U.S.-Bolivia Relations: Looking Ahead

Latin America and the Caribbean

On March 3, 2009, the U.S. House Committee of Foreign Affairs held a hearing to discuss present and future relations with Bolivia. Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL-14) set the tone and focus of the hearing during his opening statement when he asked, “Is there still hope for a better relationship with Bolivia or is Evo Morales bound and determined in the stance that he is in?” Other members of the committee expressed their concern with the government of Morales; Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ-13) also posed a similar question, “Why would I [a foreign company] invest in a country with all the rhetoric coming out of it?” Although the witnesses unanimously agreed that relations have deteriorated since the inauguration of Evo Morales in December 2005, they had different opinions on how, when and at what level to resolve them. Peter DeShazo, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was pessimistic about the possibility of the U.S. and Bolivia rekindling their relationship in the near future. The United States should be the first to take a step, and through various USAID programs. Kathryn Ledebur, from Andean Information Network, believes that both governments must express their willingness to work together to repair their relationship. She also stated that both governments should work towards a more bi-lateral relationship with less focus on counter-narcotic policies. Regarding USAID, the amount of aid does not need to be increased, but rather restructured and reviewed by both governments. Ivan Rebolledo, from Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce, Inc., began with the statement that “abandoning Bolivia at this point in time would be a serious error”. The U.S. should migrate towards multi-lateral relations with institutions such as EU, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, so that the U.S. can be more neutral, leading to better bi-lateral relations. Dr. Jaime Daremblum, from the Hudson Institute, expressed his concern that Bolivia has become a “bubbling cauldron” of insecurity due to the division among the Bolivian people. Although U.S. trade preferences are important to many Bolivians, before they are restored, Morales’s government must agree with minimal anti-drug cooperation. Marcos Iberkleid is the Chief Executive Officer of Ametex, an apparel firm that was a “beacon of hope” for thousands of Bolivians. Located in El Alto, the poorest and fastest-growing city in Bolivia, Ametex provided the 50,000 people who enter the job market every year the rare possibility of a dignified and sustainable job. He testified how the suspension of Bolivia from the ATPA (Andean Trade Preference Act) this past fall has led to massive layoffs and the firm facing the real possibility that it must close completely. The U.S. must reinstate ATPA benefits to Bolivia, in order to prevent people from turning to illegal sectors in order to make a living. The full statements from each witness and opening statements from the members are available on the Committee on Foreign Affair’s website.