The Uru-Murato People’s Disappearing Home

The New York Times has an awesome article with beautiful photos and videos about how climate change caused a lake to rapidly disappear in Bolivia, ending the traditional culture and way of life of an indigenous people that lived on its shores:

After surviving decades of water diversion and cyclical El Niño droughts in the Andes, Lake Poopó basically disappeared in December. The ripple effects go beyond the loss of livelihood for the Quispes and hundreds of other fishing families, beyond the migration of people forced to leave homes that are no longer viable.

The vanishing of Lake Poopó threatens the very identity of the Uru-Murato people, the oldest indigenous group in the area. They adapted over generations to the conquests of the Inca and the Spanish, but seem unable to adjust to the abrupt upheaval climate change has caused.

The Uru-Murato People’s Disappearing Home

Bolivia-U.S. Relations

I find it somewhat unnerving how drastic the escalation of reprisals were between the U.S. and Bolivia in late 2008.  The Obama administration brought hope for a change in U.S. policy.  And the Obama administration quickly restored relations with Venezuela, but Bolivian relations languished.  I think the main take-away is that Bolivia is a complete geopolitical backwater, and essentially a non-existent trade partner for the U.S., so the importance of any bilateral business with Bolivia is low on the totem pole.  Venezuela has oil, which increases its strategic importance to the U.S.  This gives Venezuela a greater ability to make things difficult for the U.S., but also gives the U.S. greater incentive to make the relationship work at some level.  Bolivia, in contrast, really does not offer the U.S. much either way.  Although trade with the U.S. is crucial for Bolivia, the reverse is not true; Bolivia is just too small of a country.  Hopefully, this is a sign that the U.S. has the time to give some thought to talking directly to Bolivia again.

Bolivia-U.S. Relations

Evo Is Losing It

There’s really no explaining this:

If you don’t want to end up bald or gay, don’t eat chicken, says Bolivian President Evo Morales. Speaking at an environmental conference this week in Cochabamba, Bolivia, (officially titled the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) Morales told attendees in an inaugural address that chicken producers inject female hormones into the fowl, “and because of that, men who consume them have problems being men.”

Thousands at the conference reportedly laughed — perhaps nervously — when Morales made the statements. He also said hormone-injected chicken causes young girls’ breasts to grow prematurely, according to Noticias 24.

He also noted that hormone injection in chickens causes baldness, “a sickness in Europe.” What’s really amazing is Evo is marginally more sane than his opposition.

Evo Is Losing It

Putting the Coca Back Into Coke

Somehow this doesn’t surprise me at all:

A certain US soft drinks giant may disagree, but Bolivia has come up with a fizzy beverage it says is the real thing: Coca Colla.

The drink, made from the coca leaf and named after the indigenous Colla people from Bolivia’s highlands, went on sale this week across the South American country.

I’m just wondering if people are going to pronounce it’s name phonetically or just call it Coca Cola.

Putting the Coca Back Into Coke

Lithium Blogging

Matt Yglesias has a post up about an article posted on CNAS’s national security blog about lithium and mentions political problems between the U.S. and Bolivia. This is the key part:

But going forward, the center of lithium influence is likely to shift to Bolivia, since vast reserves lie beneath its Salar de Uyuni salt flats. For the United States, this could be a problem: the Morales government remains hostile to U.S. concerns, and there is potential for instability given serious rifts in Bolivian politics. (emphasis added by Yglesias)

As Yglesias says, “[t]his mostly strikes me as an example of how the American foreign policy establishment’s ability to gin up ‘threats’ to our national security is really impressive.” It goes a bit beyond that, as if we wanted to improve our relations with Bolivia and Morales, we easily could.

But first, I think Yglesias does not frame the problem well. He argues, essentially, we shouldn’t worry because we have money, and since we have money, it’s a done-deal we’ll get a slice of the lithium. On the world commodity markets, I think that’s true. But if we want to get in on the extraction of lithium, and view that as a national security prerogative, I don’t think Bolivia will magically open the gates for us. Just in Asia, we are competing with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea for lithium extraction rights. Yglesias likens the Bolivia/lithium issue to the Venezuela/oil issue, but there are key differences between the two. Neither the U.S. nor Bolivia are dependent on lithium the way the U.S. and Venezuelan economies are dependent on oil. This gives room for the both countries to shape the contours of the relationship and the economic structure of lithium extraction. If we don’t get our act together, I think it’s likely Bolivia will award contracts to states they are friendly with. For example, a state like China, who is working with Bolivia on creating a satellite. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to buy lithium, as it will be an internationally traded commodity, but our mining businesses will miss out and our national security apparatus might deem it prudent to have a hand in the extraction process.

Implicit in this conversation is the fact that the Morales government will keep tight control over any foreign venture extracting lithium. For our businesses to have a shot at getting in at the ground level, we need better bilateral relations with Bolivia. In a few easy steps America could drastically improve our relations with the Morales government, who is almost certain to win reelection, and gain a foothold for U.S. companies in any lithium extraction. There’s two things to keep in my mind. First, that Morales rise to power was a reaction to the failure of Goni’s presidency. And in the atmosphere where a president has fled the country for safe haven in the U.S. after riots and protests, the refusal of the U.S. to extradite the man to face charges in Bolivia makes anti-U.S. rhetoric an easy (and successful) electoral strategy. Second, the costs of bad relations with the U.S. hurts Bolivia a lot more than it hurts us.

In no particular order, these are a few actions that would directly improve U.S. relations with Bolivia at little cost to us:

The point is these are all relatively painless actions for the U.S. and would buy goodwill with Morales, yet we refuse to do so. It’s almost as if we are trying to keep Morales mad at us, by deliberately sticking it to Bolivia. I’ll take CNAS’s national security blog post as an invitation for a Nirvana video, too:

Lithium Blogging