Bolivia’s current president, Evo Morales, is somewhat of an anti-american far left socialist. He regularly criticizes the United States and once evicted their entire diplomatic mission during a disagreement over coca production. Unsurprisingly, he is also a prominent member of the Latin American Socialist Presidents Club which has included fellow comrades such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chaves, and Rafael Correa, to name a few.
So it should come as no surprise that Evo supports Palestine over the American backed Israelis in the Gaza conflict. What has been surprising, however, is the extremes to which he has offered his solidarity with the Palestinians. Throwing any notion of diplomacy aside, Morales publicly described Israel as a “Terrorist State”. He then declared that any Israeli tourists wishing to enter Bolivia must first apply for a US$135 visa.
What makes his stance particularly controversial is its complete disregard for the disastrous impact a decline in Israeli visitors will have on the local tourism industry.
In Israel it is compulsory to serve three years of military service during your late teens. To celebrate the completion of this service, pretty much everyone goes on an extended backpacking trip of which a large proportion decide to visit South America.
Given it’s reputation for being ridiculously cheap and completely loco, Bolivia is a must see destination among these young and adventurous Israeli backpackers, meaning tens of thousands of them are spread across the country at any given time. Bolivia has Israeli run hostels, Israeli restaurants that serve Shak Shuka and Hummus, hippy fashion shops that advertise in Hebrew and Israeli tour companies that cater to their extreme ex-military interests.
Considering the Israeli backpacker’s reputation for traveling as cheaply as possible, it is reasonable to assume that many will skip Bolivia to avoid paying the hefty new visa fee. Furthermore, considering El Presidente has branded them all terrorists, they might well feel a little bit unwelcome in Bolivia.
It’s fairly certain that Bolivia will see a significant decline in Israeli visitors which will have a serious impact on the low-end backpacker tourism industry. Places like Rurrenabeque (popular with Israelis for it’s jungle tours) will see businesses closing in droves. Hordes of Bolivians will be forced out of work as the tourism jobs start to dry up.
So, will Evo’s fierce moral stance be worth the economic downturn?
I can understand putting pressure on Israel to stop massacring civilians in Gaza, people who are largely innocent and have certainly suffered enough already. However, I somehow don’t think that Israel’s hard-line Zionist leaders will consider the price of a visa in Bolivia when negotiating their next peace agreement.
The way I see it, Evo has compromised the financial security of his own people in a futile attempt to influence a war zone on the other side of the globe which has no tangible effect on Bolivia.
Rurrenabeque has suffered greatly over the years, with many tourism business having shut their doors long ago. Despite relative peace in Gaza, the visa fee still remains in effect.