Bolivia: military tension with US —already

Just to get both sides of the story, first this account (in rather poor English) from Cuba’s Prensa Latina:

La Paz, Mar 8 – Bolivia conditioned the return of weaponry and technology the US supplied to an elite military unit on submitting an official request through the Foreign Ministry.

La Prensa daily quoted cabinet sources as saying President Evo Morales regretted that the news came through the head of the US military mission to Bolivia Col. Daniel Barreto and not the US embassy.

The source said the US embassy confirmed the withdrawal and Barreto’s visit to the FCC on Friday.

President Morales decided Monday along with the military leadership not to return the weapons as retaliation for the relieve of the chief of the so-called Joint Anti-Terrorist Forces (FCC).

La Razon daily sustains that the reprisal against the FCC is owed to US embassy belief that FCC Chief Lt. Col. Rory Rodriguez told President Evo Morales of the transfer of Chinese missiles to the US.

The then presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Evo Morales denounced the case quoting Armed Forces patriot officers.

The President condemned the pressures as “blackmail, threat and intimidation” and called it inadmissible for an honorable country in development.

He added that the times when the US decided to change ministers and military chiefs are over.

Defense Minister Walker San Miguel spoke of talks with US diplomats and voiced official wishes to cooperate based on mutual respect but denied a diplomatic conflict with Washington.

And now this one, rather less detailed, from Voice of America:

Bolivian President Evo Morales says he will not agree to a U.S. request to return weapons and equipment in an ongoing disagreement over the naming of a new commander for Bolivia’s counterterrorism unit.

Mr. Morales responded Tuesday to a written request by the U.S. Embassy that objected to the new unit commander. Mr. Morales has called the U.S. request blackmail.

U.S. officials have confirmed that Washington will cancel its counterterrorism programs in Bolivia after its decision last week to drop the country from its list of anti-terrorism partners.

Further background is provided by this Jan. 18 BBC report:

Bolivia’s outgoing President Eduardo Rodriguez has sacked the army chief and ordered a probe into the destruction in the US of some 30 missiles in October.

Mr Rodriguez said he had been told the ageing Chinese missiles posed a safety risk and had authorised American help with their decommissioning.

But, he said, the army should not have sent them out of the country.

At the time, Evo Morales – who will take office on Sunday – had called it a US plot to weaken Bolivian defences.

Mr Morales’ party had threatened to impeach President Rodriguez over the deactivation of the surface-to-air missiles, but correspondents says it has backed away from the threat recently.

President Rodriguez said on Tuesday he would seek clarification from Washington about the episode.

Defence Minister Gonzalo Mendez has resigned so his role can be investigated.

Army chief General Marcelo Antezana will face disciplinary proceedings after he published a letter in several newspapers, demanding that the government release the documents pertaining to the decommissioning.

In October, he had issued a declaration saying he was the sole person responsible for the decision.

But last week, he appeared to reject any responsibility and hinted that there had been American pressure for the missiles to be taken to a US base.

The US can also not be happy about this. From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19:

On Feb. 8, Bolivian judge Nancy Altuzarra of the Fifth Sentencing Court of La Paz allowed the conditional release of Colombian activist Jose Francisco Cortes Aguilar from jail. “Pacho” Cortes was arrested on Apr. 10, 2003, in El Alto along with Bolivian campesino coca grower (cocalero) activists Claudio Ramirez Cuevas and Carmelo Penaranda Rosa; all three were accused of terrorism, drug trafficking and other crimes. Cortes has now been freed on bail but he is barred from leaving the cities of La Paz and El Alto, must go to court for twice-weekly check-ins, and is not allowed to support social mobilizations or to meet with any of the prosecution witnesses. He has a hearing date set for Apr. 17. The international peasant movement Via Campesina had been campaigning for Cortes’ release since he was first arrested, and recently asked President Evo Morales Ayma, a cocalero leader, to grant Cortes full amnesty. (Adital, Feb. 17; Via Campesina, Feb. 14)

See also WW4 REPORT #91

See our last post on Bolivia.

  1. Evo meets with Condi
    Reuters, March 11:

    Bolivia’s new president, Evo Morales, discussed his country’s fight against illegal drugs on Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then gave her a guitar decorated with coca leaves.

    The leftist leader of the world’s third-biggest cocaine producer, who went into politics as the head of Bolivia’s coca growers group, greeted Rice warmly in their first meeting since he took office in January.

    During his campaigning, Morales tagged himself a “nightmare” for Washington but a State Department official who attended the meeting described the atmosphere as friendly.

    He said Rice had strummed the lacquered Bolivian instrument but it was unclear whether the top U.S. diplomat could take it home because of U.S. customs laws.

    Drugs policy and trade with Latin America’s poorest country were the main issues discussed at the meeting in a tiny room on the sidelines of the inauguration of Chile’s first woman president, Michelle Bachelet.

    “The U.S. and Bolivia must work together to counter the drug trade,” Rice told Morales, who was casually dressed in a leather jacket decorated with traditional embroidery.

    “We want to have a good friendship with Bolivia and to help the Bolivian people prosper through encouraging expansion of trade opportunities,” Rice added.