Broken Peace Process

There’s little reason to hope for a breakthrough at the Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, unless there is a fundamental shift in U.S. policy in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And there’s little evidence to suggest such a change is forthcoming.

Indeed, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Knesset member and former cabinet official who served as one of the major architects of the Oslo Accords, called for the conference to be canceled, fearing that it will only be “an empty summit that will only attract Arab ambassadors and not decision-makers alongside an Israeli leadership that prefers [appeasing Israeli hardliners] over a breakthrough to peace.” As a result, he argues that the meeting is doomed to fail and, as a result, would “weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas and cause violence.”

The reason for such pessimism is that ever since direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks began in the early 1990s, U.S. policy has been based on the assumption that both sides need to work out a solution among themselves and both sides need to accept territorial compromise. As reasonable as that may seem on the surface, it ignores the fact that, even if one assumes that both Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights to peace, freedom and security, there is a grossly unequal balance of power between the occupied Palestinians and the occupying Israelis. It also avoids acknowledging the fact that the Palestinians, through the Oslo agreement, have recognized the state of Israel on a full 78% of Palestine and what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is asking for is simply the remaining 22% of Palestine that was seized by Israel in the 1967 war and is recognized by the international community as being under belligerent occupation.

International Law

However one may respect Israel for its democratic institutions (at least for its Jewish citizens), its progressive social institutions (like the kibbutzim), and its important role as a homeland for a historically oppressed people, the fact remains that the Palestinians have international law on their side in demanding, in return for security guarantees, an Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The U.S. position, however, is that 22% is too much and that the Palestinians must settle for less.

According to Israeli journalist Uri Avnery, the only way the conference could pave to way the peace would be if President George W. Bush decided “to exert intense pressure on Israel, to compel it to take the necessary steps: agree to the establishment of a real Palestinian state, give up East Jerusalem, restore the Green Line border (with some small swaps of territory), find an agreed-upon compromise formula for the refugee issue.” The United States, which provides Israel with over $4 billion in military and economic aid annually and has repeatedly used its veto power at the UN Security Council to protect the Israeli government from being compelled to live up to its international legal obligations, has the power to do so.

According to Shlomo Brom of Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, “Judging from previous experience, US pressure can be very effective.” There’s no evidence that the United States plans to use that kind of clout, however, to move the peace process forward.

Illegal Settlements

The Palestinians, Saudis and other Arab participants have been pushing for a comprehensive package of Israeli actions that would include a freeze on the growth of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, the release of Palestinian political prisoners, the relaxation of travel restrictions and checkpoints in the occupied territories and an end of construction of parts of the separation barrier inside the West Bank as called for by the International Court of Justice. Failure for Israel to agree to such conditions and the failure of the United States to push Israel to agree to such conditions has led to concerns that the conference would be simply a propaganda coup by the Bush administration and Israeli government to give the appearance of an ongoing peace process when, in fact, they are unwilling to make the necessary comprises for a sustainable peace.

Israel has recently announced the release of approximately 400 Palestinian prisoners, though thousands – most of whom have never engaged in terrorism – remain incarcerated. Some of the roadblocks that have crippled travel and commerce in the occupied West Bank have been lifted, but scores of others still impede Palestinians from traveling from one town to another.

There are some indications that Israel will announce at the conference a freeze on the construction of additional settlements in the West Bank. However, they have agreed to such a freeze on several previous occasions, including in an annex to the 1978 Camp David agreement, the 1992 loan guarantee agreement, the 1993 Oslo Accords, their response to the 2001 Mitchell Report, and other times, only to continue construction anyway without the United States insisting they live up to their promises. And Israel has ruled out withdrawing from these illegal settlements, every one of which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deem it illegal for any country to transfer any part of its civilian population onto territories seized by military force.

Indeed, UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471 explicitly call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories. However, both the Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have gone on record that Israel should not be required to withdraw from the majority of these settlements.

It’s these settlements, along with the separation barrier snaking its way deep into the West Bank to separate them and surrounding areas from Palestinian population centers, which has made a peace settlement impossible, since the apparent goal of formally annexing them into Israel would divide up a future Palestinian mini-state into a series of non-contiguous cantons consisting of as little as half of the West Bank. These Jewish-only settlements connected by Jewish-only highways effectively have created an apartheid-like situation on the West Bank. Any Palestinian state remaining would effectively be comparable to the notorious Bantustans of South Africa prior to majority rule. Despite this, this partial Israeli disengagement from most Palestinian-populated areas while controlling much of the land surrounding them – known as the Convergence Plan – has received the support of the Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress.

Photo Op

Unless Israel and the United States are willing to address the core issues – boundaries that would insure a viable contiguous Palestinian state, withdrawal of troops and settlers from the West Bank (except perhaps for some along the border in exchange for an equal amount of Israeli land), and a just resolution of the refugee problem – the conference will amount to little more than a photo op.

Indeed, the current unilateral Israel initiative is not much worse than the so-called “generous offer” put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David summit in 2000. Arafat’s understandable refusal to accept such a limited proposal was then used by the United States and Israel as supposed proof of the Palestinians’ lack of desire for peace.

