Bolivian President Expels USAID For Alleged “Political Interference”

WaPo reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales acted on a longtime threat Wednesday and expelled USAID for allegedly “seeking to undermine Bolivia’s leftist government.” He also harangued Secretary Kerry for calling the Western Hemisphere the United States’s  “backyard.”  Bolivia’s ABI state news agency said USAID was “accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations.”

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

USAID Bolivia has put out a fact sheet says in part, “The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.”

The USAID fact sheet also indicates that in the last 50 years, USAID has spent nearly $2 billion in Bolivia on education, health, agriculture, food security, alternative development, economic development, and environment programs.  USAID’s budget for Bolivia in FY2011 was $26.7 million from a high of over $72 million in 2008 before U.S.-Bolivia relations soured.

The most recent OIG report we could locate is dated 2008.  At that time, USAID Bolivia had 16 American direct hire employees and 116 foreign national staff and a total funding for FY 2008 of $72,135,552.

President Morales expelled DEA agents from Bolivia in 2008 for alleged conspiracy.  On September 10, 2008, the Bolivian Government also expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, after declaring him Persona Non Grata.   It is not clear if a reduction in staffing followed the reduction of funds for Bolivia in the years following the double expulsion in 2008.

Update on 5/3/13: According to the State Dept:   There are 9 Americans and 37 Foreign Service Nationals (Bolivians) working at USAID/Bolivia.  After the May 1 announcement by President Morales, the Bolivian Foreign Minister called the Embassy to officially inform us of the decision to expel USAID and said USAID would be given a “reasonable” amount of time to end operations. The Embassy has not received a diplomatic note and no further details regarding a timeline were given.

This is not the first time the Bolivian president got upset over remarks made in Washington, of course.  David Greenlee who was Ambassador to Bolivia in 2003-2006 spoke briefly about this as part of the ADST Oral History (Ambassador Greenlee was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2007.  See here — http://www.adst.org/Readers/Bolivia.pdf):

On the political side, our relations quickly deteriorated. Morales couldn’t stop attacking us. Partly, I am sure, it was his personal resentment, still occasionally stoked by intemperate remarks from Washington. The problem there was not the State Department. But off-hand comments, here and there, would give him something to work with. Once Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, for example, said something sneering about Morales on a visit to Paraguay. It played to Morales’ hand, not ours.

Morales looked for anything he could use to demonstrate to his base that we were the enemy and he was “bending our arm.” Once some guy from the U.S. came into Bolivia and allegedly, I have to be careful about my language, blew up a couple of buildings, or parts of buildings. There were deaths and injuries. Morales accused the U.S. of sending him to terrorize the country. The reality was that the guy had been arrested in Argentina for blowing up an ATM machine, and then obtained a Bolivian visa on the border with Bolivia, entered the country, and went on to get a license from the police to sell dynamite. I went over this with Morales, and he even thanked me, and thanked me publicly, for the “clarification.” But within a week he was back with his accusations. “Why is the U.S. always sending us terrorists?” he would say. Morales lives in a parallel universe.

And here is what Ambassador Greenlee said about bilateral assistance back in 2007:

 Relations had always been good, but very asymmetrical. The U.S. was the biggest bilateral assistance donor. Until Evo Morales was elected president at the end of 2005, the U.S. was always courted, paid deference to, because of that. But our presence was overwhelming. We were too big, the way we did things, was too big for the bilateral relationship. It was bad for Bolivia, and it was bad for us. The Bolivians were in the habit, the bad habit, of being supplicants, and we were in the position, the frankly arrogant position, of doling out assistance. The Bolivians wanted help without conditionality, while we needed to know that our aid wasn’t being squandered, that it was going to something that had a developmental purpose or an anti- drug purpose. The Bolivians resented the emphasis on drugs. They saw the cocaine trade as a U.S. problem, but it was increasingly, even on the consumption side, a Bolivian problem in equal measure.

If you want to read more, click here to see the ADST Bolivia Reader.(pdf)

–DS