Bolivia accuses US aid of supporting opposition

The Associated Press, Wednesday, August 29, 2007

La Paz - The government stepped up its criticism of U.S. aid, with a top Cabinet official alleging the U.S. government is supporting opposition to President Evo Morales' sweeping leftist reforms.

Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana's comments Wednesday came just days after Vice President Alvaro Garcia accused Washington of funding "publications, trips, and seminars" to help Morales' opponents

"The Bolivian people have decided to undertake a process of profound change," Quintana said. "But these changes are being harassed and interfered with by the effects of U.S. assistance."

Quintana added that "if U.S. cooperation does not conform to the policies of the Bolivian state, the door is open" for it to leave the country.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that "there is absolutely no truth to any allegation that the U.S. is using its aid funds to try and influence the political process or in any way undermine the government there."

On Sunday, Garcia called for a law giving the Bolivian government control over all foreign aid programs, charging the U.S. funds are helping Morales' opposition develop its "ideological and political resistance."

Bolivia receives about US$120 million (€88 million) in annual aid from the United States, but Morales warned this week that "radical decisions" would be taken against foreign embassies that meddle in Bolivian politics.

Morales has moved to nationalize Bolivia's oil and gas industry, proposed a land reform and is seeking a new constitution that would grant greater power to the impoverished Andean nation's Indian majority.

While the president's support remains high among the largely indigenous population of the poorer western highlands, many European-descended and mestizo residents of the more prosperous lowland east have bitterly opposed his reforms. A prominent eastern mayor even suggested Tuesday that Bolivia should split into two separate countries.

Quintana named several government ministers from previous conservative administrations allegedly on the payrolls of democracy initiatives subcontracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development to Chemonics International Inc., a global consulting firm.

David Snider, a USAID spokesman in Washington, said Bolivian assistance is not directed toward any political ends.

"We don't choose sides," he told The Associated Press.

The United States has used its Bolivian aid to oppose Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, in the past.

A declassified 2002 cable from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz described a USAID-sponsored "political party reform project" to "help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors."

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz declined this week to comment on the memo.

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