The Annapolis meeting is ostensibly designed to re-start the process along the so-called “Roadmap” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, originally announced in 2002, which was to be based on the principle of Israeli support for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel following democratic reforms by the Palestinian Authority and the end of terrorist attacks. Provisions called for in Phase I, which was originally hoped to have been completed by 2003, included an end to Palestinian violence, Palestinian political reform (including free elections), Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian Authority areas re-conquered since 2001, and a freeze on the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

However, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and a sizable majority of House members sent a letter to Bush insisting that the peace process be based “above all” on an end of Palestinian violence and the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership. There was no mention of any reciprocal actions by the Israeli government, reiterating the longstanding U.S. position that it is not the occupation, but resistance to the occupation, that is the root of the conflict. President Bush agreed and, not surprisingly, the Roadmap stalled.

Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State

The prospects of progress growing out of the Annapolis meeting is made all the less likely due to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s insistence, backed by the U.S. Congress, that the Palestinians, despite having formally recognized Israel, also recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” before substantive issues can be negotiated. Given the sizable Palestinian minority in Israel and concerns that it would legitimate past and future Israeli efforts at ethnic cleansing, this demand is something that the Palestinian government could never agree to and appears to be designed to prevent the peace process from moving forward.

Indeed, the Soviets never demanded as a precondition of any agreements with the United States that the USSR be formally recognized as a “Communist state,” nor has Pakistan ever demanded that India recognize it as an “Islamic state.”

Though the United States has indicated its desire to emphasize an end to Palestinian violence – particularly acts of terrorism – and addressing Israel’s security concerns, there is no indication that the United States plans to address issues concerning human rights or international law outside of providing increased humanitarian relief for the Palestinians.

If progress seems so unlikely, why is the United States pushing for this summit to go forward? One motivation may simply be for the United States to improve its standing among pro-Western Arab regimes by appearing to be interested in the plight of the Palestinians in order to gain support for the ongoing war in Iraq and increasing threats against Iran. Whatever the reason, unless and until the United States recognizes that Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent upon the other, there is little hope for peace.

Pakistan’s Dictatorships and the United States

In his 2005 inaugural address, President George W. Bush declared that the United States would support democratic movements around the world and work to end tyranny. Furthermore, he pledged to those struggling for freedom that the United States would “not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors.” Despite these promises, the Bush administration—with the apparent acquiescence of the Democratic-controlled Congress—has instead decided to continue U.S. support for the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president.

On November 3, the U.S.-backed chief of the Pakistani Army, fearing an imminent ruling by the Supreme Court which could have invalidated his hold on power, declared a state of emergency. He immediately suspended the constitution, shut down all television stations not controlled by the government, ordered the arrests of thousands of political opponents and pro-democracy activists, fired judges not supportive of his crackdown, jammed mobile phone networks, and ordered attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Leading Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir reported that the U.S. Embassy had given a green light to the coup in large part due to its opposition to the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had issued key rulings challenging the government’s policies on political prisoners, women’s rights, and the privatization of public enterprises. Musharraf’s efforts to sack the chief justice six months ago resulted in months of protests which led to his reinstatement just a few weeks before this latest crackdown.

No Impact

Within hours of the martial law declaration, a Pentagon spokesman tried to reassure the regime that “the declaration does not impact on our military support.” This reiteration of support comes despite the fact that the U.S.-armed police and military, instead of concentrating on suppressing extremists waging a violent jihad along the Afghan border as promised, are instead suppressing judges, lawyers, journalists, and other members of the educated urban middle class struggling nonviolently for the restoration of democracy. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte argued before a recent congressional hearing that continued support for Pakistan’s authoritarian regime is “vital to our interests,” that it is “contributing heavily to the war on terror,” and that it remains “an indispensable ally.”

Musharraf originally seized power in October 1999 following an effort by the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to dismiss him from his position as army chief. Sharif has been exiled by Musharraf ever since; an attempt by the former prime minister to return in September was aborted at the airport and he was immediately deported.

Despite its unconstitutionality and its repression, the United States has sent over $10 billion in military and police aid to Pakistan over the past six years to prop up Musharraf’s regime. And, in 2005, Pakistan became one of only a handful of states to be formally designated as a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States. During his visit last year to Pakistan, Bush praised Musharraf’s commitment to democracy just hours after Pakistani police beat and arrested scores of opposition leaders and anti-Bush protesters.

Indeed, despite his well-documented human rights abuses, the Pakistani general has been repeatedly praised by America’s political, academic, and media elites. Bush has commended Musharraf’s “courage and vision” while Negroponte told the recent House panel that the dictator was “a committed individual working very hard in the service of his country.” Similarly, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger—who called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “cruel and petty dictator” in his introduction of the Iranian president—introduced Musharraf at an earlier forum by expressing his “great gratitude and excitement” of hosting “a leader of his stature,” praising the Pakistani general’s “remarkable” contributions to his country’s economic development and the “international fight against terror.”

Support for Extremists

The Bush administration and its supporters claim that the United States must continue its backing of the Pakistani dictatorship because of its role in suppressing Islamist extremists. The reality, however, is far different. For its first two years in power, Musharraf was a major supporter of the Taliban regime, making Pakistan one of only three countries in the world that recognized that totalitarian government, despite the Taliban providing refuge for Osama bin Laden and others in the al-Qaida network. As correctly noted by the 9/11 Commission in its final report, “On terrorism, Pakistan helped nurture the Taliban” and that “Many in the government have sympathized with or provided support to the extremists.”

