The following are excerpts from an interview with Charge d'Affaires Luis Pablo Ossio Bustillos of Bolivia in Seoul.—Ed.
Question: What is the view of your head of government concerning president Moon Jae-in? Does your country have any plan to meet with president Moon Jae-in?
Answer: I do not really know what President Evo thinks about President Moon as a human being, but I can tell you that I am sure that once he meets him he will be positively impressed by him; President Moon is an authentic person. He is looking to give the peninsula of Korea a long lasting peace and that by itself is a noble cause. He has got very strong motivation and I think he will succeed and overcome any obstacle in order to solve one of the most acute and pending issues of the international agenda; his uprising is key to understand him and that is what gives me the confidence to assure to the administrative capital of my country, La Paz, that we are dealing with the best possible leader for the right time. The opportunity for peace is now.
Our President Evo Morales would like to meet his counterpart soon, but that will probably take place in 2020. Both countries have agreed in a formal meeting that will look forward to arrange a summit between both leaders. Although in Bolivia, there are presidential elections on October 20, 2019, our President Evo luckily is the frontrunner by far, and therefore I am sure that they will meet in 2020.
Q: We have not had an honor of introducing you. Please introduce yourself to our readers, Koreans and international readership, whom we cover with the above-mentioned five media outlets, 3 in English and 2 in Korea.
A: I was appointed as Minister Counsellor in the Republic of Korea by the Government of President Evo Morales Ayma in April 2015 to help the former Ambassador Guadalupe Palomeque, whose main job was to reopen the Embassy of Bolivia in Seoul, which was closed for fourteen years since 1999. Since she left early in 2017, the Government gave me its confidence to continue as the Head of Mission. I am a career diplomat and I come from a middle upper class family, educated at the German school. Other positions that I have had include New York (at our Embassy before the United Nations) and London. At the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was the chief of staff and later the Director General of Drugs and Controlled Substances.
I can say that, as I have seen the huge changes that occurred in my country since Evo Morales took office, I became a believer of what we called the Process of Change of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. This process means that the indigenous peoples who are by far the majority of the population, can access to the political mainstream.
Q: Please fully introduce the Head of Government of your country, and also the First Family. President Moon Jae-in now wishing to substantially increase his cooperation with the Heads of Governments of the world, full details of your Head of Government would be of great service to the leaders of the Korean government.
A: Although it is not that hard to find information through Internet, still there is difficulty to get relevant information to understand who he really is. That is why it is preferred to recall a passage from his childhood to portray him. In a little town named “Orinoca”, where there were hardship conditions for every human being. Evo as a child while he was herding llamas, sometimes he had to eat orange skin when someone in the passing buses would throw orange skin out of the window.
Later, I remember another passage of his life when Evo was already in a public office; he said when he offered help to a neighboring country that faced a natural disaster: “We may have little, but even that little we can share...” Life was his education and many times had to walk hundreds of miles to protest and fight for what he believed. Morales has a steel temper that is the very reason that he will never betray his beliefs. Under his leadership, in particular those who lost hope, those that were invisible for so long, recover their dignity; with Morales Bolivia will never quit any just demand.
Evo has two children and his eldest daughter became a lawyer in a Bolivian University. She is very humble and does not take part of any official position. Evo has publicly declared that he is married to Bolivia and his passion is playing soccer, so that is what he tries to do whenever the circumstances allow him to. In my mind, when I see your Korean leader as well as my President, I think they share something in common, which is besides both being authentic people, they love their countries and are outspoken against any injustice. I also keep in mind President Moon’s daughter who does not appear in the news, and for me that also speaks highly about her.
Q: What is the major schedule of economic cooperation between your country and Korea? Please elaborate
A: Bolivia and Korea could work together as partners. Both could even reach other Asian markets, adding value to Bolivia's natural resources. The two countries can complement each other. Bolivia is a rich country in natural resources, while Korea is a country with a very dynamic and stable economy. It is a leading country in technological innovations, as well as with sufficient financial resources and its relatively convenient size in terms of population, it is in my view the best partner for any South American country.
Q: What are the major areas of economic cooperation between your country and Korea? Please elaborate
A: Korea though KOICA is providing with a very valuable official development assistance to Bolivia, which is being allocating to the Bolivian main priorities, such as health, water irrigation and infrastructure.
Q: What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Actually, Bolivia is mainly selling to Korea minerals such as zinc, lead, silver, as well as Brazilian nuts and alcohol for about 600 million dollars yearly.
We import from Korea: cars, cellular, semiconductors, machinery and equipment, but quantities are still very modest and our imports are about 100 million a year.
Q: What are your competitive products and/or services attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import from us?
A: My country has the largest lithium reserve in the world, located in the Uyuni Salt Lake, the favorite tourist destination for the Korean population. These reserves allow us to be optimistic about the future of Bolivia.
Similarly, we do have also the largest iron reserves in the world that were not exploited yet. Other competitive product is tantalum. We found huge reservoirs of this mineral, which is clue for semiconductors.
