The United States government is actively intervening in Bolivia's choice of
new president next month, warning that US aid will be withdrawn if the socialist
Evo Morales is appointed.
It is the latest in a series of recent interventions by the US in Latin American
elections in an attempt to keep leftwing politicians from power.
Congress will elect the president from the two leading candidates in the elections
of two weeks ago: Mr Morales and the rightwing ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de
Bolivian indigenous presidential candidate Evo Morales marches with unidentified
Union Workers and civil leaders in downtown La Paz, July 12, 2002. Thousands of
demostrators of union workers were protesting against the possible future use
of Chilean territory, to export natural gas to North America. Chile and Bolivia
have maintained only consular ties since 1978 due to territorial disputes. Bolivia
lost territory, including an outlet to the sea, during a war with Chile in 1879.
The Bolivian Congress will confirm either Morales or Gonzalo sanchez de Lozada
as the new president, next August 4. REUTERS/David Mercado
Otto Reich, the Cuban-American appointed by President George Bush as his assistant
secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, warned that American aid to
the country would be in danger if Mr Morales was chosen on August 3.
Mr Morales is leader of the country's coca-growers and is opposed to the coca
eradication program sponsored by the US as part of the "war on drugs" on the continent.
"We do not believe we could have normal relations with someone who espouses
these kinds of policies," Mr Reich said on a visit to Buenos Aires.
The US ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, had already issued a similar warning,
suggesting that if Mr Morales was elected US aid would be cut off.
"The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders
somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism," said Mr Rocha in a speech
last month. "I want to remind the Bolivian electorate that if they vote for those
who want Bolivia to return to exporting cocaine, that will seriously jeopardize
any future aid to Bolivia from the United States."
But the comments appeared to infuriate Bolivians and enhanced the popularity
of Mr Morales who called the ambassador his "best campaign chief".
Mr Reich's intervention is the latest in a series of moves to influence politics
in the region. He has been criticized for the way the US administration was seen
as giving the green light to the military coup in Venezuela in April which would
have removed the leftwing president, Hugo Chavez. Mr Chavez was returned to power
after 48 hours but is still thought to be at risk from another possible coup attempt.
Last year, the US intervened in the Nicaraguan elections, warning that if the
Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, won, there would be disastrous financial consequences
for the country. A US state department official, Lino Gutierrez, visited the country
to urge the conservative parties running against Mr Ortega to bury their differences
to defeat him. Mr Ortega lost the election heavily although the US intervention
was far from the decisive factor.
Mr Reich is a controversial figure in Latin-American politics. Under Ronald
Reagan, he was the head of the office of public diplomacy at the state department
and used his position to promote the cause of the "contras" in their war against
In an investigation in 1987 by the comptroller-general of the US he was found
to have abused his office which had been engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda
activities... beyond the range of acceptable public information activities".
He was appointed to his current post despite strong opposition from Democrats
on the foreign relations committee.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002