Throughout his eight years in power, Musharraf has suppressed the established secular political parties while allowing for the development of Islamic political groups that show little regard for individual freedom. Despite claims that they had been shut down, madrassas run by Islamist extremists still operate openly. Taliban-allied groups effectively run large swathes of territory in the western provinces and the regions bordering Afghanistan are more controlled by pro-Taliban extremists than ever. In a press conference during a recent visit to Washington by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, in which Bush tried to blame Iran for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Karzai corrected him by noting that Iran had actually been quite supportive of his government’s efforts and it was actually Pakistan that was backing the Taliban.

Former Kandahar-based NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes noted in her recently-released book The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban that Pakistan has continued its decades-long policy of using religious extremists to exert its influence in Afghanistan. In return for providing limited cooperation against al-Qaida, the United States is willing to ignore Pakistani backing of Taliban and Hizbi-Islami militants as they wreak havoc on the people of that war-ravaged country. Chayes also noted how Pakistani intelligence, through the assassination of moderate Afghan political leaders and other acts of intimidation, has effective veto power over key decisions of the democratically-elected Afghan government, and without any apparent objections from Washington.

Support for Previous Dictators

For decades, the United States has backed the military dictators who have ruled Pakistan. Whether in the name of containing Communism or fighting terrorism, the well-being of the people of the sixth most populated country in the world has been of little concern to Washington policy makers of both parties.

During the Nixon administration, the United States served as the major foreign backer of General Yahya Khan, who declared martial law in 1969. In response to electoral victories by the Bengali-based Awami league in 1971, he began mass arrests of dissidents following a general strike.

As army units began revolting in response to the repression, General Khan cracked down with a brutality that Archer Blood, the U.S. consul in Dhaka, referred to as “genocide.” In one of the strongest-worded dissents ever written by U.S. Foreign Service officers, Blood and 29 others declared “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the [Pakistani] government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankrupt.” Despite these protests, the Nixon administration continued its support for the repression, which took hundreds of thousands of lives, before Congress—in response to public outcry—suspended aid.

Khan was forced from power soon thereafter, leading to a democratic opening until Zia-ul-Haq seized power in 1977, declaring martial law and executing the elected prime minister he had overthrown. Imposing a rigid and reactionary version of Islamic law, Zia-ul-Haq systematically dismantled many of the country’s civil society institutions. U.S. aid to his regime increased dramatically after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 and the CIA began collaborating with Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to arm the Afghan resistance, sending the bulk of the aid to the most hard-line Islamist elements, particularly the extremist Hezbi-Islami faction, despite its propensity to fight the more moderate Afghan resistance groups as much as it did the Soviets.

In the summer of 1983, massive and largely nonviolent demonstrations in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan by the pro-democracy movement were crushed without apparent objections from Washington. Pro-democracy agitation resumed later that decade to again be met by severe repression. The dictatorship did not end, however, until Zia-ul-Haq—along with U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel, top Pakistani military commanders, and other key supporters of the regime—were killed in a mysterious air crash in August 1988. President Ronald Reagan expressed his “profound grief” at Zia’s death, eulogizing the dictator as “a statesman of world stature” and praising his “dedication to regional peace and reconstruction.”

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons

Beginning in the late 1970s, as the extent of Pakistan’s nuclear program became known, the international community began expressing concerns over the possibility of politically unstable Pakistan developing nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1980s, however, the Reagan and the George H. W. Bush administrations formally denied that Pakistan was engaging in nuclear weapons development despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In addition, the United States continued supplying Pakistan with F-16 aircraft even as nuclear analysts concluded that Pakistan would likely use these fighter planes as its primary delivery system for its nuclear arsenal. To publicly acknowledge what virtually every authority on nuclear proliferation knew about Pakistan’s nuclear capability would force the United States to cut off aid to Pakistan, as required by U.S. laws designed to enforce the non-proliferation regime. The annual U.S. certification of Pakistan’s supposed non-nuclear status was halted only in 1990, when the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was finally collapsing.

However, George H.W. Bush’s administration insisted that the cut-off of aid did not include military sales, so the transfer of spare parts for the nuclear-capable F-16s aircraft to Pakistan continued. President Bill Clinton finally imposed sanctions against the regime when Pakistan engaged in a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998, but the sanctions as well as restrictions regarding military aid to new nuclear states were repealed by Congress and the Bush administration three years later.

UN Resolutions

The U.S. government has blocked the United Nations from imposing sanctions or other means to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1172, passed unanimously in 1998, which calls on Pakistan to dismantle its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. (This contrasts with the Bush administration’s partially successful efforts to impose tough international sanctions against Iran for violating UN Security Council resolution 1696 calling for restrictions on its nuclear program, even though the Islamic Republic is still many years from weapons capability and is therefore much less of a threat to international peace and security than is Pakistan.)

Indeed, the United States has released the previously-suspended sale of sophisticated nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets to that country. A Bush administration official claimed that the U.S. fighter-bombers “are vital to Pakistan’s security as President Musharraf prosecutes the war on terror” despite the fact that these jets were originally ordered 15 years earlier, long before the U.S.-led “war on terror” began. They were suspended by the administration of the president’s father out of concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program and the Pakistani military’s ties with Islamic terrorist groups, both of which are of even greater concern today.

