In an interview with Diplomacy & Beyond Plus, the Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, H.E. Sergio Dario Arispe Barrientos discussed in detail about his beautiful country and informed us about the bilateral relation between Bolivia and India. He also elucidate in depth about the attractive investment opportunities existing in Bolivia for the Indian investors.
- His Excellency, how has been your stay in India? Please take us through the journey of India-Bolivia bilateral relations so far. Discuss the achievements and list down the potential areas which need to be focused upon soon.
So far it has been a brief stay in the sense that I have only been here since September last year. So it has been brief but it’s been quite dynamic. India is a very dynamic country and I am honored to be here.
It’s a place that you can sense those things which are happening and I think that’s the importance of having embassies from countries such as ours placed here because it’s a sure bet although countries such as mine might have certain limitations in terms of budget compared to other countries the goal and necessities to be placed in the capital such as this is important.
We see lot of future in India not only because of statistics from the past years but for the momentum that I believe will bring us together as Latin America and India. I think this synergy needs to grow a bit more but I think that setting up of our embassy here is obviously the right step.
- India and Bolivia shared strong ties in the Non-Aligned Movement. However, the first Bolivian embassy in India opened just in 2012. Why so?
That surprises me that you stated this because I come from the multilateral scene. We were part of the Non-
Aligned Movement, G77 and the interactions that our diplomats had with their Indian counterparts have always been productive. We seek a strong political alliance with India and we also need to establish regular links not only in the multilateral scene but also in the bilateral scenario. Bolivia is a natural gas and mineral rich South American nation and India, a briskly developing economy, needs constant energy input to steam its vigorously growing industrial sector.
- How can both nations work towards achieving further success in this regard?
I think a very important role. I don’t like to compare scenarios but other countries have already put a stronger foothold into Latin America. We see that Brazil and Mexico share important ties with many Asian countries including yours and I believe that we can further improve this. India is believed to be the third largest economy in the next 10 years.
I believe that there are only three countries in Latin America that don’t have embassies in yet but we must not miss any. Each country is not only a possible political partner but probably our common future. I think there is an important point
to be made here. I think that India as a global force can do great job for developing countries because India itself is a developing country and I believe that your market represents a huge possibility. Statistics show that you have at least 300 million people within the acquisitional power close to or similar to any European or American. I have experienced this in the consumer pattern as I was here during Diwali and I was astonished to see the market, the aggressiveness and just the sheer buying power of the Indians. It’s certainly not India that we think; but a different country. I think it’s India that requires further steps in diplomatic ties with countries such as ours. Can you do much with the minerals and resource that we have? Of course you can, we need to tie up more Indian companies with Bolivia, and we need to create more Indian interests towards Bolivia and work out our idiosyncrasies.
Let me give you an example, 10 to 15 years ago no one wanted to sell electronics goods or have an official representation in Bolivia. Later, Samsung and LG placed themselves in Bolivia and now each household in Bolivia can’t go far without seeing an LG or Samsung appliance as a need, as a necessity and as a brand name. The countries which have placed a foothold are having a stronger possibility of interacting with us in a stronger sense. Bolivia is small that’s
true but the same was with India about 20 to 30 years back and now look what the situation is.
- Lately, Bolivia has been pursuing an aggressive economic and social reform agenda. How do you think can India pitch in to further support the existing momentum?
Look, the past 12 years have probably been the best governance that Bolivia has had in its history. We have a very ambitious development plan which can easily attract Indian companies to come and participate. At the same
time, we want to establish the power of Bolivia in the world market. Some International rating agencies like Moody’s and Fitch have certified that Bolivia is the most potential country to develop business and investments.
It’s easy to do business when you have an open mind and I think that Indian businessmen who are already in Bolivia are doing pretty well. We have seen an increase of our trade balance. Few year before our trade balance was USD 100 million and now it is up to USD 450 million. Obviously, a huge amount of this is due to the gold that India is importing. The Indian businessmen those are interested to do business in Bolivia need to know the know how on how to do business in Bolivia.
- Bolivia is a member of a set up known as ‘Group of Like-Minded Mega diverse Countries’ – a list that also includes India. The group is a mechanism for consultation and cooperation so that interests and priorities, related to the preservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, of the member nations could be promoted. What’s been the journey till now?
The Like-Minded Mega diverse Countries (LMMC) is a group of countries that harbor the majority of the Earth’s species and are therefore considered extremely biodiverse. They are rich in biological diversity (60-70 percent of the world’s biodiversity) and associated traditional knowledge. We have constructed a position in the nonaligned movement to try and promote a place, a voice for the developing countries. India is strategically and geopolitically a very strong country. I
am sure that in the near future India is going to be a part of the Security Council. Also, Indian diplomacy is well-aware of its origins and it can be a strategic partner and a guide for the developing world.
Regarding the multilateral relation sometimes the developing countries are quite aggressive about their needs but India has always been there to help us to put forward our point of view and to make the developing world understand the necessities of the multilateral relationship particularly about how to move forward, specially, when it comes to
international policies. I was part of a Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad five years ago. Indian
diplomacy permitted countries such as ours to have access to the resolutions in such a way that no other developing country would permit us. India understands the need to secure its position in a scenario where usually the other developing countries would look down upon small countries which I think is not fare. I think that India’s position is unique and it has been fair towards the developing world.
- Bolivia holds an immense potential as a tourist destination for Indians. What potential do you see in this aspect of the bilateral relationship?
Look, when I speak about tourism I have a major issue, a structural issue. When we self-reflect on how we consider our tourist destinations, one of the first things that come in our mind is a well-to do Indian chooses Bangkok, Paris, and London as their tourist destination. Five years back when I was in India what was my first impression of India? I told my wife it is still a genuine country and to go there you still have a taste of something you can’t find anywhere else. Is it not what us travelers aspire to, to see something unexplored, something that will touch you in a different way.
If you go to the common areas, in terms of the common tourist traps, you have the same food; you have the same taste and the same culture. You see the duty-free shops everywhere. Is there a difference between dutyfree here in India, or Dubai or Paris? No. This globalized culture is making us lose our particularities, our genuine nature. Bolivia has the potentiality to be a part along with the other Latin American tourist destination countries which include Peru, Chile and other countries in the Latin American region. We are a very beautiful country and right now there are probably two wonders in terms of where to go to: Machu Picchu in Peru and the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. The Bolivian salt flats played a prominent role in the movie ‘Star Wars’: “The Last Jedi” as the end battle scene has been shot in Bolivia. A sequence of a South Indian movie (Sarainodu) is shot in Uyuni Salt flats.
The Japanese are crazy to have their wedding pictures on top of the Uyuni, but Indian travelers are not going to spend four days in just one country. They can take a package trip and visit all the countries around Bolivia and they will be marveled. We must break away from this thinking that distance is the factor which is separating both of us. Distance is only a matter of your understanding and the world is a small place now.
- His Excellency, what’s your message for the readers of Diplomacy & Beyond Plus magazine?
We must do all that is in our hands to strengthen our ties with each and every country. Each and every country is worthy and necessary. We must not fall onto a paradigm of thought were diplomacy is a matter of reaching the top. I think if India can contribute that to the world, because you will be that big and you will be that important and you are already starting to show it. If you can change that paradigm of diplomacy which I am sure you can and you show and you do in other forums like I have stated before then I think there is huge potential for your country in the International arena.