Tuesday, February 12, 2008

B-U.S.-ted: La política expuestos

An American Fulbright Scholar made headlines last week and put the U.S. Embassy on the defensive after revelations that he and a group of Peace Corps volunteers were asked to spy for the U.S. government.

John Alexander van Schaick told reporters Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Brian Ross that during a security briefing meeting in November 2007 - held at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz - regional security officer Vincent Cooper requested that Van Schaick report back to the U.S. Embassy with names and addresses of Cuban and Venezuelans met in his field work.

On Monday, President Morales responded by stating that Cooper, “has not only violated the rights of these citizens, but also violated, offended and attacked Bolivia”.

The U.S. denied the latest allegations, as it has done several times in the past when confronted with accusations of interference from the Bolivian government.

It was June 2006 when President Evo Morales first accused the United States of sending spies disguised as students and tourists to Bolivia. At the time, the U.S. Embassy vehemently denied Morales’ statements and asserted that the U.S. government maintained consistent support for Bolivia’s democracy.

However, the facts point to an association of patronage and interference from the U.S. Embassy that may have seen its apex with the administrations of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.

Sánchez de Lozada was viewed as such a close ally of the U.S., that he was nicknamed “El Gringo” by the Bolivian people. His frequent association with the U.S. Embassy led many to believe that he was personally backed by the U.S. government.

So intimate was the relationship between the CIA and the Bolivian government that when Morales assumed the presidency in January 2006, the CIA headquarters was housed in the Presidential Palace, according to lawyer and journalist Eva Gollinger.

Historically, the U.S. has meddled in Bolivia’s political affairs through the activities of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and local activities sponsored by USAID and the CIA-directed War on Drugs.

The brutal tactics used by the Expeditionary Task Force – an armed unit of 1,500 former Bolivian soldiers used for coca eradication in the Chapare region of Bolivia - earned them the nickname “America’s mercenaries”. The group was trained, clothed and fed by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz.

But the U.S. government’s antagonistic relationship with Evo Morales and his party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), dates back to before Morales won the presidential election in 2005.

The U.S. government carefully eyed Morales during the presidential race in 2002. At the time, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, warned voters not to choose Morales in the polls. Ambassador Rocha stated very clearly that electing Morales would endanger funding from the U.S. government.

While a senator in the Bolivian Congress, Morales often charged that the U.S. was interfering in his nation’s politics. In 2003, while on Colombian radio, Morales accused the U.S. of fomenting the political crisis in the country, saying the Bush administration was complicit in the deaths of protesting campesinos during the “Gas Wars” of September-October 2003.

After his election to the Presidency in 2005, the Morales administration regularly made statements condemning interference from the U.S., with the two governments going through varied levels of tense relations.

Last year, Bolivian Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana criticized the USAID foreign aid program, and suggested that the U.S. government should stop its interference or USAID should leave Bolivia. According to Minister Quintana, the USAID funded programs prove that the U.S. administration does not recognize the current Bolivian government as a democracy.

The USAID development process has long been identified as ineffective and in many cases downright subversive. Eva Gollinger, a Venezuelan-American lawyer, is one of the most vocal critics of USAID activities in Latin America. She has alleged that USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, which is responsible for "democracy promotion," has been funding organizations and programs working against the Morales government.

Although not a part of USAID, the Peace Corps and Fulbright Program are de facto extensions of U.S. international influence.

Perhaps the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia was expecting to regain some of its carte blanche activities that had been recently eclipsed by the Morales administration. Although Van Schaick would be an odd choice as a potential "spy".

While in the U.S., Van Schaick worked as a union organizer and as an anti-war activist. He is also a former editorial assistant with the New York City based North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), an organization that has written extensively on U.S./Latin American relations since 1966. Van Schaick, arrived in Bolivia last October, on a Fulbright grant to study land use issues among largely indigenous farmers in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands.

While maintaining that the Fulbright program is free from the policies of the U.S. government, the program is actively sponsored and administered by the U.S. State Department in conjunction with the Public Affairs Sections of U.S. Embassies abroad. The Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board is composed of educational and public leaders that are directly appointed by the President of the United States.

The head of the Fulbright Board, Shirley Moore Green, was appointed to the board by President Bush in 2003. Ms. Green previously served under George H. Bush while he was Vice President, and also served as the Special Assistant for Presidential Messages after he was elected to the Presidency.

In the current U.S. political climate which is prone to violating international laws, corrupting justice and classifying nations as evil, any statements made by the U.S. State Department - at home or abroad - is suspect to scrutiny.

Cooper had been implicated in a previous incident with Peace Corps volunteers in July 2007 and was supposedly reported to his superiors by the director of Peace Corps in Bolivia. Yet four months later, Cooper offered similar instructions.

President Morales has said Bolivia seeks “partners not owners” as well as national sovereignty and dignity. By its actions, the U.S. has demonstrated quite clearly that its policies are incapable of respecting the sovereignty of the democratically elected government of Evo Morales. Instead the U.S. government has chosen to support those individuals, organizations and activities that directly undermine the political and economic stability of Bolivia.

This latest incident demonstrated by the U.S. Embassy is just another example of a pattern of unapologetic interference.

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