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FT's view on Bolivia

View on Bolivia by Richard Lapper of FT

January 15 2006: Working with Evo
By Richard Lapper, Latin America editor
Published: January 15 2006 16:15 | Last updated: January 15 2006 16:15

Tom Shannon faces a tough challenge in Bolivia. The top US policy maker on Latin America says he is keen to keep channels of communication open with Evo Morales, and will attend the inauguration of the radical new president next Sunday. But Mr Morales is already lining up other allies. Over the last couple of weeks the aymara leader has called on Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, and also visited China, France and South Africa, but pointedly excluded Washington from his tour agenda. Venezuelan financial support is on the table. And it will surely not be long before some of the Cuban doctors successfully deployed in Venezuela are not rerouted to the much poorer and needier western highlands of Bolivia.

Right-wing critics will probably urge Mr Shannon to cut US economic aid, especially the Bolivian leader presses ahead with promises to decriminalise coca cultivation. Mr Shannon should look to resist. He can take comfort from the fact that he will not be alone in seeking moderation. Argentina and Brazil - whose leaders will undoubtedly discuss Bolivia when they met with Mr Chávez on Thursday - have their own reasons for seeking to maintain stability. Petrobras, the Brazilian hydrocarbons group, has substantial investments there. Argentina buys a lot of Bolivian gas. In any event the best way for the US to influence is to stay engaged.

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