Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three Things that the Governments of the U.S. and Bolivia Should Do.

At the beginning of this month I wrote a post titled, U.S./Bolivia Relations in a Nutshell. Like most writings on the topic, it was about politics. It was about the relationship between two governments –a lot of that relationship being about leaders ticking each other off and regular people paying the price.

But in fact, the relationships between two countries should not be defined by how their governments are getting along. They are about the relationships between two peoples. Governments, truth be told, have a certain tendency to screw things up.

So I have been thinking. What are the issues right now between the U.S. and Bolivian governments that have a real impact on people’s lives – from both countries? From that perspective what should be done?

Which brings me to my follow-up to the first post, this one entitled: Three Things that the Governments of the U.S. and Bolivia Should Do.

I understand that there are a lot of possibilities here, but I picked these. Each one will effect people’s lives in profound ways.

1. Save People's Jobs: The U.S. Should Restore Bolivia's Participation in Andean Trade Preferences

For almost two decades, until the end of 2008, Bolivia was one of a several Andean countries that received special trade preferences under the ATPDEA trade accord with the U.S.. This meant that whole new U.S. markets were created for Bolivian products like textiles, weavings, and woodwork. Tens of thousands of jobs were created in Bolivia and new sales markets were created in the U.S. – a win/win proposition all around.

But then, last September, when the Morales and Bush administrations went to diplomatic war with one another, President Bush tossed the trade preferences into the mix and used his executive authority to kick Bolivia off the list. Bush attributed the move to his administration's sudden (and political) "decertification" of Bolivia's anti-narcottic efforts. But his move also broke directly with Congress, which on a bipartisan basis voted to keep Bolivia on the preference list.

If you would like to read more detail on the issue, and see a brief video of testimonies by the workers who stand to lose their jobs, have a look here.

So now it’s time to reverse Bush's action. These workers, who have nothing to do with any diplomatic fight, should not be turned into political pawns. The Obama administration should side with Congress and reverse the Bush policy.

2. Let Children Have Families: The Bolivian Government Should Re-open Adoptions to the U.S.

Bolivia is a nation with many, many orphaned children. Most are abandoned early in their lives by young single mothers who can't afford to support them. Some get taken in by other family, but thousands are not so fortunate and they end up living in an orphanage. In Cochabamba alone there are nearly eighty institutions that take in abandoned children, ranging from the good to the miserable.

But not even the very best orphanage can come to being raised in a family, with parents who love you. Every parent knows that every child needs to have at least one adult who thinks she walks on water. Institutions can't do that. I know. For four years I helped run one of the better ones here and it doesn't come close.

The answer is adoption.

It would be great if adoptions by Bolivian families would provide families for all these children. They don't. Not even close. Foreign adoptions help make up the difference, giving thousands of Bolivian children families and homes.

In 2002 the Bolivian government (under President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada) halted foreign adoptions, amidst concerns that the foreign nonprofit agencies responsible for sending follow-up reports about these children were not doing their job. Bolivia declared that it would only allow adoptions to countries that operated under the provisions of an international adoption treaty (the Hague Agreement). Under that agreement the governments themselves assume responsibility for follow-up reporting.

Some countries, including Spain, Italy and Holland, were able to quickly operate under the new rules and Bolivian adoptions to those countries were reopened. For the U.S. things were much more complicated. The U.S. does not have a single national agency for children and the follow-up work required is a state-level responsibility. So the State Department had to establish a complicated coordinating system with the states in order to comply with international adoption rules.

U.S. authorities have told me that this process is now complete and that the only thing that stands in the way of re-opening Bolivian adoptions to the U.S. is the final signing of paperwork between the two governments.

Neither bureaucratic inaction nor political disputes should get in the way of re-opening a door through which hundreds of children each year can find the very thing they need most, a family that loves them. The U.S. and Bolivian governments should take action as soon as possible to re-open the door to U.S./Bolivia adoptions.

3. Re-build the Bridges of Understanding: Bring the Peace Corps Back to Bolivia

Last September, right around the same time that the U.S. and Bolivian governments were having a diplomatic meltdown, the Bush administration also pulled all 113 Peace Corps volunteers out of Bolivia. In fairness, at the time Bolivia was also having a domestic political meltdown all its own, with serious violence in specific parts of the country. The U.S. claimed the pull-out was to protect the volunteers' security.

Yet, what the Bush administration did was far more than move the volunteers in the affected areas out to safer territory. With virtually no advance notice to these young people, they were put on a plane to Lima and told they were never returning to Bolivia. Many weren’t going to be able to finish their Peace Corps service at all. They left behind friends, pets, and communities without even having the chance to say goodbye.

