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President Morales Expels USAID on Charges of Interference

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For the second time since 2008, Bolivian President Evo Morales has said he would expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), charging the agency with “political interference” with peasant unions and social organizations and of conspiring against his leftist government.

President Morales announced the allegations on Wednesday, May 1, in his homage to May Day, the International Workers Day in front of the presidential palace in La Paz. The Aymaran president did not provide details as to why USAID would be asked to leave the country, as opposed to prior incidents with the agency and U.S. Embassy staff in 2007 and 2008 which were witnessed by various U.S. and Bolivian sources.

“Surely they will still think that here they can manipulate politically, economically but those times are in the past,” Morales stated and added that the USAID utilized certain social leaders to divide the organizations and to destabilize the country in exchange for “alms.”

“We may be a small country, but we deserve equal respect and the expulsion of USAID is also a protest over that message of Secretary Kerry [Secretary of State John Kerry] who said Latin America is the ‘backyard’ of the United States,” Morales added, referring to a recent speech by Kerry who was speaking about increasing U.S. attention of Latin America.

U.S. officials rejected the charges in a statement issued Wednesday, describing them as baseless.

"The U.S. government does deeply regret the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

"We think the programs have been positive for the Bolivian people and fully coordinated with the Bolivian government and appropriate agencies under their own national development plan," Ventrell said.

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"We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government," he added.

This marks the second time since 2008 that Morales has charged the USAID with interference. Following various investigations it was revealed that by 2006 the agency had provided over $4 million in funding to governors across Bolivia, including several that were openly opposing the Morales government and were tied to violent incidents of attacks against police, soldiers and others.

The other incidents in 2008 involved members of the Peace Corps and a U.S. Fulbright scholar; both asserted they were asked to spy for the U.S. while in Bolivia.

John Alexander van Schaick was the first U.S. citizen in 2008 to complain about requests made to him by a U.S. Embassy official named Vincent Cooper. In press statements that year, van Schaick recalled that after he had started his Fulbright project in 2007 he was asked to meet with Cooper at the Embassy. He stated that the session started with basic advice on life in Bolivia but then the conversation took a different turn.

''He [Cooper] told me, 'If you should encounter any Venezuelans or Cubans in the field – doctors, field workers, etc. – the embassy would like you to report their names and something like where they're located to the embassy,''' van Schaick said about his interview with Cooper. ''And then he said, 'We know they're out there, we just want to keep tabs on them.''' (As of late 2007, there were about 2,000 Cuban doctors and some Venezuelan pilots and technicians in Bolivia.)

Doreen Salazar, deputy director of the Peace Corps in Bolivia, described a similar encounter between her volunteers and Cooper, also in 2007.

 ''Yeah, you know, this embassy official came to see us, and during his security talk he said ... we should report information on our interactions with Cubans, their names, where they lived,” Salazar continued.

''We were so appalled by it that we not only instructed our volunteers not to follow the embassy instructions, but we complained to the embassy and the State Department and we said, this is not OK.''