Bolivians worry spat with US could kill jobs
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suspended a trade deal with Bolivia last week for failure to rein in coca growing. Some 50,000 jobs could be lost.
La Paz, Bolivia
To Marga Targui, an indigenous woman who irons T-shirts for American firms like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, the increasingly bitter diplomatic spat between the United States and Bolivia is a menace that cloaks her boisterous factory with tension.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Here among the concrete slums perched over Bolivia's capital, La Paz, any job is precious, especially one with benefits and paid vacation like Ms. Targui's.
"We want to work and we want job protection," says Targui between rhythmic hisses of the iron. "There may be something going on at the embassy, but we want Bolivia and the US to be united. As enemies you don't gain anything."
Targui's straightlaced factory is seemingly a world away from the muggy rainforest of the Chapare where ragtag coca farmers – egged on by their champion, leftist President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower – cultivate the leaf that causes so much international consternation. But now, a trade agreement with the US is pitting the two interests against each other.
Just weeks after both countries expelled their respective ambassadors over a failure to cooperate on a range of issues, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Thursday that the US is suspending a trade deal with Bolivia because Mr. Morales has failed to improve Bolivia's antidrug efforts.
"We don't have to be afraid of an economic blockade by the United States against the Bolivian people," said Morales. But the suspension will cost 20,000 Bolivian jobs and $150 million a year, according to his own government's estimates. And Morales's defiance is so far failing to alleviate the concerns of average Bolivians like Targui.
Concern over jobs grows
The Bolivia Chamber of Exporters, a private sector group, estimates that more than 50,000 direct and some 150,000 indirect jobs in the export sector created under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, or ATPDEA, may disappear Nov. 1 as relations between Bolivia and the US falter.
The agreement, launched in 1991 for Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, has created economic incentives for the Andean nations to fight drug trafficking by allowing duty-free access to the US market for thousands of products.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2007 report on coca cultivation in the Andes found that it had increased in Bolivia just 5 percent in 2007, compared with 27 percent in Colombia. But the US Trade Representative's office says the Bolivian government has failed to close illegal coca markets and has publicly endorsed an increase in "legal" coca cultivation, which constitute grounds to suspend the ATPDEA.