Tensions increase between U.S. and Bolivian governments

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The diplomatic relationship between the United States and Bolivian governments continued to deteriorate in the last months of 2008.

Bolivian President Evo Morales accused both the CIA and the DEA of espionage and, in the case of the CIA, support of the attempted overthrow of the Bolivian government. U.S. spokespeople have strenuously denied the charges and neither side is talking about further negotiations in the short term.

In a series of public announcements starting in late November, President Morales and his cabinet laid out their case against the U.S.

“On Nov. 28, Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of having supported and participated in the frustrated coup against his government, promoted by opposition governors and other civic officials in the months of August and September,” according to a Bolivian governmental press release, issued the day after the November press conference held in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

“We reject the accusation that DEA or any other part of the U.S. government supported the opposition or conspired against the Bolivian government,” said U.S. State Department spokesmanKarl Duckworth at a press conference in Washington, also on Nov. 28. “These accusations are false and absurd and we deny them.”

Duckworth did not address any of the allegations made earlier by U.S. and international journalists regarding the State Department’s funding of projects in the opposition regions of Bolivia; which are the main areas of protest.

The protests mentioned by President Morales, which originated in the half-moon region of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija resulted in the seizing and temporary occupation of more than 100 state institutions by the protestors; an attempt to blow up a gas pipeline in Yacuiba-Rio Grande and the occupation of the Vuelta Grande facilities which caused a brief interruption of gas and oil production. The Morales administration asserted that the CIA provided support to anti-government groups in each of these ‘half-moon’ provinces, and that the CIA presence in the country was therefore “prohibited.”

According to the Bolivian press release, the government decided to charge five civic leaders of Tarija with terrorism; all of whom are currently under arrest. But it was the attack on Sept. 11 in the Porvenir region of Pando Province, which has become known as the Pando Massacre that brought further international attention to the conflict.

The Pando Massacre involved a group of rural people – known as campesinos and mostly of indigenous heritage – who were violently attacked by a group of men using official state vehicles in the process and who were allegedly connected to the former Governor of Pando, Leopoldo Fernandez. At the end of the incident, 18 campesinos were dead and dozens wounded.

Research conducted by officials from the United Nations and The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has supported the findings of Bolivian authorities that the incident was a massacre, and not a clash between armed groups as had been asserted by Pando officials, and that it was premeditated.

UN Investigator Yoriko Yasukawa spoke about the incident in a television interview in Bolivia Dec. 9.

“…what happened in Pando is a massive violation of human rights and really should be investigated in depth,” Yasukawa continued. “…to apply the due sanctions to those responsible so they may not remain free with impunity.”

While the Pando Massacre has been examined by international agencies the allegations against the CIA are being investigated by Bolivian authorities according to the president.

“…I was speaking with some officials of the police and armed forces, investigating it personally,” President Morales stated. “It is impressive how the racists prepared themselves to throw us out, with the participation of the CIA.”

He also claimed that the CIA was involved in a plot to assassinate him in 2005.

“Some officers of the Armed Services have given me first hand information; in 2005, before the elections, there needed to be a coup and they had to murder Evo Morales,” the president stated.

Along with his allegations against the CIA President Morales also accused DEA agents of espionage and conspiracy against the Bolivian government. He has ordered the removal of DEA operatives and operations in Bolivia as well.

This series of charges and actions come after the U.S. and Bolivia have removed their respective ambassadors from the other country; and after the U.S. suspended funding for a trade preference system for Bolivia, known as ATPDEA or the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. This accord helped create up to 50,000 or more jobs in Bolivia according to Bolivian analysts. While the U.S. legislature had voted to extend the benefits, even though they were critical of the Morales administration, it was President George W. Bush who enacted the suspension through the powers given to him in the original ATPDEA law.