Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2007

Bolivia on the Brink

Eduardo A. Gamarra

February 2007

Council on Foreign Relations


Three years ago, the Council on Foreign Relations launched a commission to examine U.S. policy in the Andean region and the Colombian conflict. The result, Andes 2020: A New Strategy for the Challenges of Colombia and the Region, outlined a comprehensive new regional policy designed to move toward a better balance of “guns versus butter.” Unfortunately, violence continues to plague the region to this day, most recently in Bolivia, where the controversial actions of President Evo Morales and the organized opposition have increased polarization and the likelihood of sustained social unrest.

This new Council Special Report, sponsored by the Council’s Center for Preventive Action, addresses the ongoing social, political, and economic challenges underway in Bolivia and presents a clear set of recommendations for the U.S. government. Bolivia on the Brink, written by Eduardo A. Gamarra, professor and director, Latin American and Caribbean Center, Florida International University, argues that with ethnic, regional, and political tensions in Bolivia on the rise, Washington’s current “wait and see” approach to the Morales government is no longer adequate. Instead, Gamarra encourages the U.S. government to redirect its policy toward Bolivia with an emphasis on preservation of democratic process and conflict prevention.

In order to do so, the report recommends the use of more carrot than stick in the near term, encouraging Washington to continue to work to develop relations with both the Bolivian government and opposition. Gamarra argues that excluding Bolivia from trade, military training, and development assistance would only push the Morales government closer to Cuba and Venezuela, feed anti-American sentiment in the region, and increase the likelihood of sociopolitical turmoil. Describing U.S. leverage too limited to influence the direction of the Bolivian government, the report also urges Washington to work with regional states to persuade all Bolivian parties to work within the democratic system to address the nation’s many challenges.

The result is a valuable contribution to any consideration of U.S. policy in the region, one that merits attention from regional specialists and foreign policy generalists alike.

Richard N. Haass
Council on Foreign Relations
February 2007