In case you’ve missed it (doesn’t hit the news much in the states), there’s been trouble in Bolivia lately, with citizen riots, killings, protests, and all the usual Andean instability.
Yesterday’s Financial Times had an excellent analysis of the situation:
…the US must be prepared to consider change to the country’s drugs eradication programme. Plans to clear more coca should be suspended until realistic and credible economic alternatives are available. These should centre on labour intensive products such as textiles, jewellery and other sectors already identified by the Bolivian authorities.Beyond that the United States needs to re-examine its drugs policy which – it seems – is often pursued in isolation from broader policy and development objectives. The danger is that such an approach is short-sighted and could further undermine precarious stability. In an Andean region already beset by mounting violence, that is a risk that the US can ill afford.
Too bad the advice came too late (not that the United States would have considered following it).
Today, Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned following a huge popular uprising over (in part) gas exports to the United States and Bolivian government’s cooperation with the United States’ drug eradication programs. Vice-President Carlos Mesa was sworn in to serve out the president’s term.
Mesa, a former television journalist, has been critical of many of Sanchez de Lozada’s reforms, including a proposed new income tax and a U.S.-backed effort to eradicate the production of coca, the leaves of which are used to produce cocaine.
Naturally, the United States’ State Department showed its lack of understanding of the problems by praising the ex-President.
“We commend ex-President Sanchez de Lozada for his commitment to democracy and to the well being of his country,” a State Department statement said.
Last week, Drug Czar John Walters kept up his foreign policy track record:
“…we should begin to see substantial changes in the availability of cocaine throughout the world in the next six to 12 months,” Mr. Walters said… He added that although Bolivia and Peru have more work to do, those governments are working more closely with the United States as well.
And back in August:
American drug czar John Walters said Tuesday that freshly-minted governments in Bolivia and Colombia will inject new strength into the fight against drugs and terrorism. “I think we have a unique consensus today about how we need to work together to seize the future,” Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters in Washington.
As I’ve said before, cooperating with John Walters’ foreign drug policy is the kiss of death, as Lozado has learned.
By the way, in case you’ve forgotten how drug eradication works down there, here’s a helpful visual aid.