The Cable

The Diplomatic Dust-Up Between France and Bolivia — Over a Video Game

Bolivia's not happy with its portrayal in a new action-packed video game.


“Ghost Recon: Wildlands” is highly-anticipated video game set to be released next week. While it’s already received praise from the gaming community, it’s drawn scorn in the diplomatic one. Specifically from the government of Bolivia.

The game, produced by a French company, is set in Bolivia in a not-too-distant future when Mexican drug cartels seize the country and turn it into a violent narco-state.

Bolivian officials weren’t exactly thrilled with how their country was portrayed in Wildlands. Interior Minister Carlos Romero said Wednesday his country sent a letter to the French ambassador in La Paz lodging a formal complaint and reportedly asking the government to intervene, though it’s not clear how. “We have the standing to do it [take legal action], but at first we prefer to go the route of diplomatic negotiation,” Romero said.

Ubisoft defended their decision, saying it was a “work of fiction” in a statement sent to Reuters. “While the game’s premise imagines a different reality than the one that exists in Bolivia today, we do hope that the in-game world comes close to representing the country’s beautiful topography,” Ubisoft said. Ubisoft did not immediately respond to Foreign Policy’s request for comment.

Back in Bolivia, gamers play as an elite group of U.S. special operators who, based on the game’s trailer, skydive into the country and blow a lot of things up.

The game developers did their research. The game’s storyline involves a joint task force of the CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). They also drew on cartel experts. “We have a number of Mexican nationals embedded on our team,” the game’s lead narrative designer Sam Strachman told gaming news site Polygon. “One is a journalist in Mexico and the other is a documentary filmmaker who has had first-hand experience with drug cartels,” Strachman said.

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca, the plant used to manufacture cocaine, after Colombia and Peru. Coca tea is consumed widely in Bolivia and the leaves are a stable source of income for one of South America’s poorest countries. Bolivia decriminalized coca production in 2004 and spurned U.S. counternarcotics efforts when it kicked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency out of the country in 2008. Since then, Bolivia claims the war on drugs has ended, but the U.S. State Department said it “demonstrably failed” international counternarcotics commitments in a 2016 report. Maybe Ubisoft can help with that.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first Ghost Recon game set in the not-so-distant future. In 2001, Ubisoft released the first Ghost Recon game in the franchise. It’s set in 2008, and follows a Russian invasion of Georgia to back South Ossetian separatists. Sound familiar?

Image credit: BagoGames/E3 2015: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands/Flickr

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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