Boiling point in Bolivia
Internal conflict could destabilize the region. Here's what Washington can do.
(Page 2 of 2)
The US government should support the initiative launched last month by the nascent Union of South American States. Just four months old and untested, UNASUR agreed to organize commissions to investigate killings and seek a compromise between the Bolivian government and its opponents.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Washington should also persuade Brazil to play a greater role in the conflict, and use its foreign aid or trade policies to support reconciliation efforts. Brazil is easily Bolivia's most important foreign investor, and its president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is the only prominent international leader trusted by both of the country's warring parties. Brazil has the most at risk in continued turmoil.
If either UNASUR or Lula can get Morales to back off from his hard-line positions, a workable agreement should be possible. Both sides could claim victory if a new constitution gives more authority to individual provinces and transfers more of the hydrocarbon revenue to poorer areas.
This compromise would allow the lowland business elite to safeguard its economic model and property rights. Morales could be satisfied that he delivered more money for his supporters, while introducing reforms favoring indigenous groups in the highland provinces.
Washington needs to carefully calibrate its policies to encourage this result. While actively persuading Lula to mediate the crisis, it should link the accord with the $100 million in annual foreign assistance that Washington gives Bolivia, as well as continued participation in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. (Tens of thousands of Bolivian manufacturing jobs depend on access to US markets, which this act provides.) At the same time, Millennium Challenge Account money could be offered as an incentive. Bolivia is eligible for $598 million, which could be disbursed after an agreement is fully implemented. Offering to replace the US ambassador could be a sign of goodwill.
Washington has a delicate role to play in a country where past grievances – whether real or imaginary – color any act today. But at the least it should not be giving a blank check to a regime that has both repeatedly insulted the US and has worked assiduously to overturn democracy.
• Seth Kaplan is a business consultant to companies in developing countries and a foreign-policy analyst. He's the author of "Fixing Fragile States: A New Paradigm for Development." His website is sethkaplan.org.