Foreign Policy Blogs

Diplomatic Row in South America

Last week there was a diplomatic row between the US, Bolivia and Venezuela. Bolivian President, Evo Morales, expelled the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, from the country, accusing the Ambassador of “conspiring against democracy.”

The expulsion comes at a time of social upheaval in Bolivia. Wealthy people from Bolivia's oil-rich provinces have been protesting against the populist Morales and his leftist policies.

Morales declared that the Ambassador was playing a role in inciting these protests by distributing aid to the breakaway provinces. The State Department called these accusations “baseless,” and reacted by expelling the Bolivian Ambassador from Washington. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled his country's U.S. ambassador last week in solidarity with Morales, and the U.S. responded in kind.

Meanwhile, South American presidents have convened a meeting of the 12-nation Union of South American Nations, just founded in May. At the meeting the Presidents of the South American nations present–all except Peru, Guyana and Suriname–expressed solidarity with Morales, and their dedication to help resolve Bolivia's political crisis.

As Marcela Sanzhez of the Washington Post put it, “The Bolivian crisis is rooted in political and geographic divisions, exacerbated by the rise of indigenous power in a country once tightly ruled by a white minority of European descent. But at the Santiago summit, Chavez lambasted Washington, alleging that behind Bolivia's crisis was “a conspiracy financed and directed by the U.S. empire, just as it occurred here in Chile.”

About the breaking of diplomatic ties, Sanchez explained that South American leaders have moved past the “blame game”:

“No other South American president felt compelled to do the same — including left-of-center leaders such as Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay. They insisted instead that the summit deal with the Bolivian crisis and in doing so revealed a more autonomous region, much less obsessed with Washington and more preoccupied with finding solutions to its problems.

By the summit's end, the leaders condemned the destabilizing actions by some in the Bolivian opposition, offered to create a commission to accompany an urgently needed dialogue between Morales and the opposition, and supported an independent investigation into the killings that resulted from the outbreak of violence.

“We believe that the region's problems have to be solved in the region,” Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said in an interview with Chilean television on Tuesday. “I don't like going around making others responsible.””  

Having returned from their posts, the expelled American Ambassadors speak. Ambassador Goldberg explained the situation in an interview with Public Radio International's The World program.

The former US Ambassador to Venezuela had a positive outlook about US-Venezuelan relations in an interview he gave to Univsion.

It's too early to tell what impact this will have on US-South American relations. But for now there is a gaping hole where diplomatic relations used to thrive in both Washington, Caracas and La Paz.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.