South American Leaders Hope Diplomacy Can Save Bolivia
By Monica Vargas
September 15, 2008
SANTIAGO, Sept 14 (Reuters) - South American presidents
are racing to prevent a deeper political crisis in
Bolivia, where President Evo Morales has accused right-
wing opponents of trying to topple him, but diplomacy
may not be enough to avert more deadly protests.
Regional leaders will gather in the Chilean capital
Santiago on Monday, hoping to repeat a diplomatic
success scored in March when they coaxed Andean nations
away from armed conflict that would have pitted
Colombia, a U.S. ally, against Venezuela and Ecuador.
At that time, like now, the United States, which has
seen its influence in Latin America wane because of
President George W. Bush's war on terrorism and the rise
of leftist leaders in the region, was not at the
Other regional heavyweights, especially Brazil, are
stepping in to fill the void. And virtually all South
American leaders, be they left-wing or conservative,
have rallied around Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous
The Bolivian government said on Sunday that Morales
would fly to Santiago for the meeting with the leaders
of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
"A civil war in Bolivia would be terrible not just for
Bolivia but for the region. It would would affect the
national security of many countries," said Ricardo
Israel, a professor of international relations in Chile.
"Expectations are too high. The only thing the leaders
can do is encourage both sides in Bolivia to negotiate,
and it's not clear they will agree to do that."
Bolivia, a volatile country in the center of South
America, has suffered chaos in the past week during
clashes between supporters of Morales and right-wing
governors who want more autonomy. About 30 people have
The summit will be a test of the nascent South American
Union of Nations, or Unasur, a 12-member group created
in May. Its key members participated in a Group of Rio
summit in March that quickly ended the Andean crisis.
Both groups are seen as alternatives to the U.S.-
dominated Organization of American States, or OAS.
In an unusual move, right-wing governors opposed to
Morales' plans for deep socialist reforms demanded a
seat at the table in Santiago with regional heads of
state, though their plea could be denied.
The leaders may have their hands full just trying to
craft a diplomatic response that pleases everybody.
Brazil, which depends on natural gas imports from
Bolivia, is keenly worried about energy security, while
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Morales, has
entered a loud diplomatic dispute with Washington.
Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador on Thursday -- after
Morales threw out the American ambassador in La Paz and
accused him of fomenting protests against his leftist
Washington, in retaliation, sent home diplomats from the
two countries and imposed sanctions on Venezuelan
officials it accused of helping Colombian rebels smuggle
"The Unasur leaders are in somewhat of a trap. On the
one hand, they want to show their support to a
democratic, unified and stable Bolivia. On the other,
they need to distance themselves from Chavez's personal
feud with the U.S.," said Patricio Navia, a political
scientist at New York University.
(Additional reporting by Ray Colitt in Santa Cruz,
Bolivia; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Fiona Ortiz
and David Wiessler)