Hillary Clinton on Morales and Bolivia

(This morning's post is reprinted from The Democracy Center, a progressive blog on Bolivia.)

As the Bush administration heads out the door, the U.S. Bolivia relationship is basically in political tatters. A relationship that started off rocky but hopeful when President Morales took office, descended into an ongoing diplomatic spitting war – over issues ranging from the U.S. Embassy asking Fulbright scholars and Peace Corps volunteers to gather intelligence for it, to charges that Morales was abandoning the battle against illegal coca.

All that hit rock bottom in September when Morales charged the U.S. Ambassador with stirring up political protest against the government and sent him back to Washington, followed by the U.S. sending Bolivia's ambassador packing, decertifying the Bolivia anti-coca effort, and axing Bolivia from a trade program threatening 20,000 jobs.

So the question is whether that sour turn in U.S. relations will change course under President Barak Obama. Morales has made it clear both in private and in public, in a series of speeches in the U.S. last month, that he is hopeful for a new start. How does the incoming administration feel about Bolivia?

Last January, we asked a friend of the Democracy Center, Tim Provencal, a former Maryknoll lay missioner in El Alto, to wade through the snows of Dover, New Hampshire and ask then-candidate Hillary Clinton a question about Bolivia. That video is a part of the Democracy Center's Voices from Latin America campaign which you can learn more about here.

Today Clinton is President-elect Obama's designate for U.S. Secretary of State. That makes her public comments in January, in which she voiced strong support for Morales, all the more relevant. Here's a video of her comments:

Here is a portion of what she had to say:

I understand the pent up desire of the people of Bolivia, especially the indigenous people, to finally have a say in their country and in their future…and I think that the United States has made a series of miscalculations. Granted they go back decades but they've been a particular problem in this [the Bush] administration. I believe we should have done much more to support Morales. He has done what is understandable, as a populist leader, he has turned to those like Chavez who have offered to help him…so I will try to create a new relationship with Latin America and that certainly includes Bolivia.

Time and politics, and the developments in the U.S./Bolivia relationship since September, can certainly have an effect on the way Secretary Clinton will steer that relationship. But if her views expressed in public in Dover a year ago hold, the door seems open for a change of course – and that would be a good thing for both countries.


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