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.