Slate on Bolivia
Slate will have dispaches for the rest of the week from a reporter travelling through Bolivia. Today's dispatch is from Chaparé, and is a good micro-level look at the economic sources of the popular discontent in that region:
The double whammy of coca eradication and abysmal prices for alternative crops has ravaged farmers' incomes. Moreover, few residents have seen concrete benefits from the millions that have poured into the region. Money often flows to senseless projects when more urgent problems, such as flooding, go unattended. For instance, USAID brought electricity to several communities in the Red Zone, but most families can't even afford to wire their houses, let alone pay the monthly electricity bill.
Jessica Holzer -the journalist- highlights some of the well-meaning, but poorly spent money that has gone into the country, much of it through USAID.
It's odd, however, that it's not clear whether this article is written on a recent visit, or whether it's from when Ms Holzer lived in Bolivia in 2001.
My guess is that if it's not made clear if the articles are from 2004 or 2001 (when the reporter was in Bolivia), then they're from 2001. If so, these are good stories -- and important ones -- but slightly misleading, since they don't give the contemporary story.
I know many people at USAID, and I know their work is often criticized. But. What else is there to do? The reporter also didn't specify what other NGOs were doing. My understanding's that most NGOs (USAID's one of these) coordinate their work, so that USAID might fund some projects (like electricity), but other NGOs fund others (schools, hospitals, etc). So to look at just what the US is doing is a bit myopic in view, since it ignores what the larger NGO community is doing.
Nevertheless, yes, it's true that the war on drugs is having many bad consequences on Bolivian campesinos. And if this is based on 2001 fieldwork, it's clear why. This is now 2004, and there are now many successful peasant cooperatives (many funded by USAID) selling alternative (and organically ground, fair trade) products to the world market (Irupana is the greatest example of these).
In the end, I think the best solution to Bolivia's development in the long term is to move away from the drug trade, and enter the legitimate market (which makes for larger markets, not just American junkies).Posted by miguel | February 4, 2004 07:03 PM
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