Bolivian Armed Forces' Growing Mission
May 30, 2008 - Email from Kathryn Ledebur, Andean Information Network


Morales administration promotes legislation to formalize a law enforcement role for the Military

Although the Vice Minister of Law Enforcement calls the military new actors, they have been carrying out a wide variety of police duties since the Banzer administration. While coca reduction is currently carried out through negotiations with farmers'the Joint Task Force continues to pull out coca plants. Forced eradication could begin in the coming months in areas of new coca planting.

In March'the Morales administration enacted a Supreme Decree giving the armed forces a key role in enforcing customs regulations. and confiscating contraband at the borders'including authorization to arrest offenders. Although I think that Ret. Gen Cesar Lopez (army commander under the Mesa administration) is making an honest effort'it is interesting to note that traditionally military officers look forward to border postings as the most profitable part of their careers. Today'the Morales administration formalized the role of the military in the war on contraband. The expanded mission includes the ability to temporarily confiscate vehicles.

Morales administration officials maintain a policy of redefining the role of the military. In addition'under the Morales government'the armed forces are in charge of baking subsidized bread (the regular price has gone up 270 percent in the past year)'as well as passing out bonuses to schoolchildren and senior citizens.

Where do the armed forces stand?

Military officers seem to be divided over the expansion of thei r mission. The officer class is overall pleased about significant increases in salaries and benefits and the executive's praise for the institution. A Although Venezuelan financial and material support has been welcomed Chavez's public statements about Bolivian politics have rankled them. In the Cochabamba Carnaval'a group of officers paraded dressed as Chavez with a sign that said' Callte! This attitude is similar to Bolivian officers relationship with the United States government. They are generally pleased to have US funded and based training opportunities'which were considered prerequisites for key promotions'as well as equipment and infrastructure'yet military personnel rejected direct US policy impositions'such as antidrug efforts'as a violation of national sovereignty.

Although there have been public protest by retired officers representatives'at this time the armed forces in active duty appear to be firmly behind the Morales government. Furthermore'the institution will continue to categorically reject aggressive regional autonomy initiatives or threats of secession as risks to both national sovereignty and the budget they receive from the national government. One high-ranking officer told AIN'The only way the military would even remotely consider a coup'is if they took away most of our budget; at the core were really a bunch of bureauc rats.

It is interesting to note that the Morales administration makes deliberate concessions to the armed forces'especially after incidents that provoke friction. For example'in an apparent attempt to soothe ruffled feathers after Sucre citizens and students threw rocks at and threatened a military unit sent to provide security for President Moraless aborted visit. They forced the soldiers to carry Sucres flag for several blocks. This incident provoked friction between the armed forces and the police force'that left the area in spite of the conflict. Two days later'President Morales urged the Bolivian Senate to approve a law to purchase approximately 100 new vehicles for the armed forces and a law reinstating ma ndatory military service for Bolivian males.

Kathryn Ledebur
Director, Andean Information Network