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Last Updated:5/28/03
Update: U.S. support of Bolivian Police reform marks shift in policy

U.S. support of Bolivian Police reform marks shift in policy

The U.S. embassy in La Paz is offering Bolivia’s National Police its first significant non-drug war assistance in years. In an announcement on May 19, Gen. Edgar Pardo, Bolivia’s national police commander, revealed his plans for the force’s “reinforcement,” a series of changes to personnel practices, training and improvements to police equipment. The plan, Pardo confirmed, is to enjoy U.S. government backing. [1] On May 2, the U.S. embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section delivered a package of more than a million dollars’ worth of non-lethal police equipment for Bolivia, including uniforms, boots, and riot police helmets. [2]

The donation, and Gen. Pardo’s announcement that more is on the way, come three months after clashes between striking police officers and government troops on February 12 and 13, which led to two bloody days of violence and rioting in La Paz. [3] The February violence deeply shook the new, pro-U.S. government of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who took office in late 2002 after gaining only 22.5 percent of the popular vote in a wide field of candidates. Sánchez, a former president, barely edged out the candidate of the “Movement Toward Socialism” party, coca-growers’ leader Evo Morales. (The week before the voting, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha had warned that a Morales victory “will endanger the future of U.S. assistance to Bolivia.”)

Throughout the 1990s and until now, almost all U.S. support for Bolivia’s security forces – over a quarter of a billion dollars since 1998 – has been tied to the drug war. Military and police equipment and training have been funded through counter-drug programs and managed by the U.S. embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section, in support of efforts to stop drug smuggling and to eradicate coca plants by force. (Bolivia does its forced eradication manually; Colombia is the only country in the hemisphere that carries out aerial herbicide fumigation.)

Unlike nearly all aid since the end of the cold war, the new aid being contemplated for Bolivia’s police will not be narcotics-related. Instead, it will help the fragile Sánchez government to keep order.

According to the State Department’s 2004 foreign aid budget request, a new objective in Bolivia is to “educate, train, and equip the Bolivian security forces to increase their effectiveness in their traditional national security role.” [4] Indeed, the budget request indicates that Bolivia will receive a fourfold increase (to $2 million) in assistance through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) account in 2003. FMF is the main non-drug military-aid program in U.S. foreign aid law. It is the same program used to fund Israel and Egypt, Central America in the 1980s, and the ongoing pipeline-protection program in northeastern Colombia.


[1] "EEUU impulsa el cambio de imagen de la Policía boliviana," La Prensa (Bolivia), May 20, 2003 <http://www.laprensa-bolivia.net//20030520/politica/politica01.htm>

[2] U.S. Embassy Bolivia, "Estados Unidos apoya mejoramiento de Policía Nacional," May 2, 2003 <http://lapaz.usembassy.gov/DOCS/050220.htm>.

[3] “Rioting , Clashes in Bolivian Capital Kill 16,” The Washington Post, February 14, 2003 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A5242-2003Feb13&notFound=true>.

[4] U.S. Department of State, "Western Hemisphere," from FY 2004 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, February 13, 2003 <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/17790.pdf>.

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