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National Day  06 August

His Excellency
Mr Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento
Bolivian Embassy
106 Eaton Square


A career diplomat, Bolivia’s  Ambassador His Excellency Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento confesses, “I’m also politically committed to President Evo Morales and the party he represents.” In 2005, Bolivians elected the leader after he ran on a promise to change the country’s traditional political class and empower the nation’s poor, indigenous majority. “In his eight years of power, we have seen great transformation.”

Mr Sarmiento arrives here from the Netherlands where he was Ambassador for six years (2008-13), when he spent much of his time bringing a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). “Bolivia was born with over 400km of Pacific Coast, but we lost 120,000km of land in the Pacific War, meaning that Bolivia is a landlocked country for the moment. Bolivia has not had diplomatic relations with Chile for many decades. At the ICJ we requested that Chile grants Bolivia sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.  Bolivia has a right to have a sovereign access to the Pacific based on the recognition of Chile, and bilateral agreements, but today the Chilean State is refusing to act in good faith. Coming to a peaceful settlement with the Republic of Chile on this matter is very important for both neighbouring countries, and also for Bolivia’s development and future.”

Today Mr Sarmiento finds a different London: “The UK has changed, Bolivia has changed and so has the world. But it’s interesting to be here in London and see a whole new set of challenges.” He’s observed a new commitment to Latin America by the Coalition government. “We have been two years without an Ambassador, so it’s a challenge to catch up and provide a deeper understanding of Bolivia and our policies in the UK. But we have a good framework for dialogue that I would like to deepen and enhance.” He will be observing the Scottish Referendum with great interest because Bolivia became a plurinational state from a republic in 2009. “We have transformed the country through a new constitution, demonstrating our policy of deepening democracy, making it more inclusive for the 36 indigenous nationalities in Bolivia.” He continues: “We are in the process of interesting change, but it’s fascinating to watch what’s going on in other parts of the world.”

Mr Sarmiento’s role as General Director of Bolivia’s Bilateral Relations (2006-7) “offered a panorama of Bolivia’s relations, both in the region, and across the globe.” He continues: “I was honoured to work closely with our President, he is a charismatic trade unionist and leader, and a great politician who is transforming the country quickly.” Mr Sarmiento was involved in lobbying for the G77 summit that was held in Bolivia in June, a major international event organised by the Bolivian government. “In the past we have had a lot of interference by other countries like the US.” (A couple of years ago the US Ambassador was expelled from Bolivia.) “But today we have more confidence and dignity. The government is standing for more sovereign policies. The G77 was important to focus on south-south relations.”

As Ambassador to the UK, Mr Sarmiento will continue to enhance political dialogue: “there is a lot to share.” He would like to arrange high-level visits between the two countries “to bring us closer on the political agenda.” Following some difficulties, he has also proposed a new visa agreement for diplomats and officials. In the energy sector, he is working with a couple of companies that have investments in Bolivia, including British Gas. On the cultural agenda, the Embassy recently hosted a successful exhibition on Quinoa – “a superfood, food of the future!” he declares.  The Embassy has been hard at work registering 15, 000 Bolivians living in the UK in order that they can vote in the upcoming elections on 12 October. Mr Sarmiento will also be working with his Latin American colleagues in London to further regional integration. “The Bolivian perspective is to have less colonialism, intervention and imperial powers intervening and this of course is a big challenge for the international agenda.”

Measured, quietly spoken and hugely committed to Bolivia’s cause, it appears Mr Sarmiento will do much to continue his country’s political goals.

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