LDS missionaries from the United States and Canada were withdrawn from Bolivia, according to a September 16th press release from the Church as a precautionary measure. The country has suffered a week of violent conflict between rebels in its lowland, gas and agro-business rich states and its national government. Apparently backed by the United States, lowland governors promoted the rebellion to obtain greater autonomy, a larger share of taxes from hydrocarbons, and to stop the current agrarian reform from dividing the extremely large estates of the savannahs and jungles.
US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country last week leading to the reciprocal expulsion of the Bolivian ambassador from Washington. US Peace Corps personnel have also been removed from the country in the last few days and the US State Department has issued a travel warning urging its citizens to leave the country and not to travel there due to the unrest. Furthermore, on Tuesday, the State Department placed Bolivia on its counter-narcotics blacklist.
Despite the diplomatic crisis and the unrest in Bolivia, Latin American LDS missionaries remain in the country and the Church continues. Latter-day Saints are members of the government and are probably involved in the rebellion. Despite the drama of the departure of North Americans from the country, and the overall weakening of US influence in the country and region, Mormonism has become part of the background of ordinary life and has members on both sides of the country’s social and political conflicts.
This marks a major change from nineteen years ago when the Church was strongly connected with the United States in the minds of many Bolivians and when Mormon buildings and missionaries were targets of guerrilla actions. Due to the efforts of Church public relations and its increasing Bolivianization, as well as its size and the time depth of its presence in the country, Mormonism no longer is a symbol of the Untied States and its influence in the country. It is now a Bolivian Church and its members are widely distributed in government, business, and social movements both pro- and contra- the current government. This is an important change and is a sign of the maturity of LDS growth in Bolivia and Latin America. It is indeed a new time.