August 04, 2010
Bolivia-Iran Foreign Relations
Bolivia has publicly endorsed Iran’s pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy with statements from various government officials indicating support for the country’s nuclear program. Trade and energy agreements between La Paz and Tehran in September 2007 confirmed the increasingly friendly nature of two countries’ relationship, while highlighting "the rights of developing nations to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." Similarly, in June 2008, Gonzalo Lazcano Murillo, a member of Bolivia’s parliament, claimed that Iran was only seeking "peaceful and scientific" civilian nuclear technology. In September 2008, Bolivian President Juan Evo Morales told Iranian Press TV that his country opposes United Nations attempts to censure Tehran’s uranium enrichment program, saying that the international organization’s position “lacks any legal or technical justification.”
The Associated Press published an Israeli intelligence report in May 2009 claiming that Iran was obtaining supplies of uranium from Bolivia and Venezuela, though both Bolivia and Iran denied trading the nuclear material. Bolivian Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazu responded to the Israeli allegations by claiming that Bolivia does not even produce uranium, let alone export it. That same month, YNet, an Israeli news website, obtained a detailed dossier drafted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Iran’s activities in South America. The report claimed that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez contributed significantly to the strengthening of ties between Iran, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua by inviting Ahmadinejad to presidential inauguration ceremonies held in these countries.
Iran and Bolivia have, in recent years, pursued deeper trade and diplomatic relations, signing a trade and energy agreement in September 2007, with Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies approving an indefinite extension of the agreement in May 2010. Iranian involvement in the Bolivian economy extends to investment in and technological support for industrial projects such as dairy factories, agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric dam construction. Apart from the sending of advisory delegations, Iran has also cooperated with Bolivia’s influential neighbor, Venezuela in several joint projects, including a $230 million loan to help Bolivia establish a cement company. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic, in 2007, went so far as to pledge $1 billion worth of aid to the country.
Demonstrating the extent to which Iran and Bolivia have improved economic ties, President Evo Morales, speaking in November 2007, lauded Iranian investment and claimed that that his country relies heavily on Iran’s assistance in industry, production, and capital investment. In a move that could potentially serve to further enhance economic ties, after the United States suspended his country’s tax-exempt privileges in December 2008, Morales stated that he will seek to utilize Iran and China as alternate markets for Bolivian goods.
In May 2009, Arsalan Fathi-Pour, the Iranian head of the Iran-Bolivia Parliamentary Friendship Group, told Bolivian Minister of Rural Development and Lands Julia Ramos Sanchez that his country is ready to transfer its knowledge of development and agriculture to Bolivia.
In addition to smaller industrial projects, Iran has begun to assist Bolivia in developing its gas sector. Although Bolivia possesses some of the most substantial gas reserves in Latin America, it has failed to fully take full advantage if its energy trade potential. In order to finance further energy cooperation in the region, Iran and Venezuela have agreed to establish a joint oil company, Beniroug. The first secretary of energy affairs for the Venezuelan Embassy in Tehran, Louis Mayta, has noted that the firm “allows [Iran and Venezuela] to make investments and activities [sic] in other countries, including Cuba, Sudan, China and Bolivia.”
In July 2009, the Iranian government agreed to provide $280 million in low-interest loans to Bolivia. The plan came under criticism by several members of the Iranian parliament in August, however, when dissenting members of parliament claimed that the government had failed to follow constitutional guidelines requiring parliamentary approval.
Iran and Bolivia have worked to considerably deepen their diplomatic relationship since Bolivian President Evo Morales first met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007. As Iran’s Fars News Agency reported in June 2008, “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's  visit to Bolivia opened a new chapter in expanding relations between the two countries.” Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that the government intends to further develop its ties with Bolivia and many of its neighbors. Significantly, Bolivia has moved its only embassy in the Middle East from Egypt to Iran and Iran has announced the opening of a new embassy in Bolivia.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has visited Tehran on multiple occasions and has declared his country’s support for Ahmadinejad’s “stance against imperialism.” Such support was clearly visible during the January 2009 conflict in Gaza, when Morales expressed his solidarity with Iran in support of Palestinians in the territory and severed relations with Israel.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met with his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, in August 2009, during which Choquehuanca called on Iran to invest in Bolivia’s technology and industrial sectors. Later that year, in November 2009, Ahmadinejad visited Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela in what has been seen as an effort to counter international pressure targeting his country’s nuclear program. President Morales met Ahmadinejad at the airport in La Paz and escorted him to the government palace where the two publicly pledged mutual cooperation between Bolivia and Iran.
In December 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Latin American countries against becoming too closely involved with Iran, suggesting that such moves could result in diplomatic consequences. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded by saying that such remarks were “an overt threat, especially at Venezuela and Bolivia.” The Bolivian and Iranian foreign Ministries were also critical of Clinton’s comments. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast chided the secretary for her statement, saying that it infringed on accepted diplomatic norms.
In May 2010, President Ahmadinejad publically called for the expansion and deepening of relations between Iran and Bolivia. In a meeting with Bolivian Ambassador to Iran Jorge Miranda Luizaga, Ahmadinejad said that "the two countries should enhance [their] level of mutual, multilateral, and international cooperation." In July 2010, Luizaga announced an upcoming visit by President Morales to Iran later in the summer. The ambassador also reemphasized his country’s support for Iran's nuclear program and the need for diplomatic dialogue to reach a settlement on the issue.