Bolivia’s Morales Goes Down an Ugly Road

bloomberg viewPresident Evo Morales is a Bolivarian success story. While Latin America’s marquee populist brand has lost its charm in much of the region, Bolivia’s caudillo soldiers on. He’s governed for 11 years, longer than any other leader in the small, landlocked Andean country’s troubled political history, surviving electoral challenges, constitutional assemblies, mass protests and the commodities slump.

Yet the region’s senior strongman is still angling for a grander prize. This week, Morales lifted the hands-off law for the Isiboro Secure National Park. The waiver, endorsed earlier by the government-friendly senate, means the huge preserve, known by its acronym TIPNIS, is now fair game for loggers, ranchers and farmers. And since much of the region’s farming is dedicated to coca, the waxy leaf from which cocaine is made, the world has taken notice.

Lifting the development ban officially revives the Morales government’s longstanding plan to bisect the park with a transnational highway, linking the Andean foothills to the Amazon and on, eventually, to Brazil and the Atlantic. That would be a mistake. Though billed as a corridor of prosperity, to unlock natural wealth like timber and minerals, the road has an ominous downside. Not long after Morales first announced the project in 2009, the Bolivian Institute for Strategic Research predicted that it could unleash a rush of commercial predators and destroy 610,000 hectares, nearly 65 percent of the Jamaica-sized park, by 2029. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

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