This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.
In the last decade the balance of power has changed in South America. The US hegemony exerted in the second part of the 20th century in the region has been challenged, primarily by the solid emergence of Brazil but also by political initiatives led by left-wing governments like Bolivia.
Despite its relatively small size the landlocked country at the heart of South America, has championed anti-US initiatives since 2006, when President Evo Morales, a left-wing indigenous leader and coca-growers’ unionist, was democratically elected.
Raul Prada Alcoreza, former member of president Morales’ party, describes the diplomatic context in the early days of 2006 on his blog [es]:
Una gran legitimidad sostenía al flamante gobierno y al presidente indígena. También se gozaba de una gran simpatía internacional. En la cancillería se comenzó a trabajar en la perspectiva de una diplomacia indígena, que descolonice nuestras relaciones con los países en el mundo diplomático, también se comenzó a trabajar en la diplomacia de los pueblos, una idea del presidente que abría la posibilidad de que los mismos pueblos intervengan efectivamente en las relaciones entre los países, dejando de tratarse de relaciones sólo entre estados. Todo parecía augurar un proceso continuo de cambio.
During his two consecutive terms in power, Morales espoused an “anti-colonialism” agenda targeting directly to US policies. The Bolivian President championed criticism of “Western Capitalism”, and improved relations with other visibly anti-US governments in the region, like Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina.
Bolivia also prioritized strengthening political forums and mechanisms away from US influence. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR in Spanish) [es], the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), and the recently launched Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC ) are three initiatives that challenge the US-driven Organisation of American States [en] (OAS).
Besides the anti-US agenda, Bolivia’s international focus is primarily defined by three strategic aspects: the coca-cocaine issue, foreign investment to improve the quality and revenues from gas exports to Brazil and Argentina, and sovereign coastline access in the Pacific, all of which the country has failed to address.
Also, bilateral relations between Bolivia and Brazil are not as sound as they were when Lula da Silva held the reins of power in Brasilia. A diplomatic impasse [en] remains unsolved between the two governments as Roger Pinto, a former Bolivian senator and opposition-member, sought asylum at the Embassy of Brazil in La Paz after he was accused of corruption by Bolivian officials. Earlier, Pinto had revealed evidence that high officials in Bolivia dealt with drug trafficking organizations. Much to Bolivia's disapproval, the Brazilian government granted asylum to Pinto.
Bolivian Minister of Communication, Amanda Davila, insists that diplomatic relations between the two countries have not been affected [es], although a number of other unsolved issues such as Brazilian interests in the road through the TIPNIS National Park. Conversely, a recent improvement in relations between Bolivia and Iran was criticized by Washington and Brasilia. Closer ties between La Paz and Tehran merely add to concerns that Bolivia’s anti-US policies are not only compromising its relations with Brazil, but also its status in regional political systems.