Requiring visas from Americans

Today Evo Morales issued a decree that will require American citizens to obtain a visa before the enter Bolivia. In the past, Americans could come and obtain a free 30-day (or even 90-day) visa upon arrival. You can read more about it in English or in Spanish.

Evo cites reciprocity as the primary reason for the change. Bolivians who travel to America are required to have visas, so now Bolivia will make the same requirement of Americans. He also cited security as another reason, pointing out that an American exploded a bomb in La Paz last year (though he conveniently fails to mention the American had a Uruguayan accomplice).

The Bolivian government has essentially bumped America into their bottom-class list, with countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan.

As an American who travels to Bolivia regularly, this bothers me a lot. Here’s why:

It’s hypocrisy.The United States is far from the only country that requires Bolivians to have visas to enter. Here are just a few others I found while searching the web: Canada, Australia, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela. Why didn’t Evo also demand reciprocity from these (especially Venezuela)? Because he doesn’t really care about reciprocity. It’s clear “reciprocity” is just a pretext to have a policy that antagonizes the U.S.

This will hurt Bolivia more than the U.S. It’s not as though millions of Americans need to get into Bolivia. Generally speaking, most Americans who travel to Bolivia are going as tourists. I believe this will hurt Bolivia’s tourism industry significantly.

It affects friends of Bolivia, not its enemies. Many Americans who work for NGOs, charities, missions, and aid groups or Americans with Bolivian friends or family will be impacted by this. These are people who care about Bolivia. I am one of those people, and so is my daughter (who doesn’t have Bolivian citizenship).

It hurts relations with the U.S. government. Evo doesn’t want Bolivia to be America’s lap dog. And rightfully so. But there is a middle ground between that extreme and the other: antagonizing the U.S. like Venezuela and Cuba. It seems clear that this policy is intended primarily to antagonize the U.S. It’s tantamount to a child sticking his tongue out and saying “nyah!” There are better ways to solve the problems between America and Bolivia.

Some will argue, “What you’re feeling now is what Bolivians have had to feel because they must get visas from the U.S.” Fair enough. But there is a difference. Bolivians are emigrating from their country in large numbers. Most end up in places like Spain where emigration from Bolivia isn’t as tightly controlled. If the U.S. were to ease restrictions, it would open the floodgates to Bolivians seeking to live in the U.S. The reverse is not true, however. There is no flood of Americans seeking to live in Bolivia. Reciprocity sounds good in principle, but it is not practical and it doesn’t reflect the reality of the relationship between the two countries.

Anyway, this news is new enough that there’s not much official to be seen on the web. Neither the Bolivian government site, the Bolivian embassy, nor the American embassy mention it. Additionally I haven’t seen any of the major Bolivia bloggers talking about it. I imagine it will be a topic of some conversation in the days ahead.

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud is married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niƱitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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5 Responses to Requiring visas from Americans

  1. sergio says:

    The visa requirement will mostly hurt the Potosi and La Paz departments deeply because the cities, mines and the Salar de Uyuni are one of the biggest tourist attractions. Most tourists visit the altiplano and this policy will leave the Bolivian West with even less money.
    Evo is a moron.
    tunari.tripod.com

  2. eduardo says:

    Your daughter qualifies for Bolivian citizenship, and I think you could register her next time you are in Bolivia. Fortunately, the GOB now allows for dual citizenship.

  3. Josh Renaud says:

    Eduardo, you are correct. We have not yet taken the steps to get her citizenship, though we intend to.
    Since she doesn’t have that citizenship yet the visa situation is a bigger hassle for us.
    We may need to move quickly on her citizenship, though, given the escalation of diplomatic antagonism between Bolivia and U.S.

  4. jordan says:

    hi from warsaw!, i found your post on Global Voices…
    here in poland, poles must also pay a non-refundable visa fee of $100 to get a usa visa, and could be rejected (seemingly at the wim of the interviewing official)….some feel that the economic burden helps weed out the serious from the not-so-serious…but it does leave a bad taste in one’s mouth about the usa’s immigration policy…byebye, jordan

  5. Josh Renaud says:

    Jordan, thanks for the note. Obviously, I am not a fan of obtaining a visa to visit a country. I know it is an inconvenience and a burden for all who have to do it.
    Sometimes such policies are simply unfair and unjustified. That maybe the case with the U.S. policy toward Poland, I don’t know.
    But I don’t believe it is the case between the U.S. and Bolivia… The visa requirement is necessary to prevent illegal immigration into the U.S. There are thousands of Bolivians trying to get out. Right now they mostly go to Spain, but they would surely come to the U.S. if there was no visa requirement.