January 19, 2006

Chavez says CIA stole Bolivian missiles

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Thursday accused the CIA of masterminding the theft
of Bolivian surface-to-air missiles last year to prevent them
from falling into the hands of leftist President-elect Evo

Chavez, who often accuses Washington and the CIA of plots
against his self-proclaimed socialist revolution, gave no
evidence of his claim. Yet his allegations have moved the
missile crisis to the center stage of growing suspicion among
South America's resurgent left of Washington's intentions in
the region.

At the height of election campaigning, Morales, a former
coca leaf farmer who is to take office on Sunday, denounced the
destruction in October of up to 30 Chinese-made Bolivian
surface-to-air missiles in the United States.

"The head of the Bolivian army handed over some missiles to
the American ambassador in Bolivia when they noticed Evo was
going to win," Chavez said on the sidelines of a summit of
heads of state from Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil.

"The United States stole missiles from Bolivia, they are
international thieves," he said after meeting Argentina's
Nestor Kirchner and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The leftist leaders are eager to forge regional integration
as a counter-balance to U.S. influence.

Then army chief Gen. Marcelo Antezana had told local media
Washington initiated the drive to destroy the missiles out of
concern over Evo Morales, the President-elect who has described
his movement as a "nightmare for the U.S.." Antezana later
retracted his statement.

Earlier this week, Antezana was sacked and Bolivia's
defense minister resigned as a result of the scandal. Outgoing
interim President Eduardo Rodriguez said he authorized the
missile destruction but not their transfer to the U.S.

The U.S. embassy in La Paz has said that the U.S.
government complied in good faith with a request from Bolivia
to help dispose of the arms.

Chavez said that the U.S. was trying to prevent South
American unity and that Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela would
aid Bolivia with loans, road construction and public health.

He added that Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer may lose a
Venezuela order for military aircraft due to U.S. objections
over U.S.-made parts used in the planes. "If Brazil can't
change (U.S. opinion), we're sorry (...) we'll buy the planes
from Russia, India, China or elsewhere," Chavez said.