|Bolivia Table of Contents
Following the onset of democracy, Bolivia pursued a nonaligned foreign policy. In 1989 Bolivia held relations with every communist nation, including Albania. Relations with China were established in 1985, and diplomatic relations with Taiwan suspended. In 1983 Bolivia had established relations with Cuba. Relations with Cuba improved steadily in the mid-to-late 1980s. Cuba donated medical equipment to hospitals and supported Bolivia's quest for nonaligned status. Bolivian leaders, including the foreign minister, met with Fidel Castro Ruz and praised the achievements of the Cuban Revolution.
Bolivia's foreign policy strategy in the early part of the 1980s was labeled "independent neutrality," which was an external manifestation of domestic populism rooted in the 1952 Revolution. In fact, neutrality in foreign affairs was historically associated with populist regimes, such as those of the MNR (especially 1952-56) and Ovando and Torres (1969-71).
The guiding principle of independent neutrality was that diplomatic relations should be maintained with all nations of the world, regardless of political ideology. Respect for the principles of nonintervention and self-determination was a second underlying theme. Independent neutrality reflected a nonaligned thrust with deep roots in Bolivian history. The first Paz Estenssoro government (1952-56), for example, was the first to adopt a policy of neutrality that reflected the revolutionary reality of the country in the 1950s. Subsequently, General Ovando's government established relations with the Soviet Union, and in 1970 General Torres became the first Bolivian leader to attend a conference of the Nonaligned Movement.
The Siles Zuazo regime criticized several United States efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1981 the Nicaraguan delegation to the UN allowed Siles Zuazo's "government in exile" to denounce human rights violations in Bolivia by the García Meza-led junta that was in power in La Paz. After assuming the presidency, Siles Zuazo criticized the Nicaraguan opposition force, the contras, and spoke in favor of the Contadora process, the diplomatic effort initiated by Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama in 1983 to achieve peace in Central America. In 1983 Bolivia voted with the majority in the UN to censure the joint United States-Caribbean intervention in Grenada. Siles Zuazo's government also joined a region-wide movement to reform the OAS.
Critics of the 1985-89 Paz Estenssoro administration contended that his more conservative domestic political agenda was reflected in Bolivia's foreign policy. In their view, foreign policy had become increasingly tied to the interests of the United States, affecting Bolivia's relations with other Latin American democracies. Critics pointed out that Bolivia had refused to participate in regional forums on the foreign debt issue since 1985, pursuing instead direct negotiations with international banks. Additionally, they charged that Bolivia's lack of interest had excluded it from regional integration projects such as the Andean Common Market (ANCOM, also known as the Andean Pact). Others pointed out that Bolivia limited its participation in regional organizations to persuading its Andean neighbors to eliminate the controversial Decision 24 from the ANCOM charter that restricted foreign investment in the region.
The loss of autonomy in foreign policy, however, was not as obvious as critics claimed. The Bolivian government, in fact, had actively pursued regional ties; for example, it participated in ANCOM's Cartagena Agreement and the Río de la Plata Basin commercial and development agreement, and it sponsored a meeting of the Amazonian Pact. In terms of economic integration, the Bolivian government stressed its participation in the Latin American Economic System (Sistema Económico Latinoamericano-- SELA) and the Latin American Integration Association (Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración--ALADI).
A discernible change had occurred, however, with respect to Bolivia's policy toward the Central American conflict. In contrast to Siles Zuazo, Paz Estenssoro maintained a distance from the conflict, limiting himself to endorsing Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sánchez's initiatives. Paz Estenssoro did not challenge the United States on this issue, which remained outside regional peace efforts, such as the Contadora support group. Most significantly, Bolivia was conspicuously absent from the Group of Eight Latin American democracies that demanded hemispheric autonomy, sought support for Cuba's return to the OAS, and put forth an agenda for reforming the OAS.
Bolivia continued to maintain good relations with the Nonaligned Movement in the late 1980s, although they were not as close as during the Siles Zuazo administration. According to Guillermo Gutiérrez Bedregal, Paz Estenssoro's foreign affairs and worship minister, relations were established with seventeen Nonaligned Movement nations, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Vietnam. In addition, the Paz Estenssoro regime pointed out that Bolivia occupied the vice presidency of the movement's Ministerial Conference in 1986 and had been actively involved in the organization of the Ministerial Conference for 1988.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress