LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday announced the expulsion of USAID from Bolivia, accusing the U.S. development agency of meddling in the country’s internal affairs in a new souring of often-tense relations.
The United States quickly dismissed the allegations as baseless, and said Bolivia’s action showed it did not want good ties with Washington.
In a fiery speech to workers on May Day, the leftist president of South America’s poorest country said the U.S. Agency for International Development was in Bolivia “for political purposes, not social ones.”
“No more USAID, which manipulates and uses our leaders,” Morales said in the address in La Paz’s Plaza de Armas.
He did not explain why he felt the U.S. agency was interfering in Bolivian affairs. USAID has operated in the Andean nation since 1964.
Morales, a populist and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has been in power since 2006 and has followed a sometimes nationalist agenda hostile to Western governments and companies.
In 2008, he expelled the U.S. ambassador and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing them of meddling in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Bolivia is a major producer of coca leaves, the raw material of cocaine.
The United States responded by expelling the Bolivian ambassador and ending trade privileges that it had granted the country.
After a long period of frosty ties, the two countries in 2011 signed a framework agreement to normalize relations and exchange ambassadors again, but tensions remained.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday that all USAID had done in Bolivia was try to improve the standard of living there, adding that Washington deeply regrets Bolivia’s decision.
“We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government,” he said.
After five years of efforts to normalize relations after the 2008 crisis, he said, “this action is a further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision.”
“What is most regrettable is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, agriculture, health, alternative development, and the environment,” Ventrell added.
The new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had encouraged improved relations with Bolivia.
But bilateral ties suffered another blow recently when Morales said the United States was conspiring against the new government that assumed power in Venezuela after the death of his ally Hugo Chávez.
And in early April, the U.S.s announced it was ending the financial and logistical support it had given to Bolivia’s struggle against drug traffickers, although it did donate several aircraft.
In his speech Wednesday, Morales said Bolivia was offended by Kerry’s recent comments to the effect that Latin America was the United States’ backyard.
The United States, he said, “probably thinks that here it can still manipulate politically and economically. That is a thing of the past.”
Morales instructed Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca to inform the U.S. Embassy of the expulsion of USAID, “that tool which still has a mentality of domination.”
USAID has worked to help Bolivia improve its health care system and also runs a sustainable development and environmental program.
Specific goals include boosting farm productivity and food security, expanding access to social services and enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized companies, according to the USAID website.
During Wednesday’s speech, Morales also announced several laws to benefit workers and recalled the seventh anniversary of his nationalization of the oil and gas sector, which affected nearly a dozen foreign oil companies.
Morales, a socialist, also marked May Day with an announcement that he would nationalize Spanish-owned power company TDE.