article from April 6, 2012
by Julie R Butler
When US citizens are considering where the perfect Latin American country for them to live might be, there is more to look at beyond cost of living, weather, and culture. While these are all very important, one item that is often ignored or brushed aside as less significant is the relationship the country being looked at has with your home nation.
When it comes to the two nations of Ecuador, a very popular South American expat destination, and Bolivia, a more off-the-beaten-path cultural immersion experience, the question of where relations with the United States stand is not an easy one to answer.
The presidents of both countries have, in recent years, antagonized the United States, bringing about deteriorations in bilateral relations and periods when there were mutual ambassadorial vacancies that lasted for about eight months in Ecuador and for more than three years now in Bolivia. The situation in Ecuador was at least partly rectified, as Natalie Cely, the new ambassador to the United States, stepped into office in December 2011. For its part, the US will send a new ambassador to Ecuador ...as soon as Congress gets around to confirming the nomination. As for Bolivia, happily, the United States and Bolivia officially agreed last February to reinstate their long-missing ambassadors – albeit at some un-designated point in the future.
The dances that each of these nations are dancing with the United States are intricate and confusing. Mixed signals and coyness are the norm. In one arena, smiles and friendship abound, while in another, angry words and shaking fists make for good political theater. The presidents of both Ecuador and Bolivia are strong, left-wing populist personalities, so fiery rhetoric is all part of the dance.
The interrelationships between all the nations of the region are equally intricate and confusing, as their histories include regional warfare following their battles for independence from colonization, with further border disputes springing up and dragging on through the years. Yet for many, there is a deeply held Bolivarian desire for all of Latin America to be joined together into one coherent unit, with the idea that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. And one of the greatest forces joining all together is a rejection of influence by the United States, the nation that, having gained its independence some three decades ahead of any other country in the hemisphere, stepped into the power vacuum created by Spain’s retreat, to become a new kind of economic colonizer.
It is, in many ways, a love/hate relationship. Leaders don’t like to be perceived as dependent and weak, and they play wholeheartedly to the “you’re not the boss of me” sentiment toward the United States within their countries. However, these nations need the resources that the United States showers them with in order to buy their loyalty.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales
In 2006, Bolivian President Evo Morales began accusing the US military of using operatives disguised as students and tourists to infiltrate and try to destabilize his country, and in 2008, he kicked out USAID, Ambassador Philip S. Gordon, and the DEA. Obviously, this did not make for a very safe situation for actual students, tourists, or any other US citizens in Bolivia. But in May 2009, the two countries reengaged in dialogue in order to work together on drug-trade interdiction, a high priority for the United States in the region. Last November, the Bolivian government ratified into law a framework agreement with the expectation that the United States would adapt a “non-intrusive” and “more transparent, respectful and honest attitude” toward the Plurinational State of Bolivia. In return for social and economic development aid, Morales has once again begun to cooperate with the United States in combating the drug gangs that have been utilizing Bolivia as a transshipment point for distributing narcotics from Colombia and elsewhere to eastern destinations such as Europe. Now, he has even agreed to allow the United States to bring in new technology to monitor and eradicate coca plantations using advanced laser systems and satellite imagery.
However, a recent incident in Santa Cruz between the Bolivian security forces and the US Embassy highlights the disconnect between policy and cooperative programs vs. the reality on the ground.
Evo Morales calling the US government discriminatory, undemocratic, and racist because of its veto of Cuban participation the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Colombia doesn’t help the atmosphere in the country for US citizens much, either.
Ecuador’s Rafael Correa
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, in an even bigger huff, has announced that he will boycott the summit over the exclusion of Cuba (the only nation in the Western Hemisphere that is not a de facto member of the Organization of American States), putting the blame squarely on the United States rather than buying into any sort of diplomatic “well, there was a lack consensus on the issue” language that is being bandied about. He was hoping that his leftist friends in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia would join his boycott, but they have not, as of yet, as the summit is a substantive gathering of the hemisphere’s heads of state.
The number of US citizens living in Ecuador, estimated by the US State Department to be 50,000, is one factor that works to counteract the president’s bluster and strengthen ties between the two nations, along with the 250,000 US citizens who visit annually, more than 100 US companies conducting business in the country, and the many Ecuadorians who live in the United States. Other signs that bilateral relations are not completely severed are that USAID and other aid organizations operate in the country. Perhaps most telling is that the United States is Ecuador’s principle trade partner.
The counter-narcotics dance between Ecuador and the United States is as dysfunctional/co-dependent as the economic relationship. In short, the two countries need each other, so they each have to put up with the other’s quirks and personalities. As far as attitudes on the ground, the situation does not appear to be much different from many other places throughout Latin America where cultural and economic disparities are bound to pose security problems, while navigating around historical tensions and gross generalizations is something that each individual must work on for themselves.
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler