Must read: Bolivian Is an Uneasy Ally as U.S. Presses Drug War by Simon Romero in the New York Times
The refrain here in the Chapare jungle about Americans is short but powerful: ‹Long Live Coca, Death to the Yanquis!Š
So when President Evo Morales recently came to the area, raising his fist and shouting those words before his supporters, the irony was not lost on an elite wing of the Bolivian military that survives on American support.
‹We depend on the Americans for everything: our bonuses, our training, our vehicles, even our boots,Š Lt. Col. JosÚ Germ½n Cuevas, the commander of a Bolivian special forces unit that hunts down cocaine traffickers, said at a military base here in central Bolivia.
The contradictions abound…
Morales must protect the critical, historical, non-cocaine coca industry in his country or face the wrath of his people and the destruction of their economy. And yet…
For now, Mr. Morales and the United States remain uneasy bedfellows. Mr. Morales has been hesitant to sever ties with the United States, especially since it provides Bolivia with about $100 million in development aid each year. It also grants duty-free access for Bolivian textiles, an economic lifeline for his country.
On the American side, officials argue that a sharp increase in coca cultivation could drive more cocaine to the United States, even though it is currently a negligible market for Bolivian cocaine. A deeper reason may be that the antidrug money gives them a rare window into Mr. Morales‰s government.
Yes, of course, the use of anti-drug money to control other countries.
Indeed, Mr. Morales has said that the decades of American aid to Bolivia had as much to do with asserting control over puppet governments as with fighting drugs or helping people. Earlier this year, he dissolved an intelligence unit that received American money, and he announced that Bolivia would stop sending officers to receive combat training in the United States.
Of course, America complains about Bolivia, even though Bolivia is trying to balance responsible use of coca with cooperating with the U.S.
Coca cultivation has increased during his two years in office, but instead of booming, it has simply climbed, up 8 percent in 2006 and 5 percent in 2007, according to the United Nations.
That still places Bolivia far behind the world‰s largest coca producer, Colombia. Despite being the Bush administration‰s most ardent ally in the region, Colombia had a 27 percent increase in coca cultivation last year, and remains the top source of cocaine smuggled to the United States.
While American officials publicly congratulate Mr. Morales for keeping cultivation from exploding, they are privately pointed in their criticism. ‹Let‰s put it this way: It‰s going in the wrong direction,Š said an American official at the United States Embassy in La Paz about Mr. Morales‰s drug policies, speaking anonymously because of tense relations with Bolivia.
Yes, complain about Morales, complain about Chavez, when the largest cocaine source in the world is in territory supposedly controlled by a U.S. puppet. (Interestingly, so is the location of the largest illegal heroin source.)
Our foreign policy is so dysfunctional and juvenile. We’re ridiculed worldwide behind our backs for our stupidity, even as countries make supportive noises to collect their drug war handouts so that we can spy on them. And if they don’t collect their handouts, they face our wrath.