What Improved Relations With US Would Mean for Bolivia’s Anti-Drug Efforts

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Bolivian officials are looking to restore diplomatic ties with the United States, a significant shift that would likely have a major impact on the Andean nation’s ability to combat drug trafficking and organized crime.

“We are here today to get back on course towards good relations with the United States,” Bolivia President Evo Morales said at a recent press briefing. Morales is reportedly seeking to exchange ambassadors once again with the United States.  

Meanwhile, Bolivia’s Deputy Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, Felipe Caceres, said Bolivia is open to receiving counter-narcotics assistance from the United States, reported El Deber.

“Bolivia will accept international cooperation from any country, as long as it respects our sovereignty,” Caceres said.  

Morales kicked out the last US ambassador in 2008, and expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that same year. US counter-narcotics assistance to Bolivia declined from a high of $17 million in 2010 to just $1 million in 2013. The US government provided no anti-drug aid to Bolivia in 2014, according to official figures.

InSight Crime Analysis

The restoration of ties between the two nations would probably have a significant impact on Bolivia’s capacity for combating drug trafficking organizations. Due to Bolivia’s weak drug interdiction resources, the Andean nation has become increasingly vulnerable to transnational criminal groups looking to supply cocaine to growing consumer markets across South America, most notably Brazil. A return of the DEA and increased US anti-narcotics assistance would help Bolivian authorities in their efforts to weaken these criminal organizations, and shed the country’s status as an emerging drug hub. 

SEE ALSO: Evo’s Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

However, Morales’ comments are no guarantee of warmer bilateral relations, and US anti-drug assistance is unlikely to arrive in the near future.

“I believe the intentions are sincere, but there’s a lot they have to work through, and there is not a solid foundation of trust on either side right now,” Kathryn Ledebur, Director of the Andean Information Network (AIN), told InSight Crime. 

Nonetheles, Ledebur noted there are steps the United States could take immediately to assist Bolivia in the fight against drug trafficking. The US government could share its satellite imagery of Bolivia’s coca-growing regions and provide more transparency on how it calculates its coca production estimates, Ledebur said.

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