Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2011

Challenges to Democracy Promotion: The Case of Bolivia

Jonas Wolff

March 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Bolivia offers a critical, but atypical, case for international democracy promotion. The ongoing political transformation initiated by President Evo Morales constitutes one of the few experiences in the world of a serious effort to build a democracy different from the existing Western liberal models. And this presents a significant challenge to democracy promotion efforts. The United States and Germany—two main external actors in Bolivia—have been compelled to react to this challenge. In the case of the United States, an initial phase of wait-and-see escalated in 2008 into an open crisis in bilateral relations. Attempts to adjust U.S. democracy assistance to the evolving political situation in Bolivia failed and by the end of 2009 USAID’s democracy program was closed on demand of the Bolivian government. The German government, on the other hand, explicitly supported the political changes initiated by Morales. Bilateral relations between Bolivia and Germany are characterized by general continuity and in terms of democracy assistance Germany largely adjusted its programs to the preferences of the new Bolivian government.