September 6, 2007

Bolivia: VP in US, But Where's the Quid Pro Quo?

Bolivian Vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera is in the US. He is here to try to persuade the US Congress to extend a trade preference act (the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act--ATPDEA) that allows Bolivian goods, particularly textiles, to enter the US at significantly reduced tariffs. Said act was extended once already. Garcia's pitch is that whatever other issues there may be between Bolivia and the US, particularly Evo's big mouth, his closeness to Chavez, and his bad coca policies (in order of increasing concern to the US), they should not affect trade, which benefits both countries. Well, he is right on one count. Trade does benefit both countries. Whether Congress will continue to extend the trade preferences agreement while not receiving nothing in return is still up in the air.

This is tough call to make. On the one hand, it behooves the US to stay engaged in Bolivia and to maintain or protect a salvageable level of relations. On the other hand, Evo, for all the righteousness of his cause, is dismantling Bolivia's democracy piecemeal. In the long run, this will create only more instability in the country and in the region. Not a good scenario for the US, but there is very little the US can do to influence those types of governance decisions. But the US has more options when it comes to influencing other policies. The United States is Bolivia's most significant trade partner, shouldn't it use some of this influence to try to affect the course of, say, Bolivia's current coca policy? Or pressure a shift in Bolivia's increasingly warm relations with Iran?

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