Wednesday, June 2, 2010

U.S.-Bolivia relations: Valenzuela goes to Bolivia

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, where he met with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca. Valenzuela's quick trip sought to start talks about the bilateral framework agreement that could lead to the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The United States and Bolivia have not had diplomatic relations since September 2008, when when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled then-U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg. Morales was angered by Goldberg's meetings with opposition political figures. As we noted on this blog in January, the United States and Bolivia have been working on and off to improve bilateral relations, with the goal of exchanging new ambassadors, since May 2009. Then, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time, Thomas Shannon, traveled to La Paz to begin the dialogue. At various junctures ever since, both sides have appeared optimistic that relations would soon be renewed. Yet the two countries were never able to take the final steps.

This time, it was Assistant Secretary Valenzuela's turn to travel to Bolivia and work with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to develop the framework of a bilateral agreement between the two nations. And after the meeting, the two officials announced that an agreement to consolidate a new phase of diplomatic relations between both nations would be signed within the next few weeks.

During the press conference, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela said, "I am in Bolivia because President Obama wants the relationship between the United States and Bolivia to move toward a new phase of cooperation and mutual respect, where we can work to benefit both of our countries."

Foreign Minister Choquehuanca said, "We are working, there are not only good intentions, there are also concrete advances with the United States. I am excited to say that we have advanced more than 99 percent toward signing this new framework agreement of mutual respect." After the meeting, Valenzuela also appeared positive about the meeting, posting to Twitter that he "Just had an excellent discussion with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca." (He also linked to the above picture that was posted on Flickr).

While Valenzuela and Choquehuanca were meeting in La Paz, Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his hope that relations would resume between his country and the United States. "I hope this new framework agreement of diplomatic relations, commerce, and investment can advance (...). We hope that the visit of the representative of the United States government allows for negotiations to resume."

As reported by La Razon, the new agreement will cover topics such as political dialogue, shared responsibility in the fight against narcotrafficking, international trade agreements and the economic cooperation of the United States. Maybe the third time will be a charm, and the encounter yesterday between Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and Foreign Minister Choquehuanca will actually lead to a signed accord and the reinstatement of ambassadors.