Bolivian parliamentarians seek greater understanding from UK counterparts
A delegation from the Plurinational Legislative Assembly of Bolivia undertook an inter-parliamentary visit to the UK Parliament from 17-21 June 2013. The delegation was led by Vice-President of the Chamber of Senators, Senator Nelida Sifuentes and included First Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies, Deputy Lucio Marca Mamani, Senator Eugenio Rojas, Senator Eduardo Maldonado and Deputy Angel David Cortez Villegas.
In their exchanges with UK parliamentarians, the delegation highlighted the significant changes which had occurred in Bolivia since the election of President Morales in late 2005 when he became the country’s first indigenous President. At his swearing-in in January 2006, he pledged to “re-found Bolivia” by enacting a new constitution and re-taking control of the country’s natural resources.
In a range of meetings with UK counterparts during the Westminster component of their visit, the delegation discussed the plight of street children, penal reform and criminal justice issues, unionism and human rights, environmental issues and developments in Latin America. The delegation also met with the Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Jeremy Browne MP, where the Bolivian delegation sought greater cooperation with the UK on law enforcement issues in relation to illicit drug production and trafficking in addition to meeting the APPG for Drug Policy Reform on the same topic. UK counterparts expressed strong interest in Bolivia’s approach to addressing the drugs issue, including balancing traditional use and cultivation of the cocoa leaf with efforts to prevent cocaine trafficking and address the negative impacts of transnational crime.
A parliamentary roundtable meeting chaired by Baroness Gibson, Chair of the Bolivia APPG, provided an important opportunity for detailed exchanges on political reform and social policies in Bolivia, bilateral relations with the UK, including trade and investment and other forms of cooperation, regional developments in Latin America, Bolivia’s bilateral relations with other countries and drug policy reform matters. In the course of wide-ranging discussions, the Bolivian delegation sought UK support for its claims against Chile currently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding regaining lost access to the Pacific Ocean. UK parliamentarians noted that any disputes of this sort were rightly ones for decision on their merits by the ICJ itself.
The Bolivian delegation said the key objective for Bolivia under President Morales was to ensure any harvesting of the country’s natural resources should serve the people first through better health, education and social conditions. They noted vulnerable groups, including indigenous people, women and the rural poor had advanced significantly since the President came to power under the political, economic and social reforms he has pursued. UK counterparts acknowledged the merits of efforts by the Morales Government to ensure Bolivia’s riches were not exploited and that financial returns were appropriately distributed throughout all its diverse communities. Nevertheless, UK parliamentarians also said that in seeking expanded UK trade and investment interest in Bolivia, authorities would have to provide significant reassurances of the legal protections for trade and investment. Bolivian legislators said investment laws currently under consideration in the National Assembly were designed to assuage such concerns and this bill should be passed in the next few months.
A meeting with FCO Minister, Hugo Swire MP, provided an opportunity for the Minister to highlight the UK’s efforts for intensifying its relationship in Latin America, including through commitment to greater diplomatic resources in the region and through expanding trade and investment and people to people links. He warmly welcomed inter-parliamentary exchanges of the sort being undertaken by the Bolivian delegation and was pleased that they were keen to learn more about the UK parliament, the country’s institutions and its people.
On the basis of their interest to learn more about devolution in the UK and the role of devolved parliaments (reflecting the changes in Bolivia to move to a plurinational system), the delegation also travelled to Scotland to visit Edinburgh. They received an extensive briefing from Dr Stephen Herbert from the UK and International Relations Office of the Scottish Parliament on its role and divisions of powers with Westminster and were given a tour of the Parliament. To learn more about the work of UK MPs at the grass roots level, on the final day of its programme the delegation visited the constituency office of the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, Mark Lazarowicz MP, to hear about the regular daily commitments of an MP and the nature of constituency work.
The BGIPU is grateful to all who contributed to the success of this visit, particularly members of the BGIPU Executive Committee and other members who hosted key events, as well as Clerks and other parliamentary staff who provided briefings. We also express our deep gratitude to the parliamentary authorities of the Plurinational Assembly of Bolivia for facilitating this visit and offer our deepest thanks to the Charge d’affaires a.i., Ms Paola Melendres, and all staff of the Bolivian Embassy in London for their valuable assistance and company throughout the visit.