Embattled U.S.-Bolivia relations took another hit yesterday after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) of using democracy promotion programs for political purposes and announced he would expel the organization from the country.
La Razon reports that Morales made the announcement in an hour-long speech to commemorate International Workers' Day, in which he claimed that the U.S. development agency had interfered with the internal affairs of campesino unions and other social organizations. Its goal, according to the president, was to manipulate leaders of these groups and turn them against the government.
“The United States continues to conspire. For this reason, we are using this gathering to announce that we have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia. It is leaving. Never again will USAID manipulate and use our community organizer brethren,” announced Morales. He also condemned a recent remark by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he characterized Latin America as the “backyard” of the United States.
In response, the aid organization characterized Morales’ accusations as “baseless,” adding that the announcement is proof that his government is not interested in “a relationship based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation.”
The Associated Press claims that it submitted a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request into USAID’s funding in the country. While the agency’s response was not detailed, it included items like a $10.5 million grant for “democracy-building” awarded to Chemonics International Inc. in 2006, for the stated purpose of supporting “improved governance in a changing political environment.”
The Morales government has complained about USAID democracy promotion programs in the past, most recently for allegedly providing financial support to NGOs which oppose a planned highway through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park (TIPNIS). These groups held a series of marches and demonstrations in late 2011, and the political fallout from the government’s response led to a drop in Morales’ popularity and caused a major cabinet shuffle. When the debate over the project was revived in early 2012, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera pointed a finger at USAID, saying it was “spending any amount of money” to dispute the government’s sovereign right to develop the road.
USAID’s official response to the announcement laments that “those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work.” But the impact of its expulsion will likely be limited. As the AP notes, USAID has drastically reduced funding to its Bolivia program in recent years, from $100 million in 2008 to just $28 million in 2012.
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- The New York Times reports on a new presence in the annual Workers’ Day march held yesterday in Havana: private entrepreneurs. While individuals who have taken advantage of lowered restrictions on private business in Cuba were a minority at the march yesterday, the article features interesting perspectives of those who showed up, many of whom said they came to show solidarity with state workers.
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- Foreign Policy looks at the two top contenders for the next head of the World Trade Organization (WTO): Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo and Mexico’s Herminio Blanco. While both are widely respected in their field, Blanco is a University of Chicago-trained economist and has more support from the U.S. than Azevedo, who is the favorite of the BRIC nations and the majority of the developing world.
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