The Peace Corps flew all 113 of its volunteers out of Bolivia on cargo planes, and 78 of them later decided to leave the organization. But several of those -- more than 15, by some of their estimates -- have since returned to the cities and villages of Bolivia to keep working on their own. In the aftermath of the evacuation, a sense of distaste lingers for some. Why, when so many of them felt so safe, were they forced to leave?
The Peace Corps instructed Cooper Swanson to leave as soon as possible for Cochabamba, the regional capital and home of Bolivia's Peace Corps headquarters. A commercial he saw on television as he was leaving -- an attack on Goldberg for meeting with an opposition governor -- left him with a feeling that this "consolidation" might be different. "At that moment, I was like, 'We're not going to be here much longer.' Just a direct hit on the United States," he said. When the Peace Corps' Bolivia director, Kathleen Sifer, spoke to the worried group Sunday morning at a hotel, she was already speaking in the past tense, Swanson said: "You were all great volunteers." They would be leaving for Lima, Peru, she said. In an hour. Some volunteers, Nourse recalled, "just started bawling." The Peace Corps' evacuation of all its volunteers in Bolivia last month forced Swanson, 24, to consider these goals and make a choice: stay with the Peace Corps and finish his term in another country, or leave the organization and return to Mizque. He would not have the salary, health insurance, support network or protection that come with the Peace Corps, at a time of sporadic political violence in Bolivia and just after the government had thrown out the U.S. ambassador. "It wasn't even really much of a decision," he said. In an e-mail to friends and family, he wrote soon after the evacuation: "I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer." Read more.
Caption: Former Peace Corps volunteer Cooper Swanson, 24, teaches his students computer basics at the all-girls Catholic boarding school in Mizque.Swanson decided to return to Bolivia on his own after being evacuated by the Peace Corps due to security concerns because he wanted to finish the work he had started there as a volunteer. Photo: Evan Abramson-The Washington Post
A PCV writes about PCVs who have left Bolivia
"I'm so proud of the people who chose to go back to tie things up, or stay in their sites and work for a while longer. It says a lot about those people, and (in my opinion) how important their Peace Corps experience was to them. For us transfers, that was an unfortunate draw-back. Many of us would have loved to have gone back to Bolivia for a week and THEN go to another country, but it was not an option because the government is still obligated to protect us as volunteers, and Bolivia isn't safe enough for them to let any current volunteer visit. I would encourage the Press to give a more rounded version of the story. They probably can't find a current volunteer willing to give an interview (we're not supposed to, for our safety and privacy), unfortunately, but the least they could do is research more of the post-Close of Service options and reasons behind taking this path. Then the numbers might not look so dramatic. But then again, what is the Press if not Drama? Not News...certainly not! " Read more.
Some former volunteers angry at Peace Corps Bolivia pullout
The hasty pullout came directly on the heels of Bolivian President Evo Morales' Sept. 10 expulsion of the U.S. ambassador for allegedly inciting opposition protests. Arnstein was among disappointed volunteers who believe their government overreacted, hurting U.S. interests with the blanket withdrawal. True, some parts of Bolivia were dangerously unstable, but most volunteers felt no security threat, several told The Associated Press. "Peace Corps, unfortunately, has become another weapon in the U.S. diplomatic arsenal," said Sarah Nourse, 27, of Mechanicsville, Md., another volunteer who opted out. Nourse had been developing trash management projects in a small town in the eastern state of Santa Cruz, the center of opposition to the leftist Morales. She questioned the wisdom of depriving Bolivians of a rare firsthand opportunity to weigh Morales' anti-U.S. rhetoric against real Americans. The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, told The Associated Press that security was the only reason behind the "saddening" pullout. "We don't politicize the Peace Corps," he said. Read more.