Stepping Into the Spotlight

19 Jul, 2017 | Yasmin Rufo

History & Politics

Bolivia takes centre stage on the UN Security Council

On 7 April, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti Solíz, condemned the United States’ ‘unilateral attack’ on Syria during an emergency meeting of the Security Council, calling it a ‘serious violation of international law’. This was the first of what is certain to be many outspoken speeches that will be delivered by the Bolivian delegation during its time as a nonpermanent member of the influential United Nations Security Council for 2017–18 and as chair of the 1540 Committee, dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The power of the Security Council is immense. As of 1 January 2017, for the first time in nearly 40 years, Bolivia has a seat on it – and, for the month of June, its chairmanship – able to influence peace agreements, impose sanctions and authorise military force (although the five permanent members maintain veto power). Since joining the UN in 1945, Bolivia has already made use of its international role by introducing important resolutions on environmental policy and human rights. The Andean country, usually consigned to the chorus in international affairs, is finally taking centre stage – along with nine other nonpermanent members – for the next two years. Now, under the spotlight of the UNSC, Bolivia will also be able to illuminate what it considers to be pressing issues that the international community must address.

But Bolivia’s star turn on the UNSC shouldn’t detract from the work it’s been performing over the last several years. In fact, Bolivia has mostly performed contrary to the desires of the United States. In 2015, it voted against the United States of America on eight out of 13 occasions at the United Nations. Many locals are proud of the fact that Bolivia can and does openly oppose the northern behemoth internationally on numerous issues. Felis, a bus driver in La Paz, says, ‘[The United States] has always controlled us, and I’m glad we are finally pushing forward our agenda and getting the recognition we deserve.’ There is hope in La Paz that Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, will be able to continue standing up to the United States, fighting to ensure that Bolivia maintains its sovereignty and resists foreign interventions.

One of Bolivia’s successes is its campaign to represent indigenous peoples and bring their issues to the world's attention. Not only does the Bolivian constitution enshrine equal rights for indigenous peoples, but their rights are also backed up by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Adopted in 2007, the declaration, which Bolivia played an instrumental role in creating, ensures that the rights of indigenous people are upheld and maintained. Bolivia furthered its commitment to indigenous peoples by co-hosting the UN World Conference of Indigenous Peoples in 2014. This advocacy comes naturally to a country in which not only is the president indigenous, but also a majority of its population. ‘We will fight for everyone who has no voice locally, nationally or internationally,’ says Adriana Salvatierra, a young Bolivian senator from Santa Cruz.

Bolivia has also led the way for important UN Assembly resolutions on the environment, specifically the creation of the International Mother Earth Day, in 2009, and the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation, in 2010. The country’s UN delegation has also championed climate-change issues and ushered through resolutions ahead of the Climate Conference in Paris in 2016, which ended in an international agreement. Furthermore, President Evo Morales has championed climate-change action and water scarcity as key global issues, particularly relevant to the many Bolivians who faced a water crisis that led to dry taps in La Paz late last year. Using Bolivia’s specific water-supply problems to illustrate a global problem, Morales has also claimed that in ‘2050, four billion people will suffer from scarcity of water in the context of climate change.’ Lately, he has condemned the recent US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Bolivia is at the helm of the UNSC, which can influence peace agreements, impose sanctions and authorise military force.

Bolivia’s work on environmental issues at the United Nations is notable, and is certainly nothing new. Since 2009, Bolivia has prioritised preserving the environment – evident in the country’s constitution of 2009, which gives explicit rights to Mother Earth. In fact, Bolivia held the first-ever World People’s Conference on Climate Change in 2010, in which the Law of the Right of Mother Earth was drafted; in 2012, that bill was passed into Bolivian law.

In all, over the past nine years, Bolivia’s resolutions have been approved by the UN facing no opposition. In fact, Bolivia’s foreign minister claimed that ‘never before in the history of Bolivian diplomacy has the country had such an impact in the UN’. In the few months Bolivia has been on the Security Council, the country has already voiced its opinions on military action in Syria, as well as contributing to the debate on the issue of North Korea and nuclear security.  

A former Bolivian minister of justice, Virginia Velasco, emphasises the importance of the environmental work that the Bolivian delegation to the UN is making headway on. ‘It’s great we are participating in the UN and getting our issues put down on the table and encouraging other nations to follow our lead on improving the natural world,’ she says.

Beyond its role in these important resolutions, Bolivia is further expanding its international prestige by introducing new and innovative ways to address century-long problems, namely in response to the ‘war on drugs’. One of those solutions, which stands in opposition to US-imposed crop eradication, allows poor farmers to grow small plots of coca for internal consumption. Salvatierra, the senator from Santa Cruz, says, ‘We have developed significantly over the last 10 years, and now countries are looking to us to create solutions.’ In fact, earlier this year, a Colombian delegation visited Cochabamba to assess Bolivia’s regulation of coca and interdiction of cocaine production.

Bolivia has taken on a new international role, an important moment in the global spotlight.

Bolivia has taken on a new international role, an important moment in the global spotlight. This increase in power and exposure could be the catalyst needed to help a country with economic potential to represent its people and the important issues affecting them, as well as to promote their prophetic voice on all matters of policy. At this exciting time for the country, Bolivia can make bold moves in the international diplomatic sphere.


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