Bohan Plan

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The Bohan Plan refers to the report submitted by the Bohan Commission, a group of U.S. government officials, led by Merwin L. Bohan, that spent several months in Bolivia in 1941-1942 analyzing the nation's needs. The official report is called the "Report of United States Economic Mission to Bolivia." The report was structured as follows:

  • Part I - General; Conclusions; Recommendations
  • Part II - A Economic Study of Agricul­ture in Bolivia

The plan itself was never published in English, and only partially published in Spanish. However, the agricultural section was written by B. H. Thibodeaux and W. V. Harland of the United States Department of Agriculture. Thibodeaux later summarized his findings in his 1946 PhD dissertation, An economic study of agriculture in Bolivia.

"The main outlines of the Bohan report were subscribed to later by the UN's Keenleyside mission in 1950 and by the Bolivian Ten-Year Development Plan of 1962-1972, and again reaffirmed in the Plan Bienial of 1963-1964."[1]

Bohan Commission

The roots of the Bohan Plan begin in 1941. Bolivia, years before, had nationalized Standard Oil without compensation, a sore spot for the American government. In late 1941, the U.S. was attacked by Japan, creating sympathy for the U.S. among the Bolivian people. Soon thereafter, an agreement was reached to compensate Standard Oil. A $25 million economic development program for Bolivia was announced the very next day - January 28, 1942.[2] An initial assessment identified three primary areas of focus: communications and transportation infrastructure, mining, and agriculture.[3]

"The mission consisted of Chief of Mission, Merwin L. Bohan, a Foreign Service Officer, Assis­tance Chief of Mission from the Inter-American Affairs Office, Rex Pixley, and two representatives each from the Public Roads Administration, the Agriculture Department, and from the Bureau of Mines. The mission was eventually augmented with the services of two rubber technologists and a drug production technician. The mission was funded with $75,000 provided by the Office of Coordinator of Inter­ American Affairs and was in Bolivia from December 17, 1941 to May 21, 1942.
"On August 15, 1942, Mr. Bohan submitted his final report to the Secretary of State, outlining a program for development that consisted of three major components with the same three areas of emphasis set forth in the original note of August 1, 1941. The first component proposed the creation of a national highway system to connect production with consumption centers.
"The second component of this developmental strategy concerned the agricultural sector. A major concern was to stimulate production of rubber, quinine, and other products that were important to the war effort which the U.S. was particularly interested in obtaining from Bolivia. Considera­tion was also to be given to increasing the production of basic crops including rice, wheat, sugar, and cotton. The processing, marketing, and credit facilities needed for increasing agricultural production were also discussed. The report recommended that an agricultural research and exten­sion system be developed for those areas where agricultural production potential was the greatest. A key dimension of the agricultural strategy was the development of irrigated farming systems. The report recognized the need to develop formal agricultural education institutions as a part of an educational program to promote scientific and technical improvement of agriculture. The Oriente was to be the target geographic area with development support radiating out of Santa Cruz. It was argued in the report that the key to significant production increases was the successful exploita­tion of the subtropical and tropical lowlands where large scale commercial agriculture was possible.
"-The third component proposed a series of recommenda­tions that dealt with investments to further develop the mining sector and address the domestic petroleum requirements."[4]

Additionally, in order to raise funds to complete its development goals, "the Bohan Report recommended that the Bolivian Government immediately hire a tax expert to review the present tax collection system and make recommendations how it could be modified to increase revenue to support Bolivia's development."

"Trickle Down"

Lawrence C. Heilman wrote, of the Bohan Plan:

"The model was one that we would eventually identify as embodying the "trickle down" approach. It was also a model that was inspired more by the U.S. developmental experience than by the development needs of the Bolivian people. Despite a sweeping revolution that came at the beginning of the next decade, it was to be more than 20 years before the U.S. Government would develop a development assistance program that was basically concerned with the needs of the majority population, the Bolivian campesinos." (emphasis in original)[5]

March to the East

The report ignored the fact that the majority of the population resided in the Andean highlands, and instead looked to the sparsely populated east as the economic development hope of the nation. It called for large scale industrial agricultural development in the Eastern lowlands, centered around the city of Santa Cruz. Following the report's completion, the first priority was a highway connecting Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, which would connect this future hub of economic and agricultural activity with the population centers in the west.[6] Among other things, agricultural exports would improve the nation's balance of payments.

