Kenneth D. Lehman. Bolivia and the United States: A Limited Partnership. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1999. xviii + 296. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8203-2116-5.
Reviewed by David Sheinin (Department of History, Trent University)
Published on H-LatAm (November, 2000)
This is the first expertly researched synthesis of United States-Bolivian relations that draws on a rich understanding of the Bolivian historical literature, historical writing in the United States, and sound primary research in both countries. There is too little in the book on the cultural and other influences of the United States on Bolivia before 1900. Even so, Kenneth D. Lehman writes compellingly about Bolivia and this is the study's primary strength; Lehman knows Bolivia as well or better than any author in this University of Georgia Press series knows the country concerned in their study of bilateral ties with the United States. The result is a strongly lucid and fluid account of relations that is both incisive and easy to read.
The framework of the analysis is unusual. Drawing in part on his work on the Bolivian Revolution and U.S. relations with revolutionary governments after 1953, Lehman applies a dependency theory methodology to the current study. It works. Unlike the variants of the theory advanced during the 1960s and 1970s that highlighted the role of the state and business, power relations, and structures of exploitation, Lehman moves beyond these factors to add cultural, ideological, psychological, and other components. What he finds is that Bolivian-United States relations have moved through distinct unequal partnerships. Such periods have tended to begin with common interests "but almost invariably they have ended in frustration followed by imposition on the part of the patron, and by submission, resentment, and finally resistance on the part of the client" (p.xiv).
Lehman begins with a useful comparison of Spanish and British colonial enterprises in the new world that led to profound distinctions between perceptions, cultures, and national mythologies in the newly independent nations of Bolivia and the United States. Bilateral relations before 1870 hold strong parallels with relations between the United States and other South American states and here the author presents no important new conclusions. There is little American business and diplomatic interest in Bolivia. As in Argentina, Peru, and Brazil, there was a rapid increase in American investment and trade in Bolivia after 1870. By the early 1870s, Americans owned a stagecoach line, a bank, a mint in Potosi, as well as several railroad concessions. The section on the War of the Pacific is excellent. According to Lehman, "It is difficult to decide which were more spectacular, Bolivia's mistakes in precipitating the War of the Pacific or the mistakes made by the United States in trying to resolve it." The first major US diplomatic initiative in South America -- to help find a solution to the Chile-Peru-Bolivia conflict and to avert the potential intervention of European powers -- came up short because of poor planning on the part of the Americans and the absence of a clear strategy for the region.
A chapter that frames Bolivia's emergence as a major tin exporter in the early twentieth century with a conception of US-Bolivian relations through world systems analysis and dependency theory is refreshingly sharp. Lehman offers a strongly researched review of the rise of Bolivian tin, the reintegration of the country into the post-World War I world economy, growing US interests in the commodity, and tin as a framework for the origins of a twentieth century dependent relationship between the two countries. He paints a more complicated and in-depth story of United States penetration in Bolivian tin than has generally been advanced in the historical literature. The nature of US dominance in the Bolivian political economy had nothing to do with resource ownership on the model of United Fruit in Guatemala.
Lehman highlights Patino's decision at the outset of the First World War to sever his ties with Germany and to finance the first tin smelters in the United States with the backing of the Guggenheims and the British smelter Williams Harvey. Largely due to Patino's action, Bolivian exports to the US jumped from $200,000 in 1913 to over $35 million by the end of the war. It was a lesson in the formative power of the US economy, but also in the vagaries of international markets and Bolivian possibilities. When, at the end of the war, the United States tin-plate industry returned to its pre-war Malayan tin suppliers, the American smelters closed. Lehman outlines both the precariousness of the Bolivian economy through the 1920s and the growing power Americans wielded in helping to set Bolivian fiscal policies in the oil sector and through private credits.