Rogue States

One of the most disturbing aspects of U.S. support for the Pakistani regime is that Pakistan has been sharing its nuclear materials and know-how with North Korea and other so-called “rogue states.” The Bush administration chose to essentially ignore what journalist Robert Scheer has referred to as “the most extravagantly irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar the world has ever seen” and to instead blame others. For example, even though it was actually Pakistanis who passed on nuclear materials to Libya, the Bush administration instead told U.S. allies that North Korea was responsible, thereby sabotaging negotiations which many had hoped could end North Korea’s nuclear program and resolve that festering crisis. Similarly, though it was Pakistan which provided Iran with nuclear centrifuges, the Bush administration is now citing Iran’s possession of such materials as justification for a possible U.S. military attack against that country.

The Bush administration, despite evidence to the contrary, claims that the Pakistani government was not responsible for exporting such dangerous materials, but that these serious breaches of security were solely the responsibility of a single rogue nuclear scientist named Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unfortunately, the Pakistani military regime has not allowed U.S. intelligence access to Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, whom the 9/11 Commission noted “was leading the most dangerous nuclear smuggling ring ever disclosed.” Recently pardoned by Musharraf, he now lives freely in Pakistan while Pakistani anti-nuclear activists have been exiled or jailed.


Despite President Bush’s claim that Islamist extremists attack American because they “hate our freedom,” the reality is that most people in Pakistan and other Islamic countries don’t have anything against our freedom. They do, however, recognize that the United States shares responsibility for their repression through its unconditional support of the dictatorship that denies them their own freedom. And, without the opportunity to press for changes through the political system, some turn to violence and extremism.

The United States has supported repressive regimes in the Islamic world and beyond for years with little concern over the consequences. On September 11, 2001, however, citizens from the U.S.-backed dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Egypt hijacked four airliners, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans. A public opinion poll in Pakistan this past August showed that Osama bin Laden has a higher approval rating than either General Musharraf or President Bush. Extremist Islamist parties would not come close to winning a free election in Pakistan today, but in denying Pakistan’s pro-Western democratic opposition a chance to compete and in jailing its leaders, Musharraf and his American supporters may be creating the conditions that could eventually lead to the takeover of this nuclear-armed country by dangerous extremists.

As President John F. Kennedy observed, “Those who make peaceful evolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The American Public

In 1971, during the height of the massacres of Bengalis by the Pakistani army, a small group of American Quakers organized a flotilla of canoes in Baltimore Harbor to block a Pakistani freighter from docking where it was to be loaded with American arms and munitions while other protesters on shore blocked the train which carried the weaponry. Though most of them were arrested and the weapons were eventually loaded, the publicity from the event alerted the American public of the largely clandestine U.S. military support for the Pakistani regime.

When protestors met another Pakistani freighter attempting to pick up weapons in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, dockworkers refused to load the ship, preferring to not get paid that day rather than to work for what their local union leader referred to as “blood money.” Within weeks, in the face of public outcry against U.S. support for the genocidal Pakistani regime, Congress cut off military aid, a testament to the power of nonviolent direct action.

Given the unwillingness of both the Republican administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to stop U.S. military support for the current Pakistani dictatorship, it may be time once again for concerned citizens to engage in similar nonviolent actions to end U.S. support for the oppression. For those at risk as a result of U.S. policy are no longer just those currently oppressed by the Pakistani regime. Some day, as a result of a possible blowback from this policy, it could be Americans as well.

The U.S., Bolivia, and Dependency

Much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, Bolivian president Evo
Morales has been going to great lengths to separate his country from
its economic dependence on the United States. His efforts to strengthen
the Andean Community of Nations and the recent signing of a “People’s
Trade Treaty” with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba indicate the desire
of Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party government to stand
up to Washington by strengthening working economic and political
alliances outside of direct U.S. influence.

Bolivia currently receives $120 million in aid annually from the United
States, an important supplement for a country of nine million with a
per capita income of barely $1,000 annually. Presidential Minister Juan
Ramon Quintana has charged the U.S. Agency for International
Development with using some of this money to support prominent
conservative opposition leaders, as part of a “democracy initiative”
through the consulting firm Chemonics International.

A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia was recently revealed which
described a USAID-sponsored “political party reform project” to “help
build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a
counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors.” Quintana warned
that “if U.S. cooperation does not adjust itself to the politics of the
Bolivian state, the door is open” for them to leave the country.

To understand Bolivian sensitivities to U.S. aid and its conditions, it
is important to look back to what happened to a previous leftist
government in that country which instead adjusted its politics to the
politics of U.S. cooperation.

The MNR Revolution

In January 1954, while United States officials in Washington were
developing plans to overthrow a left-leaning nationalist government in
Guatemala, a very different policy had been developing toward the
leftist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) then ruling
Bolivia. U.S. officials acknowledged that some level of radical reform
was necessary in that country which might require challenging certain
elite interests that had been on good terms with the U.S. government.

At first glance, it could appear that the approach the Truman and
Eisenhower administrations took in handling Bolivia’s revolutionary
government represented an unusually enlightened episode in a history of
unwarranted U.S. intervention against nationalist movements in the
hemisphere. Indeed, it is sometimes cited as a positive manifestation
of the Good Neighbor Policy, which respected the national integrity of
Latin American nations and pledged to resolve differences without use
of military force.

