Bolivia’s president expels U.S. aid agency

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales said Wednesday he is expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development from Bolivia for allegedly seeking to undermine his leftist government, and complained about the U.S. secretary of state calling the Western Hemisphere the “back yard” of Washington.

Morales did not specify what USAID had done that merited expulsion, but the ABI state news agency said it was “accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations.”

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In the past, Morales has accused USAID of funding groups that have opposed his policies, including a lowlands indigenous federation that organized protests against a Morales-backed highway through the TIPNIS rain forest preserve.

In 2008, Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly inciting the opposition.

As U.S.-Bolivian relations soured and Washington canceled trade preferences, total U.S. foreign aid to the poor, landlocked South American country has dropped from $100 million in 2008 to $28 million last year, with counternarcotics and security aid set to virtually disappear in the coming fiscal year. With Colombia and Peru, Bolivia is one of the world’s three major cocaine-producing nations.

Analyst Kathryn Ledebur of the nonprofit Andean Information Network in Bolivia said she was not surprised by the expulsion itself, but by the fact that Morales took so long to do it after repeated threats.

“USAID alternative development efforts tied to forced coca eradication provoked his mistrust,” she said of Morales, a longtime coca growers union leader before his December 2005 election as Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Since U.S. assistance has “dwindled to a trickle,” the financial impact will be limited, Ledebur said.

Morales made his announcement at an International Workers’ Day rally in La Paz, saying he was protesting a recent statement by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Kerry said in April 17 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “the Western Hemisphere is our back yard. It’s critical to us.” He was discussing perceptions in the region that the United States ignores it.

Many Latin Americans, leftists in particular, are sensitive to any U.S. statements that could imply hegemonistic designs, especially in light of Washington’s 20th-century history of backing repressive governments in the Americas.

“The United States does not lack institutions that continue to conspire, and that’s why I am using this gathering to announce that we have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia,” Morales told the crowd.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called Morales’s allegations “baseless” and said the purpose of USAID programs in Bolivia has been, since they began in 1964, “to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians” in full coordination with its agencies.

On Tuesday, Bolivia’s constitutional court ruled that Morales can run for a third consecutive term, interpreting the 2009 constitution that set a two-term limit as not being retroactive. He won reelection by a landslide in 2009.

— Associated Press

 
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