The book weaves together expertly the origins of the Patino-led international tin cartel, the international impact of the Chaco War, and the growing United States interest in Bolivian tin and oil after 1939. Lehman notes a crucial shift in bilateral ties after 1940. During the 1930s, "a sense of genuine, if limited good neighborliness" (p.87) guided relations between the two countries. That came to an end with the signing of the first tin agreement between Bolivia and the United States in 1940. In the years that followed, Americans intervened repeatedly in Bolivia's internal affairs while making commitments to Bolivian development. By 1946, Americans bought more than half of Bolivia's tin and dominated the international tin market on which Bolivia was dependent. In Bolivia, an admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt was substituted by the late 1940s for a resentment for what Lehman calls the "swarm" of United States experts who arrived in ever greater numbers. Victorious in war and with a thriving economy, during the Cold War Americans viewed Bolivia, along with other South American countries, with increasing scorn and, in Bolivia's case, diplomatic disengagement.
Though based on little new primary research, Lehman's approach to the Bolivian Revolution and the US response is a useful review of key themes. Readers may still remain curious about why the US took such a low-key approach to what Secretary of State John Foster Dulles initially viewed as a Communist threat in Bolivia. Lehman reviews accepted versions of why the Americans reacted so mildly --physical distance, strong American tin stockpiles, and the relatively junior status of State Department officials who directed Washington's Bolivia policies. Lehman notes that "it certainly helped that there was no United Fruit Company in Bolivia to plaster news of radical MNR (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario) reforms across the pages of U.S. newspapers" (p.107). He also stresses the lack of a reasonable alternative to the MNR once the military was broken and traditional political parties marginalized. Lehman presents some interesting documentation to support this line of thinking in the State Department but, in the end, does not explain how such calm prevailed in Washington at a tense moment in Cold War conflict.
Lehman's greatest strength is his chapters on the past forty years which, like other parts of the volume, are not based principally on ample new primary research, but rather a thorough review, synthesis, and analysis of the existing scholarly literature. He dissects the sudden collapse of bilateral ties in 1959 and explains two days of violent public protest in La Paz by pointing to what he calls the paradox of Bolivian dependency. The MNR had forged a "special relationship" with the United States during the 1950s on the basis of a plan for American development assistance toward a reduction of dependency on the US in the future. For their part in the bargain, the Americans insisted on an open break by the MNR with the political left, which was not a profound imposition on the revolutionary government. Hallmarks of the special relationship included strong Bolivian backing for the United States position in the toppling of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, which for Lehman, marked an abandonment of independence in foreign policy. The Americans, in turn, devoted resources to Bolivian development projects, but with generally unsatisfactory results. Aid to Bolivia during the Eisenhower administration dropped sharply as the government cut back on foreign assistance projects. Donated food aid from the United States sometimes helped undermine local production, prolonging "economically foolish but politically expedient policies to subsidize food imports, policies that pleased urban consumers and miners but prolonged the stagnation of the grain-growing peasant highlands" (p.119).
During the Alliance for Progress, the Kennedy Administration increased assistance to Bolivia by 600 percent between 1960 and 1964. Even so, Lehman notes a waning American commitment to Bolivian democracy through 1963. When asked by a high-ranking Bolivian military official how the United States would react to a coup, the visiting head of the U.S. Army's Southern Command commented only that such a development would represent a Bolivian internal matter. Lehman argues that the U.S. policy helped undermine Victor Paz Estensorro's government in its final stages, though the that argument is not as clearly shown as some others. The book places special emphasis on the emergence of the National Security state in the United States and its importance in helping to shape bilateral ties, particularly with respect to the training of hundreds of Bolivian military officers at the School of the Americas after 1958. In 1963, all of the senior class at the Bolivian military academy went through training at the American jungle warfare facility in Panama. Appropriately, the book ends with the intersection of the emergence of the predominant cocaine economy in Bolivia after 1980, the return of a strong dependent relationship, and the disturbing links of a new political elite in Bolivia that is increasingly tied to a US-influenced technocracy.
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