US and Bolivia sign ‘framework’ deal

Posted on | december 22, 2011 | No Comments

On November 7, the US Under-secretary for Global Affairs, Maria Otero, and Bolivia’s deputy foreign minister Juan Carlos Alurralde signed a ‘framework agreement’ to guide bilateral relations between the two countries on the basis of “shared responsibility and mutual respect”. The announcement represents a significant uptick in the two countries’ frayed relations, though it is by no means clear when it will lead to the restoration of full ambassadorial relations, severed in October 2008.

Negotiations over a framework agreement have been conducted over the last two years, but progress was necessarily slow. It is the first time that the US has agreed to such an arrangement, intended to provide guarantees of mutual respect for each country’s sovereignty. While perhaps no big deal for Washington, this was an important concession for Bolivia, since the asymmetries in power between the two countries have led to repeated accusations of US meddling in Bolivia’s domestic affairs.

Fraught relations

Relations between the two countries have long been fraught. In the 1950s, the US used constant diplomatic and economic pressure to bring Bolivia ‘into line’ following the nationalist 1952 revolution. By the 1980s, the main concern in Washington ceased to be ‘communist contagion’ in Bolivia, and turned to the problem of drugs. Probably the most harmonious period of US-Bolivian relations was in the late 1990s when the government of General Hugo Banzer pursued its ‘zero coca’ policy against the coca farmers of the Chapare.

The election of Evo Morales as president in 2005 brought new concerns. Not only was Morales the leader of the Chapare cocaleros, but he aligned himself closely with President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The publication of US diplomatic traffic by Wikileaks attests to deep suspicions among US diplomats in La Paz about Morales and the MAS. For his part, Morales repeatedly accused Washington of trying to subvert his government.

Bolivia’s expulsion of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2008 brought matters to a head. Goldberg was accused by Bolivia of being in cahoots with elite groups in Santa Cruz in preparing for a coup. This was in the context of extreme domestic tensions between the government in La Paz and would-be secessionists in the eastern lowland departments. The expulsion of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) followed soon after, along with several US diplomats.

Since then, Washington has continually berated the Morales administration for its supposed failure to act to control coca cultivation and drug manufacturing/trafficking. Every March, Bolivia has been singled out for its failure to collaborate with the War on Drugs. However data produced annually by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show that the increase in coca cultivation has increased only very modestly, much slower than in neighbouring Peru. Bolivia for its part has continued to accuse Washington of intervening in its domestic affairs, most recently over the TIPNIS dispute.

Aid, drug control and trade access

The new framework agreement, while helpful to the normalisation of relations, is unlikely to lead to the swift return of the DEA to Bolivia. Nor is it likely to lead to Bolivia regaining its trade preferences in the US market, removed with the suspension of the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Although Bolivia continues to cooperate with the US embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section, it remains highly sensitive to any hint of US involvement in suppressing drugs in Bolivia.

ATPDEA, as the name indicates, offers trade benefits but only in return for ‘good behaviour’ in the drugs field. Its suspension has made it difficult for exporters of manufactured goods (mainly located in El Alto) to access the US market, forcing the Bolivian government to provide them with subsidies to compensate them for the higher US tariffs payable. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has played down the possibility of any free trade deal with the United States.

Probably the most significant aspect of the framework agreement is that it reduced the scope for US funding of organisations in Bolivia which do not have government approval. Choquehuanca says it will jointly define the jurisdictions and agencies through which US aid money can be filtered. In the past USAID has refused to accept government control over how it spends its money.

US aid to Bolivia has shrunk notably since 2007, when it totalled US$122 million. Next year, it is budgeted at about a quarter of that, most of it going into anti-narcotics programmes.

Shortly after the signing of the ‘framework agreement’, a tripartite policy was announced involving US, Brazilian and Bolivian collaboration in the area of drugs control. So far nothing has materialised from this, perhaps reflecting Bolivian suspicions that the Brazilian authorities only became involved at the instigation of Washington.

AUTHOR: Bolivia Information Forum
E-MAIL: enquiries [at]


Leave a Reply

Page 1 of 11