Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cowboy Diplomacy

Jim Shultz at the excellent Blog From Bolivia takes President Bush to task for his blundering diplomacy these past few months in Bolivia. I and others have questioned Bush's motives during the Bolivian crisis, and Shultz succinctly sums up the administration's goals: isolate Chavez from Morales and the Bolivian government; decrease coca production; and improve U.S. popularity. Bush has failed miserably in discouraging relations between Chavez and Morales, as a recent trade agreement between the two countries is the most recent consequence of Bush's isolation of Bolivia. Coca cultivation is down, although with the rhetoric out of Washington you wouldn't know that. As far as U.S. popularity in the region--don't even ask. (Even Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia are wary of their own government.)

So the Bush administration fails in execution, but what's even more emblematic of this waning administration is how its actions work exactly to the opposite of its goals. As Shultz writes:

On coca, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you put 20,000 people out of work in a nation where honest economic opportunity is scarce, some of those people are going to drift in other directions. In Bolivia those 'other directions' often include migrating to the Chapare to grow coca that isn't destined for chewing or tea, but the illegal drug market. It was the destruction of much of Bolivia's mining industry in the 1980s that sent so many ex-miners into the coca-for-cocaine business two decades ago. So while the Bush administration claims that its goal here is to battle increased coca growing for drugs, its actual policies seemed aimed at sending former textile workers right in that direction. Truly intelligent.

Finally, if the Bush administration thinks that its retaliatory moves aimed at Morales have made the U.S. more popular in the region, it might want to take another look there as well. The real mark of declining U.S. influence in the region can be measured by the Chilean summit held by the South American presidents last montn, in response to the Bolivia crisis. The messages from the Presidents was clear – U.S., we do not want you in the room.

That last graf is telling, and makes me hopeful, even if I haven't much faith in Obama and future U.S. involvement in South America. Hopefully, South America will be strong enough to tell the U.S. to butt out, that they are on track to solving their own problems, as they showed so recently in Bolivia.

1 comment:

Norman said...

Coca cultivation is down!!! I recommend you check out the UN World Drug Report on the matter for the conservative numbers. ( Section 1.3 covers trends in the Coca / cocaine market and section 3.1.2 gives the statistical analysis for Bolivia. Coca cultivation is most definitely on the rise and has been throughout morales presidency. In fact, there has been a 30% increase in potential cocaine production from 2005 to 2007 (from 80 metric tons in 2005 to 94 mt in 2006 to 104 mts in 2007).