Thursday, December 11, 2008

U.S.-Bolivian relations

Stephen Kaufman at interviewed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs Christopher McMullen about Bolivia. His comments highlight how difficult it is to move beyond rhetoric about mutual respect and really put it into action. I think it tells us something about what conversations are like behind closed doors between U.S. diplomats and Bolivian officials.

The entire tone of the interview is that Evo Morales is clueless and needs the U.S. to explain everything to him. He was "warned" about coca cultivation and told "they had to take this issue seriously." Further, "I think it is going to be a lot more difficult for Morales to control this process than he really understands."

Moving on to governing, Morales does not "govern in the interests of all Bolivians" so the U.S. wants to see him do things differently.

Finally, the U.S. wants Bolivian rhetoric to be "toned down." Dialogue must include has "a purpose in advancing the democratic process in Bolivia," presumably defined by the United States.

This gets back to a point I made a few weeks ago about putting Latin American leaders into unnecessarily defensive positions. Having a high level diplomat talk about Morales publicly in such paternalistic terms will only fan the flames. It certainly will not advance any U.S. interest, but it seems to be a habit that is very hard to break.


Miguel Centellas 8:05 AM  

I agree. Ignoring just how savvy Morales is has been a big problem for US policy, overall. There seems to be this idea that Morales is just a "simple/humble" coca farmer w/ little education. But he's been involved in social movement & left-wing politics for more than a decade, rose through the ranks of Bolivia's syndicalist movement (which is more cutthroat than Chicago politics), and made some clever alliances along the way. He has his flaws, of course. But ignorance & stupidity aren't among them.

Greg Weeks 3:03 PM  

For some reason that reminds me of Sarah Palin mocking "community organizers." Similar misperception.

Anonymous,  10:49 PM  

I agree with the general sentiment of this post but let me say this, the US has to communicate its positions clearly (regardless of whether those positions are ultimately right or wrong). Those McMullen statements do indeed sound condescending but they are also clear expressions of US positions on key issues and there is value in that, I think. Being a diplomat I suppose he could have found ways to be less paternalistic in his statements, but I guess that's the perennial diplomatic conundrum.

I do disagree, however, with the characterization of this McMullen character as a "high level" diplomat. A DAS is, at best, middle management.

Greg Weeks 6:24 AM  

Merely communicating has never been a problem--the U.S. position is generally loud and clear. And McMullen is plenty high enough in terms of being taken seriously as a conveyor of policy in Latin America.

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