LA PAZ — The 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously declared that states do not have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Circumstances and interests bring states closer or push them apart. I was reminded of the quote after the recent decision taken by Bolivia's President Evo Morales to recall his ambassador in Brazil in protest at the Brazilian senate's dismissal of the country's now former president, Dilma Rousseff. Fellow socialist states, Venezuela and Ecuador, soon followed suit.
This attitude is a long way from Bolivia's long-established policy of maintaining good relations with its neighbors (this being a land of "contacts not enmities," as one of the country's presidents, Luis Fernando Guachalla, said some 70 years ago). And Brazil is certainly a neighbor with many shared interests that transcend the two countries' political orientations.
Recently, Latin American populism has taken verbal spats to a whole new level. This time, the barbs have skipped their usual target — the United States "empire" — a state whose governments and policies really do alternate and yet which is routinely blamed for all our ills, including those that have yet to appear. But verbal attacks on Washington are one thing, especially when it is "distracted" with more important problems, and quite different from leveling charges against a powerful neighbor that also happens to be a key customer of Bolivian gas.
Beyond economic interests, there is an international principle to be respected: that of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was sacked in late August at the end of an impeachment process that was, from the start, governed by established laws. Insisting on calling the move a coup is unjustified, even if one doesn't agree with the outcome of that political trial.
If defending democracy was the reason for the Bolivian government recalling its ambassador in Brazil, it would be far more understandable for it to back implementing the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Venezuela, where a fellow leftist regime is busily striking at laws and institutions, and refusing to recognize the overwhelming majority of votes won by parliamentary opponents. In fact, President Nicolás Maduro is the man behind the collective hostility shown by the ALBA group of states toward the new Brazilian government.
It is never good to apply double standards: one of complaisance toward friends, whatever their bad habits, and another, stricter standard for those who do not share your politics.
Brazil shares permanent and convergent interests with its three neighboring states but, for now, they have distanced themselves from the beleaguered nation. By the time this unfortunate episode ends, however, these interests will re-emerge, provoked by a lapse in common sense so typical of populist regimes.
*Marcelo Ostria Trigo is a Bolivian attorney, government official, diplomat, university professor and writer. He served as Bolivia's Foreign Minister in 1975 and ambassador to Uruguay, Venezuela and Israel.