In January and March 2011, several English-language press outlets ran stories on quinoa production in Bolivia. National Public Radio and the Associated Press reported on quinoa as a development project, hailing its benefits to farmers in the altiplano region of Bolivia. The New York Times article focused on quinoa’s rising popularity abroad making it less affordable for low income Bolivians. Both AP’s “Quinoa’s Popularity a Boon to Bolivians,”[i] and the Times’ “Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home” highlight the complex relationship between food security and economic development in Bolivia, although with differing perspectives.
On March 17, MAS party legislators announced that they would make a formal request to remove USAID from Bolivian territory. “We, the legislative party leaders have decided that USAID should leave our country, due to its clear intervention in different departmental governments, their pretext of [providing] seminars, conflict resolution workshops and other excuses for political meddling.”[i]
While the MAS legislative majority’s position is clear, it is not a foregone conclusion that the executive will ratify and act on this pronouncement. The day after MAS assembly members made their announcement, Morales complained about economic cooperation, stating that the U.S. government “blackmailed” Bolivia through the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act), suspended in 2009. He did not specifically mention USAID or its potential expulsion.[ii]
On October 11, Bolivia’s Mining Minister Jose Pimentel stated that Bolivia plans to start production of lithium carbonate and potassium chloride for export this month, and expects a finalized product by January or February.[i]However, it is unlikely that Bolivia’s lithium carbonate will be available on the international market in the near future.
At an isolated pilot plant, Bolivian and international scientists have been working to develop a process to separate lithium from other minerals present in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats. The unique climatic conditions and mineral concentration of the Salar present special challenges, and it is unclear whether the extraction process has been perfected. Between October and March the region receives significant rainfall, which could negatively affect evaporation and separation. This separation process can take up to 18 months, even without foreseeable rainy season delays.[ii] Furthermore, a successful trial run at the pilot plant would represent the first time lithium carbonate has been produced outside a laboratory in Bolivia.
This Tuesday, June 29, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nomination of Mark Feierstein to head USAID programs in Latin America. Feierstein, of the firm Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, served as a political adviser to former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada during his 2002 Presidential campaign. Sánchez de Lozada resigned and fled to Chevy Chase, Maryland in 2003 to escape prosecution for the massacre of 60 protesters by troops operating under his orders. Last year Feierstein and his colleagues again conducted polling in Bolivia to assist the campaign of right wing candidate Manfred Reyes Villa, who lost by a landslide to President Evo Morales. The appointment of the political pollster has increased apprehension in the region that aid programs will continue to be used to support U.S.-favored political actors within the region’s democracies.
Hopefully, Assistant Secretary of State, Arturo Valenzuela’s June 1 visit to La Paz will jumpstart efforts to reach and sign a new bilateral framework agreement between Bolivia and the U.S. A central point of contention continues to be broader transparency and ownership of development aid programs. However, it is not necessary to start from scratch to define how the two countries should structure, implement and monitor development assistance. Key international agreements—ratified by both Bolivia and the United States—including the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008),[i] provide clear and pragmatic guidelines for agencies’ relationships with host or “partner” countries. Most importantly, these accords guarantee host countries’ ownership and decision-making power over of development policy within their borders. The Bolivia-U.S. bilateral framework agreement should respect and directly reflect these principles.