The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Bolivia and Uncle Sam: not much sign of grip so far

On the other hand, there may not be that much USG can do.

On Carlos Mesa's taking over the presidential limo, there were the usual bromides. Now, at the Americas Conference in Miami, White House Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich essays something of a Rummygram, according to the Miami Herald (October 30):
There are people in Bolivia who do not believe in democracy, and we cannot allow them to take over.

The Green Berets follow the trail blazed by Butch and Sundance? Not quite.
Reich said he was not suggesting the United States should intervene unilaterally in Bolivia. 'I was referring to the Organization of American States' democratic charter,'' he said. That is the regional treaty committing the member nations to the collective defense of democracy.

Perhaps Chile and Paraguay [1] could form a coalition of the willing and send in a bunch of their guys to watch Mesa's back. There'll be throngs of grateful citizens in the streets - just like for the Yanks in Baghdad...

Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation - whose About Us page still carries a quote from Rush Limbaugh, I notice - has what it's pleased to call an Executive Memorandum by its very own Stephen Johnson (formerly a denizen of the State Department) which outlines the story so far in Bolivia, and recommends action for USG.

This seems to come down to:
  • giving Mesa a vote of confidence (which he's already had);

  • leaning on regional powers - Johnson mentions Uruguay, which I find intriguing: it's not contiguous with Bolivia, for a start, and I don't recall seeing it mentioned by anyone in connection with the current strife in Bolivia. A follow-up, I think...

  • propagandising the Indians in their own languages [2]; and

  • reallocating some War on Drugs spending to constructive aid to the peasants.

Not exactly a counter-revolution of the old school!

Part of the problem is that USG does not deem Bolivia to be that important, strategically: compared with Colombia, for instance - #3 recipient of military aid - its War on Drugs take from Uncle Sam is paltry (Johnson mentions $100m a year). How many USG personnel (of various types!) are actually in country at this moment, I wonder?

And, when it comes to hydrocarbons, it comes well behind that other risk of Red Revolution, Venezuela in strategic importance.

Are things so very different from 1952 when the revolution in Bolivia took place without any US intervention at all? In fact, Eisenhower and Dulles were able to classify the ruling MNR as fascist-, rather than communist-leaning, and thus justify a generous programme of aid [3].

Defining what the US strategic interest is in Bolivia, and precisely what it can do to secure that interest, are more questions for the ever-lengthening list. (My current guess is pretty much nada in each case.)

[An op-ed in La Razon of La Paz caught my eye - the guy suggests Mesa is way too pliant and too much of a media whore. Which had rather been my impression, too.]

  1. Unlikely victor over Bolivia in the nonsensical 1932-35 Chaco War.

  2. There are 40-odd languages spoken. The page puts Spanish speakers at only 3.5m out of 8.4m - yet the LOC Country Study says that, by 1976, only 20% of the population were monolingual speakers of an Indian language.

  3. Thus saith Herbert Klein, at least (p218). USG insisted, before putting on Santa garb that the three main tin barons were compensated for having their companies nationalised.


A piece in El Universal on the Otto Reich speech. After his democracy crack he added [1]
Pero no les estamos diciendo a los bolivianos lo que deben hacer, porque ellos tienen el derecho soberano para decidir.

He had something of a go at the ruling class:
Los bolivianos tienen los recursos, gente muy capaz e inteligente, pero no se puede ocultar que sus líderes han mantenido marginadas por centenares de años a las poblaciones indígenas.

He says that Indians in Bolivia and elsewhere should be brought into public life; but warned that
los bolivianos deben pensar "en la sabiduría de escuchar a los que dicen que deben mantenerse los recursos naturales bajo tierra en lugar de usarlos para adquirir salud, nutrición y educación".

I wonder who he has in mind?

And suggests consideration of the deuxième tour in elections, as in France - a dig at Bolivia (amongst others) for its system under which, if no one in a presidential election gets a majority, Congress chooses from the top two candidates (Sánchez de Lozada only got 22% of the vote).

  1. In English or Spanish? I can't trace a copy of his speech, or even that he has a site or a page on which a transcript might in theory be found. There are no speeches of his on the White House site - according to its search engine.

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