Bolivia, Brazil and US Postpone Signing of Coca Monitoring Accords

On November 17, Bolivia, Brazil and the United States planned to ratify agreements on a trilateral coca monitoring effort. Officials delayed signing the accord until Friday, and then postponed it indefinitely. Initially slated for March 2011, ratification of the agreement has been repeatedly delayed.   Furthermore, the agreement has been converted from a trilateral accord to two bilateral ones (between Bolivia and Brazil, and between the US and Bolivia). The resolution of this diplomatic conflict is unclear, but the delay in signing the accords has opened the door for both supporters and critics to express their opinions.

On November 22 in Página Siete, Bolivia’s new government minister, Wilfredo Chavez, expressed concern that the current text of the agreement could threaten Bolivia’s sovereignty.  Chavez stressed that cooperation between the three countries should in no way undermine the authority of the Bolivian government to determine how drug control will be carried out within its borders.  Chavez adds his voice to a growing skepticism about the accords

Developments dampen enthusiasm and increase susceptibility

Initially, the accord appealed to Bolivian officials; it promised needed funds, and the Brazilians have been trusted partners for Bolivia on drug issues during the Morales administration. However, US influence on Brazil’s diplomatic relations with Bolivia has sparked criticism.  On November 16, the Brazilian embassy announced that the signing would occur at the same venue as the UNASUR summit. Analysts voiced concerns that an event including US officials, not part of UNASUR, would provoke discomfort among member nations. Press statements by UNODC representative, Cesar Guedes, that Brazil would take over the US role in Bolivia rankled Bolivian officials, who have been critical of the lack of transparency and cooperation in past US drug control efforts.

Morales officials, encouraged by progress in cooperative bilateral agreements with Brazil and eager to secure funding, interpreted the proposed trilateral program as another Brazilian initiative with US financial support.  The August 30 release of a diplomatic cable by Hillary Clinton including the heading “Grappling with the Bolivia problem,” provoked concerns that the US was using Brazil to carry out its own policy goals in Bolivia.  The cable discussed USG efforts to “convince GOB authorities that it is in Brazil’s best interests to work more closely with us and other countries in the region to combat the drug problem. The GOB has…resisted our efforts to engage Brazil on collective efforts to combat drug trafficking.

Conclusion

Although the US and Bolivia recently signed a new bilateral framework agreement, which establishes a structure to discuss pending issues, there is still little mutual trust between the nations.  Within this context, the accords’ stipulation of US access to Brazilian satellite data on Bolivia could provoke renewed bilateral friction.  Multilateral cooperation generally marks a significant improvement in drug control efforts.  Yet, as AIN noted in a June analysis, the pending agreements propose to duplicate and possibly conflict with an efficient coca monitoring structure already carried out by Bolivia’s state institutions in conjunction with international entities.