Courtesy Reuters

...A Long Way From The Top

By John G. Heimann and Kathleen Jennings

To the Editor:

Michael Shifter makes several worthy points about the predicaments of the southern Andean states of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. A recent Council on Foreign Relations preventive action report, Andes 2020: A New Strategy for the Challenges of Colombia and the Region, similarly addresses the profound weakness of the political, economic, judicial, and social welfare systems throughout the Andes, and proposes recommendations to U.S., Andean, and international policymakers for creating more equitable, accountable, and secure democracies in the region. Shifter's discussion of the threats to Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, however, overlooked or sidestepped some key issues that merit greater consideration.

Shifter simultaneously lauds and frets over the explosion in popular political participation in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, cautioning that the political and institutional ramifications of the enfranchisement of marginalized populations could be severe. Yet he largely ignores the deleterious effects of the self-interested policies pursued by much of the political and economic elite.

For too long, Andean elites have profited from their societies while investing little in them. These elites must be held accountable by equitably reforming and strictly enforcing the state revenue systems, which are plagued by widespread tax evasion, corruption, and a dependence on value-added taxes. The ineffectiveness of these systems inhibits governments from making sufficient investments in infrastructure and development. U.S. and international policymakers also have a part to play in cajoling and pressuring elites to play a constructive role in their own societies.

Furthermore, Shifter argues that U.S. drug policy is flawed in part because it treats each individual country separately, but he does not push that insight to its logical conclusion, which is that all cross-border problems-be they strategic, political, economic, development, social, security, or humanitarian in nature-require integrated cross-border approaches. Thus, although he notes a common disintegrative element to the political crises in the southern Andes, Shifter stops short of formulating a truly regional approach, including regional trade agreements, to common problems for both U.S. policymakers and Andean governments. Such an approach would leverage regional capabilities and strengths in pursuit of collective and national security, trade, development, and political and economic interests.

Finally, Shifter calls for the U.S. government to substantively re-engage with the southern Andes, but then limits that re-engagement to making U.S. drug policy multilateral and reaching bilateral trade agreements. Although we agree that U.S. drug policy needs a massive overhaul on both the supply and demand sides, we feel that current U.S. policy places too great an emphasis on counternarcotics and security issues and too little emphasis on crucial complementary strategies such as sustainable rural and border development, strategic land reform, poverty reduction, infrastructure development, the creation of legitimate economic opportunities in agriculture and industry, and expanded market access and political inclusion for the poor majority.

By fighting a destructive and divisive drug war in the region, but doing comparatively little to combat the debilitating poverty and institutional fragility that threatens the lives of Andean citizens and states, the United States is abdicating its responsibility.

John G. Heimann

Co-Chair, Andes 2020 Project, Council on Foreign Relations

Kathleen Jennings

Project Officer, Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, and Staff Member, Andes 2020 Project