Important to note is that the crops the Bohan Plan called for focusing on - wheat, sugar, rice, cotton - were urban and upper/middle class foods. Peasants subsisted on traditional Andean staples augmented with crops and livestock introduced by the Spanish: potatoes, quinoa, barley, oats, fava beans, and other Andean roots and tubers.

A Look Back from the 1990s

In 1993, authors from Harvard's Institute for International Development reflected their current view of the Bohan Plan 50 years later:

"To formulate its aid plan for Bolivia, the Department of State selected in 1941 a task force headed by Merwin L. Bohan, a veteran foreign service officer. 1/ The Bohan Mission found that help to Bolivia need to center in developing a modern road from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, improving mineral production, and transforming Bolivia's indigenous agriculture (Heilman 1982: 53-56). To achieve these goals, Bolivia, the Mission argued, would need a steady infusion of outside technical assistance and economic support. The Bohan report served to justify a $26 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States to pay for programs in economic aid and technical cooperation to Bolivia.
"The Mission's blueprint for transforming Bolivia's traditional agriculture was far-sighted, acute, and sober, reading with equal relevance today as it did half a century ago. The report remained "basic reading for every embassy economic counselor and USAID mission director" until the late 1960's (Heilman 1982: 59-60). Bolivia's planners used (though they did not carry out) the findings of the Bohan report for nearly two consecutive decades; the United Nations's Keenleyside Mission to Bolivia in the early 1950s also used parts of the Bohan report (Thorn 1971: 165-166). Aware that mining had not given bolivians a "high standard of living" and that Bolivia could no longer depend of mining for its sustenance because the ore reserves would in time disappear and because reliance on tin exposed Bolivia to a hysterical metals market, the Bohan Mission said agriculture had to be brought to the center stage of Bolivia's development discourse (Thibodeaux 1946: 14). And to enliven agriculture policy-makers would have to invest first and foremost in agricultural research and extension. Inspired by the prominent role agricultural research had played in the development of the United States economy, the Bohan Mission was unreserved about stressing the need to do good agricultural research to stimulate Bolivia's economy.
"The Bohan Mission envisioned a decentralized and interlocked agricultural research network, modeled after the land grant colleges and universities of the United States (Ibid.: 47). The main agricultural research station would be lodged in Cochabamba to draw on the expertise of the only University in Bolivia offering instruction in agriculture, San Simón. Sub-stations would be scattered in Bolivia's principal ecologies: Lake Titicaca, the Central highlands, the Yungas, Sucre, Villa Montes, Santa Cruz, the Amazon, and Beni. Scientists at sub-stations would study different commodities: tubers and pasture in Lake Titicaca; livestock, pasture, and irrigation in the central highlands; fruits, coffee, and quinine in the Yungas; fruits and food crops in Sucre and Villa Montes; livestock and pasture in Santa Cruz; cattle and rubber in the Beni and the Amazon (Ibid.: 48-49). The Bohan Mission also recommended to recruit professionals through competitive entrance exams, offer adequate salaries, set up a merit system of promotion, and grant job security to agricultural scientists and extension agents to reduce the turnover of scientists and extension agents and to build a lasting research institution.
"Besides setting up an institution for agricultural research and extension, the Bohan Mission identified other topics which also needed attention: increasing the production of important staples (eg, rice, sugar, wheat) which Bolivia imported; improving agricultural marketing and credit; investing in transport and irrigation; and revamping rural education (Ibid.: 221-222). Cognizant development would take a long time and sustained effort, the Bohan Mission logically enough envisioned the transformation for Bolivia's indigenous agriculture happening slowly over the next decades, needing long-term planning and stable assistance form the United States. To help pay for development and avoid burdening mine owners with more taxes, the Mission argued, the government would need to raise additional revenues by modernizing its tax administration (Heilman 1982: 56-58)."[7]

Articles and Resources

Related Sourcewatch Articles


  1. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation." In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 166.
  2. Cole Blasier, The United States and the Revolution. In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds., University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 60.
  3. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 53.
  4. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 55-56.
  5. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 60.
  6. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 58-59.
  7. Ricardo Godoy, Mario de Franco, and Ruben G. Echeverria, Brief History of Agricultural Research in Bolivia: Potatoes, Maize, Soybeans, and Wheat Compared, Development Discussion Paper No. 460, July 1993.

External Resources

  • Ben Hur Thibodeaux, An economic study of agriculture in Bolivia.
  • Kenneth Duane Lehman, Bolivia and the United States: A Limited Partnership.
  • Merwin L. Bohan Papers, Truman Library.
  • Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982.

External Articles