On closer examination, however, the U.S. policy toward the MNR
government appears to be simply an alternative form of intervention.
The United States demonstrated its ability to profoundly influence the
policies of the ruling party in Bolivia, manipulate the republic’s
balance of forces, and take advantage of the economic relationship
between the two countries as a means of achieving U.S. foreign policy
goals short of a direct overthrow of the government.

The U.S. government’s relative tolerance of the Bolivian revolution was
made possible in part by a realization that the United States might be
able to steer the revolution away from a more radical direction due to
Bolivia’s extreme economic dependency on the United States and other
outside powers. State Department officials also judged that the balance
of forces within the factionalized MNR could be co-opted in the
direction of U.S. strategic and economic interests.

Bolivia during the 1950s demonstrated how such dependency could
determine the success or failure of a revolution. Perhaps most
significantly, U.S. policy toward Bolivia in that period served as an
important precedent for future policy by the United States, other
Western powers, and their allied international financial institutions
to ensure that Latin American and other Third World nations pursue
foreign policies and domestic economic priorities in line with Western

The U.S. Response to the Revolution

When the MNR came to power in a bloody uprising in April of 1952, some
alarm bells went off in Washington. Of particular concern was the
ideological orientation of the party, which was explicitly
revolutionary and nationalist and contained an influential left wing.
In addition, there was the fear among U.S. policy makers that heavily
armed peasant and worker militias, subjected to strong Marxist
influence, could end up controlling the country by force.

The popularity of the MNR government, the systematic dismantling of the
armed forces, and the eroded political power of the oligarchs gave the
United States little leverage with which to build an alliance with
traditionally conservative political forces to compel a change in
government, which was how the United States had frequently dealt with
other Latin American countries undergoing nationalist upheavals and
leftist challenges.

Like today, the gross inequality of Bolivian society had given rise to
influential and militant worker and peasant political movements. And,
also like today, the new government’s program was strongly nationalist,
particularly in regard to the country’s natural resources, in which
U.S. investors had substantial interests. Yet, it was not long before
the United States was able to force a dramatic shift in the regime’s

With its landlocked position, dissipated gold reserves, increased costs
of production and imports, and huge trade deficits, Bolivia’s
revolutionary regime had little to counter the economic power of the
United States. From almost the beginning, the MNR’s pragmatic wing
recognized that no Bolivian revolution could alienate Washington. Their
fear stemmed not just from the threat of direct intervention, but also
from the fear of economic retaliation”not an unimportant concern given
Bolivia’s dependence on the United States to buy its tin and provide
needed imports. As a result, there was a lot of pressure from within
the MNR to moderate their policy and vigorously pursue reassuring the
United States through diplomatic channels.

Truman administration officials recognized Bolivia’s precarious
situation. Rollin Atwood, director of the State Department’s Office of
South American Affairs, noted how dependent “the politically articulate
portion of the population” was upon the mining industry, which was in
turn dependent on Great Britain and the United States.1 Unlike the
import of coffee from Guatemala, which was controlled by private
companies, purchases of Bolivian tin for the strategic stockpile came
directly from the U.S. government. This made the use of trade policies
as leverage in gaining political objectives all the easier.

The Compensation Issue and Dependence on Exports

The decision to expropriate, rather than confiscate, the mines”despite
immense pressure from the miners and other Bolivians for the latter
option”was directly related to concerns by the MNR that they had to
acknowledge that at least some form of compensation was necessary,
otherwise they feared that the United States would label them communist
and deny them foreign aid. Tin exports accounted for 70% of Bolivia’s
foreign exchange earnings and 90% of the government’s revenue and the
United States bought over half of Bolivia’s tin exports.2 As Assistant
Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Willard Thorp had initially
informed Acheson, the United States had enough of a stockpile to
outlast Bolivia should negotiations drag out and that no matter what
the price or arrangement for tin, “We will almost certainly get the
Bolivian tin eventually. They have no other place to sell it.”

Thorp acknowledged that leaving Bolivia with no other option was quite
deliberate: “By building the Texas City smelter and buying Bolivian tin
for many years, we have discouraged the Bolivians or any other country
from constructing a tin smelter to use the Bolivian concentrates. By
preventing private purchase in the United States and remaining out of
the market for so long, we have prevented competition from determining
the price of tin. We have, in effect, used our stockpile to force the
price down, since in the absence of the stockpile we could never have
held out as long as we did.”3

Based on this economic power, the United States forced Bolivia to the
negotiating table. Bolivian president Victor Paz Estenssoro announced
that “The United States told us that they could not buy tin from us on
a long-term basis unless we made an agreement with the North American
stockholders.” Given the nation’s dependency on tin sales, the new
government acceded.4

Unlike Chile’s copper or Venezuela’s oil during that period, Bolivia’s
leading natural resource was not directly controlled by some foreign
corporation. However, given that tin ores are worthless without tin
smelters, and since all such refineries were abroad, the level of
dependency was at least as serious.

