Friday, January 31, 2020

Bush's Drug War in Bolivia

Allan Gillies, "Contesting the ‘War on Drugs’ in the Andes: US–Bolivian Relations of Power and Control (1989–93)," Journal of Latin American Studies (first view).


The implementation of President George H. W. Bush's 1989 Andean Initiative brought to the fore competing US and Bolivian agendas. While US embassy officials sought to exert control in pursuit of militarised policies, the Bolivian government's ambivalence towards the coca-cocaine economy underpinned opposition to the ‘Colombianisation’ of the country. This article deconstructs prevailing top-down, US-centric analyses of the drug war in Latin America to examine how US power was exercised and resisted in the Bolivian case. Advancing a more historically grounded understanding of the development of the US drug war in Latin America, it reveals the fluidity of US–Bolivian power relations, the contested nature of counter-drug policy at the country level, and the instrumentalisation of the ‘war on drugs’ in distinct US and Bolivian agendas.
This article continues a growing and welcome trend of moving away from U.S.-centric views that focus largely (or only) on imbalance of power, in this case what Gillies refers to as "drug fetishism" (p. 6). He does this through interviews a with a number of key figures in both countries.

What this means in practice is Bolivian governments who argued openly for acknowledging that drug dollars kept the economy stabilize. More broadly, they used the drug war as leverage for other economic support. For them, the U.S. was often more of a threat to stability than coca or cocaine was.

Further, Bolivian governments at the time were keenly aware that they were in an era of democratization that they wanted to protect. U.S. policy worked against it by alienating people and threatening fragile local economies. U.S. Ambassadors routinely bullied and ordered Bolivian presidents to do what they wanted. Here is one such example about Robert Gelbard:
I called the President and I told him [that] I really needed to talk to him about further corruption problems. He invited me over to his house, we sat down and went through a bottle and a half of Scotch whisky. I remember – my wife remembers – I stumbled home, and I fell into bed saying, ‘God, what I do for my country!’ He agreed to get rid of them (p. 22).

Later he would also rant about a Bolivian decree passed while he was out of the country, saying it should never have been passed with U.S. consultation (p. 25).

The point here is that the Bolivians resisted in many ways, so although power asymmetry is certainly important, it should not be taken to mean the governments were caving.

Since Evo Morales' ouster is so recent, the article can't take it into consideration. But I wonder how much resistance is occurring under Jeanine Añez, who publicly at least seems in lockstep with the Trump administration.


shah8 2:43 AM  

The Anez government is so openly crazy and abusive, not to mention incompetent, that I do suspect that even the white-proximates gorging on her regime's racism probably are pretty tired of them.

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