Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bolivia Expels USAID Over Democracy Promotion Programs

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.

News Briefs
  • Tension between government supporters and members of the opposition in Venezuela continues to rise in the aftermath of the close election last month, as the New York Times reports. The conflict came to a head on the floor of the National Assembly on Tuesday, when a fistfight broke out between United Socialist Party (PSUV) and opposition lawmakers. Because the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has refused to recognize the elections results, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has refrained from yielding the floor and allowing them to speak. In protest of this on Tuesday, MUD lawmakers unfurled a banner reading “Parliamentary Coup” and disrupted proceedings by blowing plastic horns and shouting. This sparked the brawl, video of which shows PSUV and MUD lawmakers alike throwing punches. The tension spilled over into Internal Workers’ Day yesterday, when both parties held rival labor marches in Caracas.
  • El Nacional reports that Capriles has announced that he intends to officially challenge the results of the April 14 elections before Venezuela’s Supreme Court today. While the opposition leader is not optimistic about the court, he announced in yesterday’s march that he intends to exhaust domestic remedies before taking his case to the “international community.” This suggests he will present a petition on the matter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has the ability to take cases from any member nation of the Organization of American States (OAS), despite an announcement by Hugo Chavez last year that his government would withdraw from the Commission.
  • U.S. President arrives in Mexico today, where he is expected to discus trade relations and immigration with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto. No word yet on whether he will address human rights concerns or Peña Nieto's shift away from a security policy which focuses on going after criminal kingpins. Americas Quarterly features an exclusive interview with the President on his trip, which will include a visit to Costa Rica.
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have announced that they are close to reaching an agreement with the Colombian government on reforming the unequal distribution of land in the country, one of the main sticking points of peace talks. A rebel spokesman told the press in Havana that Colombians can expect to hear about an agreement on the issue sometime this month, El Tiempo reports.
  • In another potentially good sign for peace in Colombia, officials say that the number of voluntary FARC and ELN demobilizations is up by 14 percent this year compared to the first four months of 2012.
  • A new survey by Argentine pollster Management & Fit has found that support for President Cristina Fernandez has fallen dramatically, suggesting her party will take a hit in the upcoming legislative elections in October. Just 29 percent of Argentines say they approve of Fernandez, down from 34 percent a month ago.
  • 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.
  • In an interview with AFP, Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes told the news agency that one of the priorities of his administration will be re-establishing ties with his country’s “immediate neighbours” in order to regain access to Mercosur.
  • 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.
  • The Economist has a piece on inaccuracies in Chile’s official 2012 census. Last week a top official in the country’s National Statistics Institute told the press that the census was less accurate than initially stated, which in turn cast doubt on official inflation and other economic figures as well. 

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