Moreover, the United States was the only country capable of processing
Bolivian tin since Bolivia had no smelting capability of its own and
the only non-U.S. smelter capable of accepting the low-grade Bolivian
ore”located in Great Britain and partly owned by a former mine owner
whose mine had been seized”refused to accept it.5

Jose Nunez Rosales, as vice president of a government-run mining
company, stated that Bolivia agreed to compensate U.S. stockholders
“only because Bolivia had to eat.”6

The leading Bolivian left-wing party went on record to denounce the
agreement as “Yankee imperialism” which they argued was attempting to
“starve Bolivia into submission.”7 An important MNR ideologue, Carlos
Montenegro, publicly accused the United States in 1954 as attempting to
“foster the oligarchy and enslave the popular classes for the benefit
of Wall Street.”8

By conditioning foreign aid on compensation for tin mines, the U.S.
government forced the revolutionary leadership to give in to demands
that resulted in depleting government resources.9 At a critical point
in the nation’s effort to become more self-sufficient, the U.S.
government forced Bolivia to use its scarce capital not for its own
development, but to compensate the former mine owners and repay its
foreign debts.

The Bolivian Economy and the Impact of U.S. Foreign Aid

By January 1953, the British Embassy could report to the Foreign Office
that President Paz Estenssoro, “was getting a lot of help and advice
from the Americans and knew when to bend his knee.”10 Thus, it was
clear from an early stage of the revolution that the economic weakness
of Bolivia combined with the economic power of the United States
allowed the latter to establish clear parameters for the revolution.

U.S. influence over Bolivia was enhanced greatly when, between March
and July 1953, the price of tin dropped by one-third.11 The Bolivians
were desperate for large-scale financial assistance. In a memo to
President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
argued that additional loans for Bolivia should be further postponed
until there was a clearer view of the country’s political direction and
payments prospects.12

In preparation for a meeting with Bolivian Foreign Minister Walter
Guevera, Dulles was advised by Assistant Secretary of State for Latin
America John Moors Cabot that he let the foreign minister know that
Bolivia’s chances of receiving aid would be enhanced by carrying out
the following actions:

(a) To dispel strong suspicions, still held by some sectors of American
opinion, that the Bolivian Government is dominated by communist

(b) To reach a prompt and just final settlement of claims arising from
the nationalization of mining properties in which there is an American

Following a U.S. threat to withhold further aid until perceived
radicals were removed from the government, Paz announced cabinet
changes in late October 1953, shifting the government’s ideological
composition to the right. As a result, a State Department official
observed that “the Embassy is under the definite impression that the
action of the United States Government in furnishing food grants to
Bolivia has begun to pay dividends.”14

Bolivian Minister Guevera confirmed to U.S. officials in Washington
that U.S. aid was responsible for placing pro-United States elements
“in a position of dominance.”15 Similarly, a National Intelligence
Estimate noted that the MNR government had become increasingly friendly
to the United States due to U.S. support of the regime.16

By this point, the Embassy could begin to influence some government
appointments, even for relatively minor posts. For example, by November
1953 the State Department could report that the appointment of an
alleged communist to teach at the newly-opened Military Academy was
canceled when the U.S. embassy voiced its objections.17 Assured of his
influence, Ambassador Edward J. Sparks could confidently predict that
“the Embassy expects the MNR Government progressively to limit the
opportunities for the Communist parties …”18

In addition to using the threat of aid withdrawal to push the Bolivian
government into taking a stronger anti-Communist stand and establishing
tentative compensation arrangements with former mine owners, the United
States also insisted that U.S. aid must be supervised by U.S. officials
at all levels.19

This aid was not enough to improve the standard of living in
Bolivia”then, as now, South America’s poorest country”but it made the
nation more dependent. A report of the Bolivian Planning Board noted
that “Rather than an impulse to improvement, the aid has represented a
means only of preventing worse deterioration in the situation as it

As a result, in subsequent years U.S. influence could be brought to
bear for greater economic concessions as well. For example, the
Petroleum Code of 1955, written by U.S. officials and enacted without
any public debate or alterations by Bolivian authorities, forced the
Bolivian government to forego its oil monopoly.21 Offers by the Soviet
Union to assist Bolivia with its nationalized oil industry were met by
a threatened withdrawal of U.S. aid.22 Similarly, the United States and
Bolivia signed an agreement in 1955 to encourage foreign investment.23
It was due only to this desperate need for foreign exchange and
pressure from the U.S. government that the once strongly nationalistic
MNR agreed to these concessions.24

In 1954, the United States took more direct authority over Bolivia’s
economy with the appointment of George Jackson Eder to take charge of
an economic stabilization program. Eder himself conceded that the MNR
government agreed to this decision “virtually under duress, and with
repeated hints of curtailment of U.S. aid.”25

Eder was executive director of the Stabilization Commission, every
member of which had to be ” persona grata to the U.S. embassy.”26 The
program, which bore striking resemblance to the Structural Adjustment
Programs which have since been imposed on dozens of debt-ridden
countries in Latin America and elsewhere, consisted of the devaluation
of the boliviano; an end to export/import controls, price controls, and
government subsidies on consumer goods; the freezing of wages and
salaries; major cutbacks in spending for education and social welfare;
and an end to efforts at industrial diversification.27

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Rubottom, in reference to a
Bolivian development plan supporting peasant farmers, said “We had to
tell the Bolivian Government that they couldn’t put their money into it
and we weren’t going to put ours into it.”28

Though nominally a technical adviser, Eder, a strong advocate of
monetarism, believed that Bolivia would be better off by leaving the
economy entirely in the hands of private enterprise. He was contracted
and paid by the U.S. government on the behest of the International
Monetary Fund to acquire direct administrative control of the
economy.29 This gave the U.S. government unprecedented power to control
the course of the Bolivian revolution.

