Monday, November 19, 2007

Another Hurdle in Bolivia-U.S. Diplomacy

Relations between Bolivia and the United States have soured once again as President Morales publicly denounced the U.S. for conspiring against his government. While at a press conference in the town of Viacha, outside La Paz, Morales slammed U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and called on Washington "to practice diplomacy, not politics."

Morales’ comments were made in response to a demand from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack this week that the Bolivian government should just “knock it off”.

McCormack was criticizing Morales’ actions at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile last weekend, where the Bolivian president circulated a photograph of Ambassador Goldberg standing with John Jairo Vanegas and a businessman from the eastern province of Santa Cruz.

The Morales government has expressed outrage at the photo – taken during a business expo – because Jairo is considered a criminal and Colombian paramilitary. He is currently in a Bolivian prison, serving time for armed robbery.

In his speech made before heads of state at the summit, Morales said, “I cannot understand this photograph with a Colombian paramilitary and this is an open conspiracy.”

U.S. officials said the photograph, published by Spanish news agency EFE, was a montage and McCormack demanded that Bolivia stop leveling “unfounded” accusations against Washington’s ambassador.

This is the latest incident in a tumultuous relationship that has unfolded between Bolivia and the U.S. since the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president in December 2005.

Last month Goldberg was forced to apologize for controversial comments he had made about President Morales. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca demanded an apology after Goldberg mocked a suggestion by Morales that the United Nations’ headquarters be moved from New York City.

While addressing the UN in September, Morales remarked upon the difficulty Bolivian diplomats experienced entering the U.S. and suggested that the body move to a more welcoming country.

Goldberg trivialized Morales statement by stating he probably also wants to move the headquarters of Disney World.

In August, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera reported that U.S. funding was being used to finance a think tank where opposition leaders were orchestrating a campaign against the Morales government. The U.S. has rejected the allegations.

Presidential Minister, Juan Ramon Quintana has stated that USAID is running programs to help the opposition and may be ousted from Bolivia.

Such a move would endanger about $90 million of aid that the Bolivian government receives from the U.S. and potentially jeopardize future negotiations for a $600 million U.S. aid package under the Millennium Challenge Account program.

However, even though Morales continues to denounce U.S. actions at home and abroad, while in Italy to accept an humanitaraian award from the Pio Manzù Center, Morales expressed hope that difficult relations between the nations will improve in the near future. “I have a lot of faith in a change in relations with the United States, because I have good relations with former President Carter, and above all with former President Clinton.”



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