrams and the arms-for-hostages trade with Iran.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

To Liz:

What can it do? In any manner whatsoever Elliot Abrams is a disreputable person.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you

9:43 PM  
Anonymous I LOVE MY PRESIDENTS said...

Some photos of the celebration in the village of El Villar to the occasion of the bicentenary of libertarian cry from 25 May 1809:









7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cuchi Cuchi worshipper, instead of celebrating the 200 years of the rally for independence in Sucre (which can in all justice be said is the first cry for independence from Spain by its colonies), decided to fortify his massive Evo-ego by accepting to be proclaimed as "Liberator of Indigenous People" by his paid minions far, far away. What's next, he'll call himself "Pachaevo, "Evocuti,", or "Evokeko?"

Since he took power, Cuchi Cuchi worshipper has named the house he was born in as some kind of national monument, he ordered his funny haircut to grace (or rather shamed) Bolivian stamps, was given some kind of shaft -- like Charlton Heston as Moses -- that says he's some kind of supreme leader of the Indians of the Western Hemisphere, and now he's up to par with Simon Bolivar. At this rate, he'll be like North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and be proclaimed a deity before year's end!

There's a serious inferiority complex at issue here, and Cuchi Cuchi worshipper displays all the syntoms. For the sake of space, I'll list those syntoms in my next educational posting.


The Croats are Morales' Jews
Beni is Morales' Katrina

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Continuing from my previous post, there are 6 basic signs that shows Cuchi Cuchi worshipper has an inferiority complex:

SENSITIVITY TO CRITICISM: Although people who feel inferior “know” they have shortcomings, they do not like other people to point this out. They tend to perceive any form of criticism, regardless of how sensitively or constructively it is presented, as a personal attack. Cuchi Cuchi jails and/or intimidates his political opponents. Or topple democratic governments.

HYPERCRITICAL ATTITUDE: People who do not feel good about themselves have trouble feeling good about anyone else. They look hard for flaws and shortcomings of others to try to convince themselves that they really aren’t so bad after all. Cuchi Cuchi worshipper is constantly antagonizing and insulting others.

INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO FLATTERY: This can work two ways. Some people are desperate to hear anything good about themselves and will be constantly fishing for compliments. Others may refuse to listen to anything positive about themselves because it is inconsistent with their own feelings. With his imperial feelings of self-aggrandization, we already know where Cuchi Cuchi worshipper stands (oops, I'm sorry, effortlessly floats above us) on this one.

TENDENCY TOWARD BLAMING: Some people project their perceived weaknesses onto others in order to lessen the pain of feeling inferior. From here, it is only a short step to blaming others for one’s failures. In Cuchi Cuchi worshipper's speak: "Croats! CIA! Bush! Imperialism! Neocolonialism! Empire! Mickey Mouse!"

FEELINGS OF PERSECUTION: Carried to its extreme, blaming others can extend to believing that others are actively seeking to ruin you. If a man is fired from his job, for example, it may comfort him to believe that his boss was out to get him. It allows him to avoid personal responsibility for his failure. Every week Cuchi Cuchi worshipper informs the country that he's a target for assassination by the US, without offering zero, zip, nada of evidence. Last week's was "Assassination Conspiracy against Me by the Imperialists," Volume VIII, page 10,567.

NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT COMPETITION: People who feel inferior like to win games and contests every bit as anyone else, but they tend to avoid such situations because deep down, they believe they cannot win. And not coming in first is clear evidence of total failure. Cuchi Cuchi worshipper has always used extortion and violence to intimidate people he views as threats, or at the very least justifies those methods. Case in point with the near lynching of Victor Cardenas' family.

And to think all this started for not being to play the trombone or for being a mediocre soccer player...


The Croats are Morales' Jews
Beni is Morales' Katrina

8:25 AM  
Anonymous I LOVE MY PRESIDENTS said...

CuchiNedo said:



8:35 AM  
Blogger bowsie said...

On George Bush.

SENSITIVITY TO CRITICISM: How did George Bush respond to criticism by Richard Clarke? What happened to Colin Powell when he criticised the Bush Administration? How did Bush respond to Joseph Wilson when he told the administration that their evidence on Sadaam Hussein's nuclear program was made-up? They exposed his wife Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

HYPERCRITICAL ATTITUDE: I remember Bush mistaking speaking into a microphone about Adam Clymer: "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole from the New York Times." Bush's paranoia about cheerleaders for the Iraq war, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post as being anti-patriotic could be construed as hyper-critical. Anybody who wasn't pro-War was accused of being anti-Patriotic.

INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO FLATTERY: When Michael Brown praised Bush for visiting New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Bush told him he was doing "A Heck of a Job". Considering it was perhaps the worst performance of a federal official in history, and Bush's administration denied levy-protection funds and bungled the rescue effort, it was a pretty inappropriate response to flattery.

TENDENCY TOWARD BLAMING: Whose fault was it that the Iraq invasion didn't work? I think it was the New York Times' fault right?

FEELINGS OF PERSECUTION: "Why does nobody talk about the good news coming out of Iraq".

NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT COMPETITION: He responded to competition from John Kerry by "Swift Boating" him.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:07....Or maybe....Tupac Moralesani...or...CHEvo....


1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sad how the content of this session keeps falling into the exchange of insults between the same two or three people. I much preferred it when people with something intelligent to say, from any side, joined in here.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Nedito Lazaneito:


Where did you were you searching for such info? That's the type of site you visit Nedito? Got a little problem of inferiority that you try to settle yourself in? Dear Nedo it is not with such simplistics tips and cheap as you go out of business! Dear Nedo you must visit a psychiatrist. This is your last chance, although one case you're lost.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anon 1:32 PM:

Try yourself to say something intelligent instead of complaining. ; -)

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the other poster and I think pointing out how much this sections sounds like a junior high locker room is quite intelligent.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous I love my people said...

Congratulations to the Bolivian mother, in her day!

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evo looks very evil in that picture, as in axis of evil. He must be providing uranium to Iran, that's the whole reason behind the ruse to convince ONU to add "Mother" to Earth Day in honor of Pachamama, really a diversion to confuse the whole world into not realizing that Evo is out to destroy us all through nuclear war!

Or, as he knows the usual trickery of the Empire, Evo is none too thrilled to shake hands with Shannon, who previously played Bush's chess game, and as Secretary of the Presidency said yesterday, whatever intelligence agent or media in Israel made the claim that Bolivia under Evo is plotting to provide uranium to Iran, is a clown.

Free Palestine
The Palestinians are Israel's Cholos

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a little strange, but I am asking myself....which person in the above picture would I trust more??.....not an easy question to ask oneself


10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim stated that both people would benifit ffrom a good relation ....
Let's make it clear... Bolivia is where? Get real the US public coud give rat's ass. Evo forgets that as a 5th grade moron... he is considered a clown in the international community. The US should cut all ties and leave this country to deal with its joke of a government.

8:59 PM  

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