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Home Publications Blogs CEPR Blog USAID: The Bone of Contention in U.S. - Bolivia Relations

USAID: The Bone of Contention in U.S. - Bolivia Relations

Written by Alex Main   
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 12:10

When Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela met at the beginning of the month, it appeared that relations between the US and Bolivia were on the verge of being normalized following an 18-month diplomatic chill. Choquehuanca announced to the press that "the two sides are 99% done with a pact that would allow the exchange of ambassadors." President Evo Morales declared his own hope that the two countries would now "advance with this new framework agreement for full diplomatic, trade and investment relations."

But hope for improved relations appeared to be dashed two weeks later when President Morales angrily accused the US Agency for International Development (USAID) of financing groups opposed to his government. "If USAID continues working in this way," he said, "I will not hesitate to expel them because we have dignity and sovereignty, and we are not going to allow any interference."

Some may see Morales' recent statements as evidence that he isn't serious about seeing the agreement with the U.S. finalized and signed and, instead, is more interested in stoking nationalistic sentiment and strengthening his anti-imperialist image among his supporters. However, it is worth noting that Morales' latest statements are consistent with criticism that the Bolivian government has directed at USAID since at least 2006. Declassified documents uncovered by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that, as early as 2002, USAID funded a "Political Party Reform Project" designed to "serve as a counterweight to [Evo Morales'] radical MAS [party] or its successors." Though USAID has refused to reveal which political organizations have received funding since Evo Morales' election in 2006, the FOIA documents point to possible funding of opposition groups that engaged in violent tactics and sparked an explosive political crisis in September of 2008. Moreover, given the US government's record for funding opposition groups in Venezuela, the country with which Bolivia has the closest relations, it is perfectly understandable that President Morales is deeply suspicious of USAID's Bolivia program.

Unfortunately, rather than seeking to assuage the Bolivian government's concerns by lifting the veil on USAID's activities, the U.S. government has systematically refused to reveal all of the programs and groups that are currently receiving funding from the aid agency. As the Andean Information Network has noted, the US government's position violates international norms on cooperation calling for effective joint collaboration between the governments of donor and recipient countries on all cooperation programs.

It appears that the total lack of transparency in USAID's activities is the main sticking point - the 1% that has yet to be agreed upon - that is holding up the signing of the framework agreement that will allow for the full normalization of diplomatic relations. It is this issue that Bolivia's top representative in Washington, Ericka Dueñas, refers to in diplomatic terms in the Inter-American Dialogue's June 10 Latin America Adviser when she calls for: "an outline for cooperation to be defined in a transparent way by both states with the goal of preventing future controversies that disrupt the bilateral relationship."

Aside from this longstanding issue, the Obama administration has added one more source of tension to the bilateral agenda with its decision to appoint Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Vice-president Mark Feierstein to the position of Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID. Feierstein was a key campaign consultant to the infamous former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (alias "Goni") who fled to the US in order to avoid facing trial for his alleged role in the massacre of dozens of protesters in October of 2003 under his presidency. Feierstein has never expressed regret for having helped Goni become president; in fact, he has said that he is "proud of the role that we played in electing Goni." This unrepentant attitude, combined with the US government's refusal to extradite Goni to Bolivia, understandably has President Morales and other Bolivians fuming.

It is clear that USAID's role in Bolivia is at the heart of discussions taking place between the US and Bolivian governments today. If the U.S. administration is sincere in its desire to improve relations with the Bolivian government, it should come clean regarding USAID's political activities in Bolivia and agree to a framework of future relations that allows for full transparency in all of its "cooperation" programs. Finally, if the US administration wishes to stand by its decision to appoint of Feierstein to USAID, it should, at the very least, recognize the controversial character of the nomination while making it clear that Feierstein has ceased to have relations and will not work to promote or defend the interests of Bolivia's most reviled politician, Sanchez de Lozada.

Comments (5)Add Comment
USAid aid's US Imperialism
written by luke weyland, June 22, 2010 10:42
USAid, the NED and other US organisations are still today openly funding organisations that support the overthrow of the democratic governments of both Venezuela and Bolivia.
Just as it is a crime for foreign governments to make donations to US political parties, it should be a crime for the US to do so in other lands.

written by Leo Marquez, June 23, 2010 4:51
This technique of funding by creating opposition is typical "Reganomic-CIA" techniques. We are living in some Owellian nightmare and being an American it is important for me to ask the salient question what is someone doing in my name? Unfortunately Americans can be lied to and they don't even show outrage. Iraq was predicated on a lie, the Bush Administration knew there was no weapons of mass destruction, if you believe that he did then I'm the tooth fairy,and we went along with it. Not only did we go along with it we sacrificed our sons and our daughter's lives for it. How do you tell someone that their children died for a lie. All they are left with is a patriotic denial, say they died for "freedom." But this administration is not getting out in front of Bolivia and Venezula in terms of diplomacy. These are sovereign Countries who are different,albeit,but so is China and we are economicaly joined at the hip. why is this administration not trying everything in it's power to normalize or establish good diplomatic relations with these countries? Are neo-con forces trying to villify these countries by funding a conflict, create a "hot-spot" and then go to war "defending democracy?" This is the play-book for the CIA. Sometimes country's never forget and Iran is an example. Mossadegh in the 50's was overthrown by the US and England (Mossadegh was democratically elected) and in his stead we established the Shah of Iran whose Savak (secret police) killed thousands of Iranians in order to maintain power. Now we are facing the Blowback. The problem with this current administration the neo-cons are stronger than Obama and the
republican party is determined to continue the neo-con insanity of the prior administration.
Inform yourselves before further contributing to the destruction of democracy and freedom in Bolivia
written by Leon Galindo, July 05, 2010 11:35
Who is Mr. Main and what is his expertise on Bolivia? What data or statistics does he base the highly biased and subjective opinón on that Mr. Sanchez de Lozada is ¨Bolivias´most reviled politician?". Any serious polling, particularly among informed bolivians, would most likely place a number of other candidates, including top leaders in the current administration, in that position - with what authority does Mr. Main make such a claim? How about the intentions of the Bolivian government? Is Mr. Main aware that Evo Morales, current President of Bolivia, has repeatedly threatened to transform Bolivia into "another Vietnam." Is that transparent enough? Is he aware that Mr. Morales is the President of the six federations of coca growers, and that the majority of this coca is transformed into cocaine that inundates the United States and other nations? Is he aware that the regime of Mr. Morales is methodically dismantaling all checks and balances and other democratic institutions in Bolivia? What do Mr. Main, the CEPR, Oliver Stone, Mr. Weisbrot and so many other foreign friends of Chavez and Morales truly want -- for these men to follow the example of Cuba to finish what is left of democracy in their nations and than proceed on throughout the rest of the hemisphere? US commentators and would be intellectuals really need to inform themselves much more seriously as to what is happening in South America and in our nation, Bolivia. Their comments are greatly harming to the right to life, liberty, and happiness of 10 million bolivians. And yes, we at BoliviaDemocratica are 100% bolivian and are not on anyone´s payroll.
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