As everyone already know we are rich in natural resources, but Bolivia was a dream for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, foreigners went there to make themselves rich and then left. Even rich Bolivians leave the country and use it as its backyard and now this has changed. Serious foreigners and Bolivian entrepreneurs are very welcome, but they should be just and think about building a country, this is what President Morales has called for transnational corporations to stop being bosses and become partners, respecting the national laws and treating all the people as equals, which was not the case in the past.
Q: Who are the Korean companies actively contributing to the economic development and growth of your country, especially the small-medium Korean companies? Please elaborate, introducing several exemplary ones--other than the ubiquitously known Jaebeol conglomerates who are already widely known.
A: So far, mainly Samsung, Hyundai and Dohwa did work in Bolivia. LH is helping a Bolivian private company to build a new city called the New Santa Cruz, which is a very ambitious project that will probably be the equivalent in relative terms as building Incheon.
Q: What are the most attractive tourist destinations of your country? Korean business leaders seek rest, recuperation, and tourist destination
A: I do not think Bolivia is the best country to rest. On the contrary, Bolivia is known for being a country where your adrenalin will rise, not only for the altitude, but also for knowing new landscapes that you will find.
In addition, Bolivia does not have direct air connections with Korea, so the trip by plane takes approximately 36 hours with stopovers in Europe, although it can also be connected to Mexico or via Los Angeles, Dallas, or Miami in the United States, but in the end, the trip by itself requires a lot of patience and work.
My country, the heart of South America, has an area of 1,098,581 square kilometers; it is ten times larger than the Republic of Korea, although with a population that only reaches about 11 million inhabitants. So be ready to see big spaces without people and since Bolivia's climate is diverse, depending on the region, you will be able to see huge landscapes contrasts everywhere. A third of its territory is located in the Andes mountain range and the other two are in the Amazon and Chaco, although the population is mostly concentrated in the Andean region, Bolivia is a country where many cultures exist in full harmony.
In spite of this, due to many factors, every year the number of Korean tourists visiting Bolivia increases. I would advise them not to expect so much from infrastructure, but to take into account rather the values and the principles of the peoples. As I consider Bolivians are so happy with so little they have.
Two cultural heritage cities that are close to Uyuni are "Potosí and Sucre" due to its predominant architecture and style "baroque" and "Renaissance", respectively. The "Cerro Rico" of Potosí, the richest mountain in the world in silver ore, fed the Spanish Empire for three centuries in the middle of the 16th century.
In addition, the archaeological temples of Tiahuanaco, located near the city of La Paz, were built by an ancient pre-Inca civilization, before the Spanish civilization got there.
On the other hand, in Santa Cruz, the "Fuerte de Samaipata", was also built before the Spanish conquest, as an attempt by the Incas to penetrate the lowlands, is another place to visit. Personally, I find the very attractive "La Chiquitanía", a group of villages founded by Jesuit missionaries at the time of the Spanish colonization, which have a special architectural style, also in the department of Santa Cruz.
In addition, we have the intangible heritage of humanity, which is the Oruro Carnival, where you can appreciate the broadest expression of Bolivia through music and traditional dances, full of color and joy.
Bolivia also has Natural Patrimony of the Humanity, like the Titicaca Lake, in the Department of La Paz, that is the highest navigable lake of the world, to whose shore is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Copacabana, Patroness of Bolivia.
The "Sajama" Park, an Andean ecological reserve where the highest mountain in the country is located, with the same name, as well as other natural attractions typical of the highland region, such as hot springs and one of the most important reserves of llamas of the region, with its wool characteristic of Andean textiles.
In the lowlands, there are many national parks. The best known is the "Madidi National Park", which is located in the north of the Department of La Paz, at the entrance of the Amazon rainforest. Halfway to this park, there is the subtropical region of the Yungas, where thanks to the modernization of the infrastructure, there is now a large number of tourists, where the Afro-Bolivian minority is located and before the so-called “Route of Death” reached it.
Q: Who is your Korean honorary consul or consul general? How is he contributing to furthering the bilateral cooperation?
A: The post is still open or vacant. We do receive any kind suggestion, but the only requirement is to be fluent in Spanish and have a pristine life.
Q: Who are the Korean figures in your country and/or in Korea, who are representatively friendly with your country? Please introduce such Koreans adequately as other Korean leaders would wish to follow their suit.
A: Lim Byung-soo, a popular singer in Korea in the 1980s, was born and raised in Bolivia, he is better known as Hernan Im in Bolivia. Hernan is a famous Singer in Korea who put Bolivia in the map.
Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out from the questionnaire
A: I just want to express my wish for the Korean people and government. I would like them to continue to prosper, to value the path they have traveled without forgetting the sacrifice of a generation that worked hard to get where they are today and to continue working with the humility that characterizes them to achieve a world more fair, balanced and supportive. Last but not less important to support President Moon Jae-in in his initiative regarding North Korea, it is very easy to destroy things and to start building them might become impossible tasks. So please do support what you already have achieved.