President Evo Morales acted on a longtime threat Wednesday and expelled the US Agency for International Development for allegedly seeking to undermine Bolivia's leftist government, and he harangued Washington's top diplomat for calling the Western Hemisphere the “backyard” of the US
Bolivia's ABI state news agency said USAID was “accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations.”
In the past, Morales has accused the agency of funding groups that opposed his policies, including a lowlands indigenous federation that organized protests against a Morales-backed highway through the TIPNIS rainforest preserve.
In 2008, Morales expelled the US ambassador and agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly inciting the opposition. On Wednesday, he said Washington “still has a mentality of domination and submission” in the region.
“They surely still think they can manipulate here politically and economically,” Morales said. “That belongs to the past.”
While Morales did not provide evidence of alleged USAID meddling, funds channeled through it have been used in Bolivia and its leftist ally Venezuela to support organizations deemed a threat by those governments.
But there is not much aid left to cut.
As US-Bolivian relations soured and Washington canceled trade preferences, total US foreign aid to the poor, landlocked South American nation has dropped from $100 million in 2008 to $28 million last year. Amid mutual distrust on drug war politics, US counter-narcotics and security aid are on track to all but disappear in the coming fiscal year for Bolivia, a cocaine-producing country along with Colombia and Peru.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called Morales' allegations “baseless” and said the purpose of USAID programs in Bolivia has been, since they began in 1964, “to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians” in full coordination with its agencies.
“The current Bolivia portfolio consists of health and environment efforts and the overall size and scope of the mission is a shadow of what it once was,” said Mark Lopes, USAID's deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
An agency statement said the expulsion means the end of programs that have helped tens of thousands of Bolivians, particularly children and new mothers in underserved rural areas who have benefited from health, nutrition, immunization and reproductive services.