A troubling yet still hopeful article in today’s Washington Post detailing the Peace Corps’ recent evacuation of all volunteers from Bolivia. Troubling because the Peace Corps, the one engine of American government that has long been viewed as a representation of all that is best about the United States and its people, is increasingly seen as an intelligence gathering arm of the U.S. government:
“The less presence of the United States in Bolivia, the better,” Juan Ramón Quintana, Bolivia’s minister of the presidency, said in an interview. “We believe the security policies of the United States have damaged the constitutional rights of the students of the Peace Corps, by tasking some of them to do intelligence work.”
Yet still hopeful because more than 15 of the 113 evacuated volunteers decided to return to their posts in Bolivia of their own volition to finish the worked they’d started. And of those who were unable or decided not to return, it is clear that the majority of them do not agree with this worrying slide of the Peace Corps into government propaganda and intelligence gathering machine. From one of those volunteers forced to leave:
“Peace Corps, unfortunately, has become another weapon in the US diplomatic arsenal,” volunteer Sarah Nourse of Mechanicsville, Md., wrote in a widely circulated e-mail. The Peace Corps withdrawal “is one more chance for the US to maintain its tough image and hit back, harder.
“More than ever, Bolivia needs living examples of real Americans,” Nourse went on. “They need someone to help, not for financial gains but because the task exists and because it’s the right thing to do.”
I think it’s on all of us working in and supportive of the fields of international education, exchange, and development to ensure that the Peace Corps and all similar exchange and development programs remain the powerful forces for mutual understanding that they have always been.