Boliva's new military government is threatening to withdraw from the Andean Pact, South America's most important economic and political organization.
President Luis Garcia Meza announced last week that his government was studying the possibility of quitting the pact, whose other members are Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, in favor of a so-called southern cone pact that would consist of Argentinia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and possibly Chile.
Bolivia's new rules, accused internatinally of widespread human rights violations and links to the drug trade, has won diplomatic recognition from only eight countries since seizing power July 17 to thwart democratic elections.
Yesterday, Bolivia's energy minister, Capt. Lider Sosa, said in Lima that withdrawal was "imminent" because the Andean Pact had "distorted its goals of economic and social integration."
Garcia Meza's government is known to be extremely disappointed by its failure to win recognition from the Andean Pact countries and infuriated by the public criticism by foreign ministers and presidents of the four pact countries. All now have democratically elected governments.
Bolivia's withdrawal would not appreciably affect the Andean Pact's economic programs, aimed at a highly integrated common market. They have not actually advanced much since the pact formed in 1969. The effort lost a major supporter when Chile pulled out following a military coup there in 1973.
As the poorest member, Bolivia is also so unstable that it has never contributed much to what little progress has been made.
In recent years, however, the pact has become an important and active force in favor of policies, also backed by the Carter administration, of improving respect for human rights and seeking replacement of military regimes through popular elections.
In Nicaragua, for example, the Andean Pact countries, particularly Venezulea, played an important role in opposing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and encouraging moderation of leftist elements.
In this context, Bolivia's recent coup was a serious setback both for the other Andean Pact countries and the Carter admistration. The pact could be weakened politically and diplomatically if Bolivia withdraws, expecially with formation of a southern cone pact composed of authoritarian right-wing military dictatorships led by Argentina.
A southern cone pact has long been a dream of Agentina's military rulers, who acknowledged publicly their concern over the possibility that a moderately leftist government might come to power as a result of elections in Bolivia at the end of June.
The Argentine military sent a special squad of Navy intelligence reportedly to assist Bolvia's intelligence services in preparing for the july coup. The military here fears civilian rulers in Bolivia would offer a possible launching pad for Argentine guerrillas.
A formal southern cone pact would cement secret accords that have long existed among the area's intelligence services to trade information about "subversives" and arrest or kill dissidents. Such accords have gone by the name of Operation Condor.
If economic cooperation and diplomatic coordination were to become a part of a formalized pact, U.S. influence in Latn America could well be undermined, especially if Brazil -- which has said it will not join a southern cone pact -- chooses to remain strictly neutral in an ensuing struggle for power and influence.
As it is, Argentina's military has thwarted U.S. policy in Bolivia by supporting the coup and undermining U.S. reprisals against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by selling grain to Moscow.
Argentina also has trained elements of the armed forces in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, thereby abetting the growth of the paramilitary groups that some U.S. policymakers see as obstacles to peace in Central America.
According to diplomatic observers, Bolivia's move out of the Andean Pact could become the catalyst for a shift in alliances over a wide region if Garcia Meza's government consolidates its hold in Bolivia.