Then the Peace Corps fired most of its local staff and auctioned off most of its equipment, signaling that is wasn't coming back, certainly not anytime soon.

Across the U.S. on our recent book tour, Peace Corps volunteers who had been pulled out of Bolivia last September came to see us and to talk. They told us how devastated they were to have been yanked out. They told me that it was unnecessary to permanently pull them from Bolivia to protect their safety. Several, who were in areas where violence was a risk, told me that they could easily have been moved temporarily to Cochabamba or some other peaceful region of the country until things calmed down.

Peace Corp volunteers not only make a direct and valuable contribution to the communities they live in, they also form a two-way bridge of understanding between countries. The U.S. and Bolivia could use a good dose of that these days. Peace Corps volunteers are a part of what a 'people-to-people' relationship is all about.

Bring them back. The Bolivian government should ask the Peace Corps to return and the Obama administration should accelerate efforts to do that.

Special Note: While the comments section continues to be at rest (see post below) we are happy to hear directly from people who have thoughts on these goals and how they might be achieved. Drop us a note at:
Interestingly, our daily visits seem to have increased since the comments section was put on hold.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Morales has any interest in improving relations with the US, because the US is such a useful whipping boy and subject of blame. I wish it were different, but Obama's foreign policy will likely differ little than his predecessor, at least thus far, and Morales and Chavez need to maintain the vision of the US as an enemy to solidify and consolidate their constituencies.

Miguel de los Shanqueros

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am even more of a cynic than Miguel. I am convinced that Evo and his party want to destroy whatever industries are left in Bolivia. Most of their speeches they mention the need to destroy the "colonial" or "neoliberal" structure that continues to hold the power in Bolivia. While most "neoliberals" (more correctly people that do not blindly follow Morales) are not wealthy capitalists, most Bolivian wealthy capitalists are anti-MAS. So politically, there is much to gain by driving them into bankruptcy. They can actually have it both ways: Brankrupt their opposition, then blame the US for the lost jobs. Not to mention that the MAS is building it's own wealthy elite based on corruption, smuggling, and drug-traficking.

Personally, I strongly oppose trade preferences. 1) They are inherently unfair, since the playing field is tilted in favour of a party and 2) they lead to dependency of a party to the system of preferences. I'm not sure if I support foreign adoptions. Bolivia has such weak institutions, so much corruption, that it would not surprise me if there have been instances of child trafficking. In regards to the Peace Corps, I think Obama should wait for an invitation from Bolivia to host them with all the due protections in place. I would leave this ball in Evo's court.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US should start with two things:

1. Stop all government aid. The counterdrug funds from the Dept of State should stop immediately. Let Brazil and Argentina ad Spain take up the slack. Most of the Bolivian coca goes there anyway. Pull the hellicopters and vehicles out. USAID should also pull out and move to Peru.

2. Start an aggresive media campaign in Bolvia to counter immediately/ (near real time) all the lies spouted off by Morales and his MAS henchmen. The US embassy and State Dept have had a policy of not responding to the lies.

Bottom line: Send the money to governements that want to cooperate. If the average US citizen was aware of the money being wasted with this regime, he/she would have a fit.

J Puentes

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My what a cozy bunch of comments!
How about that diplomatic move by Chavez! The brilliant gift of Las Venas Abiertas de Latinomamerica. It is the gesture of a man who is urging, a colleague, at long last, someone who might do something thoughtful in the region, to develop an appropriate historical context, therefore, a more accurate lense through which to sharpen his vision towards a more collaborative and wise interamerican relatilonship. The weakness of U.S. foreign policy is its blindness to its own history in the region. A willful blindness with the blindfold held up by corporate interests at the expense of the many who have no voice. When the blindfold comes off, and the the earplugs disengaged, we might be able to have a healthier dialog. Lies? Please, spare me, and propaganda complaints? It is clear where the mastery of propaganda began--- we know it by many names, but it is always well-funded, and comes dancing along in many disguises, it is surprising that in the long history of Latin-america in general, very few poor people have had control of the media, probably not even countable on one hand. Hmmm food for thought.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever positive things one may think concerning the Peace Corps, it had, from the start an underlying political, which means also, econonomic motive. It was, in other words, an instrument of propaganda of the U.S. government. This doesn't mean that the Peace Corp volunteers did not contribute to local communities, but the message was that U.S. did it making the country seem to more angelic than perhaps the image should be.

The loss of the Peace Corp in Bolivia is bad at the local level, but there is nothing meaningful lost at the political level.

So why doesn't the 'DemocracyCenter' step up its volunteer program in Bolivia? Chavez has made a point about action as oppose to pleasant disccussion. Let's see some action!

5:18 AM  

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