Bolivia: US ambassador expelled amid “civil war” fears

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales ordered the expulsion of the US ambassador Sept. 10, charging him with inciting violent opposition protests. “The ambassador of the United States is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia to break apart,” Morales said at the presidential palace in La Paz. The move came as protesters across Bolivia’s east seized government offices, oil facilities and three regional airports. Government offices were ransacked in Santa Cruz, and more than 50 injured in battles with the security forces. The government singled out the Comité Cívico Cruceño, which is leading a campaign for repeal of the new hydrocarbon tax, as behind the protests.

Protesters also attacked a gas pipeline in Tarija department, cutting exports to Brazil by 10%. Santos Ramírez, president of the state company YPFB, said the attack had been carried out by “paramilitaries, fascists and terrorists.” Local radio reported that fire-fighters were working to put out flames at the place where the pipeline was damaged, about 50 kilometers from the city of Yacuiba, near the Argentine border. Repairs will cost $100 million and take about 20 days, the government said.

Morales said he had asked his foreign minister to send a letter to the US embassy asking Ambassador Philip Goldberg to “urgently return to his country,” calling him “persona non grata.” Gordon Duguid, a US State Department spokesman in Washington, said Morales’ accusations were “baseless,” and that the embassy had not received any request for Goldberg to leave.

Morales’s spokesman, Ivan Canelas, said the protests in the east of the country were creating conditions for “civil war.” Last month, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry protested a high-profile meeting Goldberg held with the governor of Santa Cruz state, Ruben Costas. Goldberg served as chief of mission to Kosovo before his nomination as ambassador to Bolivia in 2006. (AlJazeera, NYT, Sept. 11; EFE, EFE/Antena3, Spain, Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, Sept. 10)

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