Monday, April 14, 2008
Secretary of State
U.S. State Department
Dear Secretary Rice,
We, the undersigned, write with concern about U.S. foreign policy towards Bolivia. It is important that the United States appreciate the historical context of changes currently underway in that country and the tensions created. At such a sensitive time, the U.S. must be careful not to appear biased, and should support a peaceful and constitutional resolution in Bolivia.
We ask that USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy stop funding regional government initiatives and opposition groups in Bolivia.
While it may appear good in Washington DC to help regional initiatives, in Bolivia this appears to be partisan at a time when six of these departmental governments are the principal opposition to the national government. During these tense times, the U.S. should re-evaluate its misguided “democracy” initiatives. Recent reports and unclassified documents indicate that the United States appears to support organizations working to undermine national dialogue, the Constitutional reform and other changes. While the Office for Transitional Initiatives functioned in Bolivia, it provided “support to fledgling regional governments” with the bulk of its financial support going to departmental governments opposed to the national government. USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) have supported key opposition organizations and leaders in the eastern states of the “Media Luna”. During the year starting March 2006, USAID provided 116 grants worth $4,451,249 to “strengthen the institutional capacity of departmental governments.[see http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/cross-cutting_programs/transition_initiatives/country/bolivia/rpt0607.html] In 2008 the Department of State budgeted $10,092,000 to Bolivia under the “Govern Justly and Democratically,” category and the budget request for 2009 is $28,492,000 for the same program area. We are concerned that this near tripling of spending will be used to support opposition groups or departmental governments, erode democracy and increase destabilization of the country.
This targeted support for opposition groups and departmental governments combined with the recent scandal of a U.S. Embassy official asking Peace Corps and Fulbright members to spy on Venezuelans and Cubans in Bolivia, have negatively impacted the image of our country and our citizens currently residing there. This policy makes the valuable work of researchers, human rights, church and development organizations more difficult. We ask you to see that the United States stop supporting opposition forces so that a peaceful and constitutional resolution to proposed national reforms and policies can be achieved.
In 2005, Evo Morales won a landslide election victory to become Bolivia’s first indigenous President. His election was a direct result of a growing movement among Bolivia’s indigenous majority that called for a redistribution of a natural resources and the recognition of indigenous self-determination and autonomy through a new constitution.
The Morales government renegotiated contracts with energy companies leading to a large increase in income for the Bolivian people, resumed a stalled agrarian reform process begun in 1953, and instituted an assembly to draft a new constitution to be voted on in a national referendum.
These reforms are bitterly opposed by the business and media elite, particularly the large landholders of Bolivia’s lowlands where natural gas reserves and millions of acres in under-productive cattle ranches are concentrated. Meanwhile, the majority of Bolivia’s indigenous poor lives in the Andean region.
The lowland elite are fanning the flames of racism and regionalism, determined to split Bolivia rather than allow a just redistribution of resources. While the proposed constitution recommends a decentralized government that recognizes both indigenous and regional autonomies, the lowland elite fight for control over gas revenues which could result in further impoverishing Bolivia’s Andean indigenous regions.
Bolivia is trying to settle very difficult internal problems. In light of a long history of intervention, it is important that the United States do everything possible to be neutral and so that a peaceful resolution can be attained. Now is the time to stop funding regional government initiatives.
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