Shortly past noon yesterday, three limousines pulled up before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. About 30 Spanish-speaking men got out, several with television cameras.
Ignoring orders to halt from the military honor guard on duty, the men jumped over a restraining rope, and, with the cameras rolling, one laid a wreath on the tomb. The limousines took off again before the commander of the guard arrived.
Thus, Bolivian Interior Minister Luis Arce Gomez managed to thwart the wishes of a State Department he clearly believes is the lamest of ducks, in terms of both policy and power.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Arce had charged that the State Department had forbidden him from laying the wreath. State has voiced strong disapproval of the rightist military government that took over in a coup in Bolivia last July.
A Department official confirmed it had rejected a Bolivian Embassy request to arrange a wreath-laying ceremony for Arce. The official said that Arce was not here on a state visit and that such homage was not welcome from a government the Carter administration has accused of illegally seizing power, violating human rights and participating in Bolivia's massive cocaine trade.
Arce spent most of his visit here meeting with conservative members of Congress and the Reagan State Department transition team.As a result of the talks, he said, he feels that U.S.-Bolivian relations "will enter a new stage under the Reagan administration."
Arce, a colonel in the Bolivian Army, said that he had presented the incoming administration with lengthy proposals to "eradicate" cocaine growing in Bolivia. Those proposals, he said, include U.S. government purchase of Bolivia's cocaine exports to keep them from falling into illegal hands.
He said that those Reagan officials he had talked to, including Joseph Carbaugh, an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who is part of the Reagan State Department team, "deplored" U.S. termination of bilateral antinrcotics program in Bolivia.
That program, along with all military sales and credits and most economic assistance programs, was canceled by the Carter administration after the coup. a
Arce said that one purpose of his trip was to talk to U.S. lawyers concerning the government's plans to sue several American newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post, for what Bolivia has charged were libelous statements about military drug connections and human rights violations. But the lawyers had advised him, Arce said, that such action would "only further the cause of those who barked at the moon."
Also, Arce said, "I came because I have clean hands, not stained by blood as was claimed by some [members of the] press who had been inspired by international communism."
Following the incident at the tomb, which a U.S. Army security guard said was "pretty outrageous," the three limousines carrying Arce's party made a fast getaway through neighboring Fort Myer, where they "disrupted" a funeral in progress and were briefly stopped by military police, to whom they declared their diplomatic status.