Milan Vaishnav, a doctoral candidate at Columbia, and a former researcher for the Center For Global Development, is in Bolivia and gives us his read on Bolivia's situation in three key aspects:
1. Political Stability
And despite elite opposition (including within some elements of the Bolivian armed forces) to newly elected left-wing president Evo Morales, that opposition has taken place through dialogue and non-violent protests.
2. US-Bolivian Relationship
. Yet, the role of the US in Bolivia is an issue that most Bolivians in and out of government constantly fret over. In fact, two of the hottest topics on the development agenda here are: Bolivia´s pending Millennium Challenge Account compact proposal (see Bolivian Pickle) and the extension of unilateral trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which expires at the end of the year.
3. The Coca Issue
Coca remains important for the US, but is no longer seen by the Americans as the only game in town. For more than 20 years, counter-narcotics policies have been the overriding priority for the US Embassy in La Paz. They have been so dominant that many Bolivians had no idea that the US government did anything else in Bolivia besides support the eradication of coca. Since the arrival of US Ambassador David Greenlee in 2003, this has changed. One of the ambassador´s first acts was to subordinate coca eradication to support for democracy and economic development among the embassy´s priorities. While the US dedication to countering illicit coca growing and trafficking has not abated, the emphasis on other reforms has taken center stage. US programs to reform the justice sector, provide technical assistance to newly elected department prefects (state governors), and encourage rural road building have broadened the US portfolio, most importantly in the public eye.
That is a very important analysis of the coca situation.
I agree that there has been a de-emphasis on the Coca issue, and actually think that if Evo works at nailing the coca production issue, that it can benefit Bolivia, since it could be linked to continued US aid, trade preferences, and better bilateral relations in general. Here is what I said some weeks ago about the Coca in the comments section on Jim Schultz's Blog From Bolivia (note that the original post, was fairly optimistic regarding US-Bolivian relations)
What Morales needs to do is come up with a concrete plan of what he really wants to do with the coca, instead of all the bla-bla and double talk he is engaging in.
He needs to: a. find a compromise w/the growers that will cap production in Chapare, b. keep the status quo in the Yungas.
He is in the strongest position EVER for a Bolivian president re: growers. After all he is the grower federation's elected leader, commander in chief of Bolivia;s military and elected president. With the resources available to him, he should be able to craft a solution, that would essentially clean up most of the Chapare.
If he takes care of the coca growing problem - which in the end is the biggest barrier in US-Bolivian relations the past 35 years, he could continue the preferences for Bolivian products.
The Bushies doesn't give a damn about Brazilian and Spanish oil companies being expropriated, or some Brazilian farmers in Santa Cruz. There is no huge US investments at stake in Bolivia, and its not like half of the Fortune 500 is just aiming to go to Bolivia to sell stuff.