With Evo Morales re-elected in Bolivia because of his socialist policies, I am republishing this 2009 article based on FOIA docs that is a reminder that our own New Labour government did all it could for BP and British Gas to throw Morales off course- they failed -
February 6, 2009
When shops find out that something they sold contained unexpected dangers, they issue a product recall.
From time to time, small notices in a newspaper carry announcements such as "customers who purchased Binky the Rabbit children's T-shirts from our store should discontinue use and return them to us for a complete refund. Some units unexpectedly contain barbed wire and poisonous ants."
Our government should now be issuing a product recall through its embassies. "Customers who were persuaded by Britain and its G7 partners to use neoliberal policies should discontinue their use. These may cause unexpected economic instability, wipe away value and require emergency nationalisations."
Britain's foreign policy, like its economic policy, was based on worshipping banks which unfortunately turned out to be tin gods. Well, less than tin gods, because at least if they were you could melt down the metal and sell it on. By contrast, the banks were based on completely imaginary values, although they made very real transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich.
This looks most stark in Britain's relations with Latin America.
Bolivia, for example, made efforts to drag its citizens from poverty by nationalising their natural resources rather than being dictated to by the market.
This enraged British politicians, because our companies were trying hard to exploit Bolivia - Britain's United Utilities tried to run off with Bolivian water at Cochabamba, while BP and British Gas tried to make off with the country's hydrocarbons. This inspired urban uprisings that put Bolivia'ssocialist government in power, much to the regret of our Labour government.
Papers that I obtained from the Foreign Office under the Freedom of Information Act cover then foreign office minister Kim Howells's 2007 visit toBolivia. As I showed last year, the papers reveal that Howells used his time not to explore Bolivia's anti-poverty programmes or to understand how a socialist government could be so consistently popular. Instead, Howells nagged the Evo Morales government about nationalisation.
As the papers record, "Dr Howells used his meeting with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to express our concern about investment security in Bolivia, after the recent wave of nationalisations of European-owned companies in telecommunications and hydrocarbons.
"Bolivia had to compete with the rest of the world for investment. Investors needed to know that Bolivian investment rules would be consistent over the next 10 years. Private investment was, as in the UK, a key resource if the government wished to achieve priorities such as poverty reduction."
Well, as Britain has now been forced into its own emergency nationalisations, carried out in a British panic rather than with Bolivian planning, it seems obvious that Howells owes David Choquehuanca an apology.
However, the Foreign Office papers also show why being new Labour means never saying sorry - the documents show that Howells did not make a fraternal visit to the people of Bolivia. Instead, he came as an emissary of BP and British Gas.
One "steering brief" for Howells says: "Following the 1 May nationalisation of the hydrocarbons industries, which affected Shell, Ashmore and BP, the meeting with Choquehuanca is also an opportune time to discuss investment security."
Another preparatory paper notes that Howells would meet Choquehuanca and President Morales.
With Choquehuanca, Howells could "have a chance to make clear how the recent government measures and rhetoric, and the uncertainty over judicial security, act as a disincentive for potential foreign investors."
With Morales, "Dr Howells might, if there is time, also care to mention the nationalisation process, and how it is sending negative signals to international investors."
If Howells had any honesty, he would now have to visit Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson to warn them against their nationalisations.
Not content with representing British businessmen against Bolivia's government, the British embassy also organised a rally of discontented Bolivian businessmen as well.
Howells's visit included a talk with various Bolivian rightwingers who offered "a pessimistic message from economic and political analysts." Nobody was invited from the working-class suburbs of El Alto to deliver a positive message about Morales reform.
The Foreign Office documents record: "Dr Howells' visit usefully coincided with the visit of the EU Commission Director General for External Relations, Eneko Landaburu, who gave an equally robust private and public message on investment security to the Bolivian authorities after meeting EU and hydrocarbons company representatives."
Howells also used the local newspapers to moan at Morales.
"Dr Howells used his La Razon interview to make similar points (headline: 'This is a country with great investment insecurity'): Bolivia needed to open up to the world; investor confidence was one essential condition of Bolivia making progress in its key goals."
I am pleased to say that Bolivia's foreign minister sent Howells away with a flea in his ear, as "Choquehuanca admitted that Bolivia was taking a risk. But it was a government priority - on a popular mandate - for Bolivia to take back control of its natural resources 'after 500 years of pillage by foreigners.'
"The new constitution, once passed, guaranteed long-term investment, within the context of a strong state."
British ambassador to Bolivia Nigel Baker summed up Howells's visit with a sentence that is in equal parts comic and threatening.
He wrote: "Visits like that of Dr Howells are essential in getting our messages across, but also in flagging up the dangers faced by an inward-lookingBolivia. Drugs, energy security, investment security are all at risk if Bolivia goes the wrong way. (Information redacted)."
The idea that credit-crunch Britain knows the "right way" to send Bolivia seems silly. But the way that a secret, "redacted" sentence follows the possibility of Bolivia going the "wrong way" is, given the history of Latin America, downright sinister.