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Bolivia's Booting of USAID 'No Surprise'

President Evo Morales expels USAID from country following years of fomenting opposition

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Following President Evo Morales' expulsion of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from Bolivia on Wednesday, some analysts are saying the only surprising thing about the news is in how long it took.

(Photo: ABI) Making the announcement at a May Day rally in La Paz, Morales accused the U.S. of conspiring against his government, and said, “Some institutions of the United States Embassy continue to conspire against this process, against the people and especially against the country.”

This is why “We have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia.”

He also called USAID an "instrument that still has a mentality of domination," La Prensa reports.

But USAID's involvement in Bolivia has been questionable for years.

Writing in The Americas Blog, Center for Economic and Policy Research's Jake Johnston points out that

The role of USAID in Bolivia has been a primary point of contention between the U.S. and Bolivia dating back to at least 2006. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell characterized Morales’ statement as “baseless allegations.” While State Department spokespeople and many commentators will characterize USAID's work with oppositional groups as appropriate, a look at the agency's work over the past decade paints a very different picture.

Documents obtained by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood show that as early as 2002, USAID funded a “Political Party Reform Project,” which sought to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [Morales’ political party] or its successors.” Later USAID began a program “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” some of which were pushing for regional autonomy and were involved in the September 2008 destabilization campaign that left some 20 indigenous Bolivians dead. Meanwhile, the U.S. has continually refused to disclose the recipients of aid funds. As a recent CEPR report on USAID activities in Haiti concluded, U.S. aid often goes into a “black box” where it becomes impossible to determine who the ultimate recipients actually are.

Damning information about USAID's role in Bolivia was also revealed in cables brought to light by WikiLeaks, as Johnston notes:

In one cable written by Ambassador Greenlee from January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, he notes that “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” In the same cable, Greenlee acknowledges that “[m]any USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”

The cable goes on to outline a “carrot and sticks” approach to the new Bolivian government, outlining possible actions to be taken to pressure the government to take “positive policy actions.” Three areas where the U.S. would focus were on coca policy, the nationalization of hydrocarbons (which “would have a negative impact on U.S. investors”) and the forming of the constituent assembly to write a new constitution.  Possible sticks included; using veto authority within the Inter-American Development Bank to oppose loans to Bolivia, postponing debt cancellation and threatening to suspend trade benefits.

Another cable, also written by Greenlee, reporting on a meeting between U.S. officials and the Morales government notes that the Ambassador stated in the meeting, “When you think of the IDB, you should think of the U.S….This is not blackmail, it is simple reality.”

Later cables, as reported by Green Left Weekly, show the U.S. role in fomenting dissent within indigenous groups and other social movements.

Given this history, then, the question may be "not why, but why not sooner":

The AP spoke with Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, reporting that she “was not surprised by the expulsion itself but by the fact that Morales took so long to do it after repeated threats.” Given the amount of evidence in declassified documents that point to U.S. aid funds going to opposition groups and being used to bolster opposition to the Morales government, the expulsion indeed comes as little surprise.

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