Eder has written a detailed account of how he”as an agent of the U.S.
government”was able to implement a program that in his own words “meant
the repudiation, at least tacitly, of virtually everything that the
Revolutionary Government had done over the previous four years.” He
further described how his goal was to convince the new MNR
administration that stabilization would only be possible through a
total transition to a free market economy.30

Furthermore, Eder insisted that state-owned enterprises should be
returned to private hands, that compensation was to be guaranteed in
the event of any future nationalizations, and that all price controls
be repealed.31 His prescription for the favorable investment climate he
believed necessary was that the Bolivian government had to offer a
stable political environment, a strong currency, and labor conditions
that minimized the risks of any interference from labor or political

The effect of Eder’s prescriptions was not only to re-direct the
economic priorities of the revolution, particularly its efforts at
diversification of production, but to alter the revolution’s political
structure by effectively curbing the power of the trade unions and
displacing socialist-leaning leaders of the MNR. The MNR went so far as
to allow labor representatives into the government only if their unions
supported the stabilization program.33 Under the U.S.-encouraged and
subsidized reconstituted military, hostile union militias could by then
be neutralized.

The resulting split in the MNR dramatically reduced its mass base,
making the leadership even more dependent on U.S. financial and
political support.34 The MNR leadership, feeling threatened by the
movement’s left wing and facing resistance by the betrayed miners,
turned increasingly toward the resurrected military, and even sent an
elite army unit to the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas for
counterinsurgency training.

It became virtually impossible, then, for the MNR to balance its
independence, beliefs in the redistribution of wealth, and its
“anti-imperialist” rhetoric with the realities of dependency,
exacerbated by the economic crisis of 1956-57. The increasingly
alienated and apathetic peasantry, manipulated by competing political
factions, was too powerless to challenge this dramatic shift to the

In addition to various programs in agricultural development,
construction, technical assistance, and food aid, the U.S. government
also provided direct financial support of the general budget. In less
than 10 years, Bolivia had gone from a threatening revolutionary regime
to “the model for the Alliance for Progress.”35 Indeed, by the end of
the decade, U.S. aid programs to Bolivia were the largest in Latin
America and the highest per capita in the world, growing from $1.5
million in 1953 to $22.7 million in 1959.

The Bolivian revolution turned to the right under the presidency of
Siles Zuazo from 1956-1960 and continued the pattern under Paz
Estenssoro’s second term beginning in 1960. The massive popular base of
support which had previously defended the MNR from right wing attacks
and traditional conservative elements evaporated. By the time the army
seized control in 1964, there was little to stop it.

The End of the Revolution … and the Beginnings of a New One

In the end, the United States was able to overthrow the Bolivian
revolution without having to overthrow the government. The nation’s
high level of dependency made it possible for the United States to
steer the course of the revolution in a direction more compatible to
U.S. interests in Bolivia and the hemisphere.

The move was facilitated by the predominantly middle-class orientation
of the MNR and the inability of its more radical factions to ever
completely dominate the party. While the revolution succeeded in
undermining much of the old order through its breakup of the hacienda
system and its nationalization of the tin mines, it never succeeded in
really developing a new order to take its place. This made it possible,
in the words of Anthony Freeman of the State Department’s Bolivia desk,
for the United States “to channel the revolution in constructive

The United States chose a path of influencing the direction of the MNR
through large-scale financial support to the revolutionary government.
Indeed, U.S. influence over the MNR was actually greater than prior to
the revolution, since the old ruling class”tied to the tin
barons”maintained conflicting interests with the United States over the
price of tin.37 The U.S. National Security Council saw the successful
handling of the Bolivian situation as a model for making support of the
United States a criterion for aid.38 The United States would exploit to
the fullest this model in its future relations with countries in Latin
America and elsewhere.

In many respects, U.S. policy toward Bolivia proved to be a harbinger
of contemporary U.S. policy toward Latin America in the present age of
globalization. The so-called “Washington consensus,” backed by
U.S.-supported International Financial Institutions, has served as the
axis to institutionalize economic leverage to the extent that more
overt forms of intervention to advance strategic or economic interests
are no longer necessary.

U.S. policy toward Bolivia in the 1950s has been considered a major
foreign policy success. And though the final outcome of United States
policy was not as dramatic as what transpired in Guatemala during that
same period, the impact on the people of Bolivia”in terms of the human
costs of living within a system where once-promised social, economic,
and political rights were subsequently denied to the majority of the
population”was no less severe.

With the globalization of the economy, most Latin American countries
now have as few choices in choosing their economic policies as did
Bolivia back then. Perhaps the greatest significance of the U.S. role
in the taming of the Bolivian revolution is that it proved a training
ground for developing the model for what was to come throughout the

The government of Evo Morales, representing a popular mass base of
support from the country’s poor and indigenous majority, is very
different than the largely white, middle- class leadership of the MNR.
Similarly, economic support from oil-rich Venezuela and its efforts at
strengthening its economic relationships with its Latin American
neighbors and with Europe, also make it far less likely that today’s
government will buckle to the kind of pressure imposed by the United
States a half century earlier.

