Bolivia Investigations: Interpreting Bolivia

Interpreting Bolivia’s Political Transformation

A Democracy Center Review of
‘Bolivia on the Brink’ by Eduardo A. Gamarra
– a Special Report from the Council on Foreign Relations

Bolivia is in the midst of a historic transformation, one that has thrust it as never before into the global spotlight. This transformation has also caught the attention of U.S. policy makers who are thinking anew about U.S. policy towards South America’s most impoverished and most indigenous nation.

Into the “Bolivia debate” the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations has launched an important new report, Bolivia on the Brink , authored by Eduardo A. Gamarra, professor and director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. Because of the importance of this debate, the staff of The Democracy Center has undertaken a substantive report of its own, which serves as both a critical review of the special Council report and a stand-alone analysis of Bolivia’s important political transformation.

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Interpreting Bolivia’s Political Transformation: at a Glance

The report Bolivia on the Brink, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, includes some valuable analysis and recomendations for U.S. policymakers, particulary with regard to the need for new flexibility on the issues of coca and trade. Unfortunately, it also includes some significant misrepresentations and bases its analysis, at times, on unsubstantiated generalizations.

The report wisely encourages U.S. policymakers to positively engage the Bolivian government, despite differences between the Morales and Bush administration. It is important to note, however, that its suggestions for doing so are aimed primarily at advancing what it calls “U.S. interests in Bolivia and the Andean Rim,” not Bolivia’s national interests.

While Bolivia does continue to face significant social tensions and political conflict, the country is not on the brink of the kind of national crisis projected by the report. In fact, Bolivia today is generally more politically and economically stable than it has been under most of its recent governments.

While the administration of President Evo Morales does struggle with assembling a competent and affective government, an assessment of that challenge requires a far deeper analysis than the one offered in Bolivia on the Brink.

On a range of key issues, from the ‘nationalization’ of gas to constitutional reform, the Bolivia government’s actions are actually a good deal less extreme than they are portrayed in the report.

Bolivia on the Brink calls on U.S. policymakers to “convince” Bolivia’s neighbors to assume a role in helping resolve Bolivia’s domestic political divisions, despite the fact that such foreign involvement has not been invited and would present a clear conflict of interests.

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