Bolivia Geopolitics

By | December 18, 2021

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, despite being economically growing. Located in the center of the subcontinent, for some years now it has been experiencing a profound political and social transformation linked to the success of the trade unionist and former coca farmer Juan Evo Morales, who in October 2014 obtained a third five-year term. His appointment as head of state coincided with the start of a reform process aimed at combating poverty and severe social inequalities. In the economic field, the president has pledged to reduce the weight of foreign companies – with the nationalization of the telecommunications, hydrocarbon and electricity industries – and to redistribute wealth among the indigenous population. In parallel, the fight against inequalities and social discrimination also involved the adoption, in 2009, of a new Constitution which declares Bolivia a ‘multi-national state’ and recognizes the rights of all indigenous minorities. In this context, the decentralization attempts underway in the country and the conferral of greater political representation to trade unions and, indeed, to indigenous minorities, must be inserted. Morales remains very popular among the Bolivian electorate, particularly among the poorest rural classes, political oppositions, however, have gained support among the urban classes following a series of scandals involving the president’s party (Mas). Particularly delicate is the question of the re-election of the president: the Bolivian constitution places a limit of three consecutive terms and the president will therefore not be able to reapply in 2020. The Mas has presented a proposal for a constitutional amendment to repeal the limit of three terms and Morales has announced who will submit the question to a popular referendum. While the president’s victory in the countryside is taken for granted, polls show that the majority of the urban population is against the reform. For Bolivia government and politics, please check

On the international level, the advent of Morales brought about a liberation of the country from US influence and a gradual rapprochement with Venezuela’s positions. Since the 1980s, the problem of coca cultivation and drug trafficking had led the Bolivian authorities to enter into relations with the United States to coordinate efforts in the fight against drug trafficking. Morales, a profound opponent of the neoliberal policies supported by Washington, has reversed the course by withdrawing from the Agreement for the eradication of drug trafficking and the Treaty to promote Andean trade, both signed with the USA. The president’s anti-imperialist rhetoric then led to an alignment of Bolivia with the so-called ‘Bolivarian front’, which includes Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba and which finds important interlocutors – in strategic and commercial terms – in Iran, China and Russia.

Energy interests also characterize Bolivian regional foreign policy. The deposits of gas and oil – as well as those of zinc, tin and silver – allow Bolivia to play an important role in the energy sector, with important repercussions on the country’s positioning in the region. Argentina and Brazil, and to a lesser extent Uruguay, are clients determined to increase their investments in Bolivia. With respect to Chile, on the other hand, Bolivia has had a territorial dispute for some time: following the War of the Pacific (1879-84), the country lost access to the sea in favor of its neighbor.

Defense and security

Beyond participating in some United Nations-led missions, the Bolivian military commitment is aimed at making the national territory safer. In particular, the Morales administration’s primary objective is to combat drug trafficking and reduce smuggling. This intent is obeyed by the significant increase in investments for defense, which however remain contained given that expenditure stands at 1.45% of the national GDP. With relations with the US cracking, Bolivia has intensified military cooperation with Venezuela, which is the country’s largest arms supplier. The partnership it provides Venezuelan technical support to the Bolivian armed forces and a joint action strategy to combat organized crime. Military service is organized in such a way that, if the annual number of volunteers is not sufficient to cover all the necessary posts, compulsory conscription takes effect. The law also establishes that minors can also enroll in the voluntary form of the pre-military service.

The difficult relations between Washington and La Paz

With the election of Morales as president, US-Bolivia relations have been characterized by strong political tensions. They were triggered by the expulsions of Ambassador Philip Goldberg and some members of the Us Drug Enforcement Administration (Dea) on conspiracy charges. After a long period of hostility, the two countries signed a normalization agreement in 2011, but tensions remained high. A new escalation occurred when Morales blamed the US for the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Relations have further escalated due to the expulsion of Usaid, the US agency for international development active in Bolivia since 1964, which took place on May 1, 2013, again on charges of conspiracy and interference in internal affairs. Friction peaked on June 3, when Morales’ presidential plane was forced into a 12-hour forced landing at Vienna airport. The lack of right to fly over the airspace of some European countries was justified by the suspicion that the Bolivian leader was carrying on board Edward Snowden, the ‘mole’ who with his revelations started the ‘Datagate’, the wiretapping scandal Internationals of the National Security Agency, which broke out in June 2013. Since 2015, Morales has tried to reconcile with the US by meeting the American affairs officer and proposing to re-establish diplomatic relations. Relations remain difficult due to the president’s anti-American rhetoric and the unresolved issue of coca cultivation.

Bolivia Geopolitics