For Immediate Release
Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460
Bolivia Approves New Constitution; How Will the Obama Administration Respond?
WASHINGTON - The
Obama administration's response to Bolivia's referendum on a new
constitution may be key to improved relations between the two
countries, according to Mark Weisbrot, co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
"If President Obama issues a clear statement indicating support for the
constitutional process - as governments in the region undoubtedly will
- this will send a message that Washington no longer supports
extra-legal or anti-democratic actions against the Bolivian
government," said Weisbrot.
"If not, opposition governors and groups who have vowed to defy the new
constitution will likely read Washington's silence as continued support
for their cause," he said.
Bolivians voted by a margin of 59 to 41 percent according to an
unofficial count to approve a new constitution for the country.
However, a number of opposition leaders in the provinces where the
opposition has a majority have said that they will not accept the
national vote as binding on their governments.
Bolivia expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg on September 10, 2008
on the grounds that he, as well as the U.S. government, was supporting
the opposition. At the time, opposition groups were engaged in violent
protests against the government. Ambassador Goldberg was regarded with
suspicion because of his meetings with militant opposition leaders, and
because of U.S. funding for opposition groups in Bolivia.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is part of
the U.S. State Department, provided $89 million in funds in Bolivia in
2007. Despite numerous requests filed under the Freedom of Information
Act, the U.S. has not turned over all the names of recipient
organizations of USAID funds.
Bolivia's South American neighbors, grouped together under the regional
body UNASUR, have consistently stood by Morales' government and
condemned the violent actions carried out by some in the opposition. In
contrast, the Bush administration did not condemn the violence and
sabotage by rightwing extremist groups in September - which included a massacre of at least 20 people
- nor did it congratulate Morales when he won a recall referendum in
August with 67 percent of the vote, an unprecedented show of support
for a Bolivian president.
Relations were also strained when it was revealed the U.S. Embassy had
more than once asked U.S. citizens - including Peace Corps volunteers
and a Fulbright scholar - to spy inside Bolivia.
Weisbrot noted that the decision on how to respond to the referendum
will undoubtedly be made at the highest level of the Obama
"This decision will be noticed throughout Latin America as an indicator
of whether the new U.S. administration plans to break with the policies
that left its predecessor isolated and mistrusted in the region," he
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