WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
17 Sep 2009

U.S. Decertification of Bolivia: A Blast from the Past

September 16, 2009 – The Obama administration's "decertification" of Bolivia's drug control efforts, announced last night, is unwarranted and risks unnecessarily complicating efforts underway to improve U.S.-Bolivian relations, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Andean Information Network (AIN).

This is the second year in a row that the U.S. government has deemed that Bolivia "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months" to adhere to its "obligations under international counternarcotics agreements."  Decertification does not jeopardize U.S. counternarcotics or humanitarian assistance, and the Obama administration invoked a waiver that allows other types of U.S. aid to also continue.

In spite of Bolivia's November 2008 expulsion of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for allegedly conspiring against the government of President Evo Morales, U.S.-Bolivian cooperation on coca reduction and drug interdiction has continued, and Bolivia has actively pursued counter-drug coordination with its neighbors and the international community.  (For more information, on these issues, see AIN-WOLA memos from January and August 2009.)

Indeed, the Obama administration has acknowledged as much, including a statement yesterday by the U.S. embassy in La Paz.  But the Administration still chose to decertify Bolivia.

"If the Obama administration wants to support Bolivian and regional drug control, there's plenty of room for cooperation," said Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, "but it's hard to see how this decertification and its inaccurate and distorted portrayal of Bolivian efforts helps matters."

In Latin America, the drug certification process itself has long contributed to a U.S. reputation for arrogance and hypocrisy.  President Obama's election, and numerous statements by high-ranking U.S. officials since then, raised hopes in the region that the United States would be revising its drug policy approach, especially by doing more to address U.S. demand for illicit drugs.

"Despite the positive signals, and the spirit of partnership that animated the Summit of the Americas in April," said John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, "Bolivia's decertification indicates that the Obama administration is out of step with developments in the region, and missing opportunities for more constructive relations." 

Both the U.S. and Bolivian governments have repeatedly expressed interest in improving relations, and bilateral drug control cooperation has continued despite the real tensions that have existed.  WOLA and AIN urge the Obama administration to bridge the gap between its positive rhetoric and its actions regarding improving relations with Bolivia.

John Walsh, Senior Associate for the Andes and Drug Policy
[email protected]
(202) 797-2171; 617-584-1713

Kathryn Ledebur, Director, AIN
[email protected]
(703) 220-0045