At the same time, unless and until Washington’s policies toward Latin
America are successfully challenged from within the United States,
there are real limits as to how much Bolivia’s government can improve
the economic conditions of its people.

End Notes

1. Memorandum by the director of the State Department’s Office of
South American Affairs (Atwood) to the Secretary of State NA

2. Stephen Rabe, Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of
Anticommunism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988,
p. 79.

3. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Volume IV: The
American Republics, p. 486.

4. Christopher Mitchell, The Legacy of Populism in Bolivia: From the
MNR to Military Rule, New York: Praeger, 1977, p. 55.

5. Rebecca Scott, “Economic Aid and Imperialism in Bolivia,” Monthly
Review, Volume 24; Number 1 (May 1972) p. 53.

6. Foreign Service Despatch, From: Rowell To: Department of State,
April 30, 1953 NA 724.00 (W)/4-3053.

7. Foreign Service Despatch, From: Rowell To: Department of State,
April 30, 1953 NA 724.00 (W)/4-3053.

8. Quoted in C. H. Weston, “An Ideology of Modernization: The Case of
the Bolivian MNR”, Journal of Inter-American Studies, Volume X, Number
1 (January 1968), p. 97.

9. Susan Eckstein, The Impact of Revolution: A Comparative Analysis of
Mexico and Bolivia, London: Sage Publications, 1975 p. 45.

10. British Foreign Office Records, Relations with Bolivia, Minutes FO
#AX1051/1, from Mr. Robinson, Jan. 8, 1953.

11. Report by Chief of Mission to Director of Mutual Security, Foreign
Service Despatch, From: Amb. Sparks To: Department of State, July 14,
1953 NA 724.5-MSP/7-1453.

12. Dulles papers, Eisenhower Library, October 13, 1953.

13. Memorandum, Cabot to Dulles, Subject: “Briefing for Call by
Bolivian Foreign Minister,” November 19, 1953 NA 724.5-MSP/11-1953.

14. Foreign Service Despatch, From: Rowell, American Embassy in La Paz,
To: Department of State in Washington, Nov. 4, 1953 NA 724.13/11-453.

15. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Volume IV: The
American Republics, p. 542.

16. Ibid.

17. Office Memorandum, From: OSA-W. Tapley Bennet, Jr. To: ARA-Mr.
Cabot Subject: “Evidence of Non-Communist Character of Bolivian
Government,” December 7, 1953 NA 724.00/12-753.

18. Foreign Service Despatch, From: Sparks, American Embassy in La Paz,
To: The Department of State in Washington, #258, Subject: “Opposition
Views on the MNR Government,” October 23, 1953 NA 724.00/10-2353.

19. Bernard Wood, “Foreign Aid and Revolutionary Development: The Case
of Bolivia, 1952-75,” Ottawa: School of International Affairs of
Carleton University, 1969, p. 10.

20. Cited in Wood, op. cit., p. 24.

21. Whitehead, Lawrence W. 1969. The United States and Bolivia: A Case
of Neo-Colonialism Oxford, U.K. Haslemere Group Publications, p. 11.

22. Scott, op. cit., p. 54.

23. Cole Blasier, The Hovering Giant: U.S. Response to Revolutionary
Change in Latin America 1910-1985, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh
Press, 1985 p. 78.

24. Robert J. Alexander, The Bolivian National Revolution, New York:
Rutgers University Press, 1958 pp. 168-169.

25. George Jackson Eder. Inflation and Development in Latin America: A
Case History of Inflation and Stabilization in Bolivia, Ann Arbor:
Bureau of Business, Research Graduate School of Business
Administration, University of Michigan p. 479. He further described
himself as “an invited, but scarcely welcome, guest of the Bolivian
Government.” p. ix.

26. Ibid., p. 64.

27. Scott, op. cit., p. 55. As an example of Eder’s authority, no new
bank notes could be issue by the Central Bank and no credits could be
granted to the government or any government agency without Eder’s
consent. All bills of an economic nature passed by Congress had to be
turned over to the commission, who would decide whether or not the
president should veto it.

(Eder, op. cit., pp. 91-93, 95).

28. Hearings on Mutual Security Act of 1960, U.S. House of
Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, 86th Congress, Second
Session, (1960), p. 847.

29. James Dunkerley, Rebellion in the Veins: Political Struggle in
Bolivia, 1952-82, Thetford: The Thetford Press, 1984 p. 86 .

30. Eder, op. cit., pp. 87-88.

31. Scott, op. cit., p. 55.

32. Eder, op. cit., p. 695.

33. Mitchell, op. cit., pp. 15-19.

34. Scott, op. cit., pp. 56-57.

35. Cole Blasier, “Introduction” to Victor Andrade, My Missions for
Revolutionary Bolivia, 1944-1962, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh
Press, 1976 p. xv .

36. Scott, op. cit., p. 53.

37. Whitehead, op. cit.

38. OCB Central File 091.4 Latin America (File #3) (3), Feb. 3, 1955,
Progress Report on NSC 5432/1, “United States Objectives and Courses of
Action With Respect to Latin America,” p. 8.