Nationalising Dignity: Morales’ Adios to USAID

Development Policy07 May 2013Antonio Carmona Báez

The expulsion of USAID by Bolivia’s president Evo Morales should should come as no surprise to those following political change in Bolivia.

In line with the tradition of pronouncing what might be perceived as drastic declarations on the International Workers’ Day, Bolivian president Evo Morales ordered the expulsion of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from the Plurinational State on 1 May 2013. The directive, however, should come as no surprise to those following political change in Bolivia.

This recent “exercise of sovereignty”, as expressed by Morales, is consistent with the political trajectory of decolonising development since the indigenous leader came to power in 2006. The nationalisation of industries, the push for regional integration and repudiating Western intervention have been met with diplomatic aversion expressed by representatives of US foreign policy. Foreign aid channelled through USAID programmes, whether rendered directly to local governments or to non-governmental organisations, has been linked to destabilisation and insurgency efforts launched from such sectors of civil society as politicised trade unions, environmental groups and health networks.

Although reference was made to the folly committed just weeks ago by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in suggesting that Latin America be considered the superpower’s back yard, the final decision to close down USAID operations in Bolivia has a longer history. Since 1964, USAID has invested billions of US dollars in Bolivian development programmes targeted at cooperation in the fields of business, infrastructure, health and education. Private-public partnerships initiated by USAID flourished during the neoliberal period, allowing for US and other foreign multinational corporations to control local markets and services. Since 2008, the Bolivian government has expressed its concern that USAID only intensifies dependency on the West, a feature that should be diminished if the country were to reconstitute its economic sovereignty. Over US$ 52 million were invested in Bolivia in 2010, according to USAID’s official website, and US$ 26.7 million in 2011.

In a interview with Eva Golinger on Russia Today held February 2013, Morales expressed the possibility of expelling USAID, just as it did with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and US ambassador Phillip Goldberg in 2008. Since then, Morales stated, the country is better off in the fight against drug-trafficking. Also in 2008, Morales applauded the decision of indigenous coca-grower associations to expel USAID funded programmes from La Chapare region of Cochabamba, for supporting mostly White-creole oppositional armed forces.

USAID belongs to the host of organs that were initiated by US president Harry Truman’s post-war Point Four Programme. The agency responds directly to the US Secretary of State and is closely monitored by the Department of Defence. While much of the discourse around USAID action highlights the terms sustainable development, elimination of poverty and international cooperation, military intervention and imposed foreign policy has marked the history of US foreign aid since the Cold War in Bolivia and throughout the Global South generally. USAID Office of Military Affairs and its Civic-Military Programme have been responsible for the funding of counter-insurgency practices in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and continuing the “global war on terrorism” introduced by George W. Bush and sustained by current president Barak Obama. Recently, the Associated Press has revealed the agency’s meddling in Bolivia’s internal political affairs by providing “building democracy grants” to groups that oppose the Morales government.

USAID’s eviction from Bolivia should also be understood within the context of a de-colonial reading of development. The disregard for Development with a capital “D”, seeing it as a continuation of Western domination over previously colonised regions of the world, has become one of the main features of MAS (Morales’ political party) indigenous socialism. The concept of European origin has been challenged by indigenous ideas of “living well”, which should be defined locally by communities and social movements taking into consideration Pacha Mama or Mother Earth, not imposed by international financial institutions or those countries that became rich precisely by the colonisation of others.

President Evo Morales, having nationalised industries religiously every first of May for the last 6 years, has now decided to “nationalise the dignity” of the Bolivian Plurinational State and its peoples. The intention is not to sever international development cooperation with the West, said Alfredo Rada, Vice-minister of Social Movements. This state functionary reminded news reporters that Bolivia just signed an agreement on Finance and Cooperation with the European Union. The door continues to be open to foreign investment and cooperation from the US and other countries, as long as the relationship is horizontal and not vertical. Future accords and programmes of international development cooperation with Bolivia will have to take into consideration that country’s renewed sense of sovereignty.