Although President Evo Morales has been publicly critical of U.S. policies, the United States and Bolivia have a tradition of cordial and cooperative relations. Development assistance from the United States to Bolivia dates from the 1940s, and the U.S. remains a major partner for economic development, improved health, democracy, and the environment. In 1991, the U.S. Government forgave all of the $341 million debt owed by Bolivia to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as 80% ($31 million) of the amount owed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food assistance. The United States has also been a strong supporter of forgiveness of Bolivia's multilateral debt under the HIPC initiatives.
The United States Government channels its development assistance to Bolivia through USAID. USAID is well known in Bolivia, especially in rural areas where thousands of projects have been implemented. USAID has been providing assistance to Bolivia since the 1960s and works with the Government of Bolivia, the private sector, and the Bolivian people to achieve equitable and sustainable development. USAID/Bolivia provides about $85 million annually in development assistance through bilateral agreements with the Bolivian Government and unilateral agreements with other organizations. USAID programs are implemented by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and the Bolivian Government. USAID's programs support Bolivia's National Development Plan and are designed to address key issues, such as poverty and the social exclusion of historically disadvantaged populations, focusing efforts on Bolivia's peri-urban and rural populations. USAID's programs in Bolivia strengthen democratic institutions; provide economic opportunities for disadvantaged populations through business development and trade; improve family health; promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation; provide farmers alternatives to illicit coca cultivation; and improve food security.
Public criticisms of the U.S. Government were made on a number of fronts in 2007, including of USAID-supported democracy programs and, in particular, the U.S. Government's non-partisan support across the political spectrum. The Bolivian Government is lobbying for an extension of ATPDEA trade preferences and approval of a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). President Morales delivered a $657 million proposal on September 24, 2007 to MCC officials, which focuses on transportation and agriculture development in northern Bolivia.
The control of illegal narcotics is a major issue in the bilateral relationship. For centuries, Bolivian coca leaf has been chewed and used in traditional rituals, but in the 1970s and 1980s the emergence of the drug trade led to a rapid expansion of coca cultivation used to make cocaine, particularly in the tropical Chapare region in the Department of Cochabamba (not a traditional coca growing area). In 1988, a new law, Law 1008, recognized only 12,000 hectares in the Yungas as sufficient to meet the licit demand of coca. Law 1008 also explicitly stated that coca grown in the Chapare was not required to meet traditional demand for chewing or for tea, and the law called for the eradication, over time, of all "excess" coca.
To accomplish that goal, successive Bolivian governments instituted programs offering cash compensation to coca farmers who eradicated voluntarily, and the government began developing and promoting suitable alternative crops for peasants to grow. Beginning in 1997, the government launched a more effective policy of physically uprooting the illegal coca plants, and Bolivia's illegal coca production fell over the next 4 years by up to 90%.
This "forced" eradication remains controversial, however, and well-organized coca growers unions have blocked roads, harassed police eradicators, and occasionally used violence to protest the policy. In response, previous government security forces have used force. In some cases confrontations between security forces and coca growers or distributors have resulted in injuries and fatalities, raising human rights concerns. The Morales government has embarked on a policy of voluntary eradication and social control. Although violent confrontations between police and coca growers/distributors have decreased under the new approach, its long-term efficacy remains to be proven.
Bolivia plans to expand, at least for a limited time, legal coca production to 20,000 hectares and stresses development of legal commercial uses for coca leaf. Although the U.S. prefers long-term limits that track more closely with current estimated legal domestic demand of around 4,000 to 6,000 hectares, it will continues to support counter-narcotics efforts in Bolivia as the 20,000 hectare proposal is still significantly below current cultivation, which has oscillated between about 23,000 and 28,000 hectares since 2001.
The United States also heavily supports parallel efforts to interdict the smuggling of coca leaves, cocaine, and precursor chemicals. The U.S. Government has, in large measure, financed alternative development programs and the counter-narcotics police effort. The U.S. recertified Bolivia as not having "failed demonstrably" in 2007 to cooperate on counter-narcotics issues, finding Bolivia's interdiction efforts strongly positive, though against a backdrop of steadily rising production and trafficking of cocaine. Recent Bolivian governments have supported U.S. Government counter-narcotics programs.
In addition to working closely with Bolivian Government officials to strengthen bilateral relations, the U.S. Embassy provides a wide range of services to U.S. citizens and businesses. Political and economic officers deal directly with the Bolivian Government in advancing U.S. interests, but are also available to provide information to American citizens on local economic and political conditions in the country. Commercial officers work closely with numerous U.S. companies that operate direct subsidiaries or have investments in Bolivia, providing information on Bolivian trade and industry regulations and administering several programs intended to aid U.S. companies starting or maintaining businesses in Bolivia.
The Consular Section of the Embassy, and the two consular agencies in Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, provide vital services to the estimated 13,000 American citizens resident in Bolivia. Among other services, the Consular Section and the consular agencies assist Americans who wish to participate in U.S. elections while abroad and also provide notarial services. Some 40,000 U.S. citizens visit annually. The Consular Section also offers passport and emergency services to tourists as needed during their stay in Bolivia. The Consular Section is currently analyzing a new Bolivian regulation that would require U.S. citizens entering Bolivia for tourism to obtain a visa. The Consular Section will provide information about this new visa requirement on the Embassy's website at http://bolivia.usembassy.gov. In addition to the services provided to U.S. citizens, the Consular Section adjudicates thousands of immigrant and non-immigrant visas at the Embassy in La Paz each year.