March 6, 2006

Bolivia’s Morales accuses US of blackmail

By Helen Popper

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales
accused the United States of "blackmail, threats and
intimidation" on Monday for withdrawing anti-terrorism funding
from the poor South American country, the official news service
ABI reported.

Morales, a coca farmer who once described his socialist
movement as a "nightmare for the U.S.," said the U.S. military
told Bolivian military chiefs last week the country was no
longer seen as a suitable partner in the war on terrorism.

"Because we don't accept vetoes or the change of a
commander, blackmail comes from the U.S. armed forces," Morales
was quoted as saying, referring to perceived U.S. interference
in the Bolivian military.

In a speech to mark the 21st anniversary of the rebellious
left-wing city of El Alto, Morales said the U.S. decision to
"declassify" Bolivia as an anti-terrorism partner would lead to
the withdrawal of U.S. military equipment deployed for the
countries' joint anti-terrorism force, as well as the
discontinuation of grants and training courses.

In total, the U.S.-sponsored programs were worth more than
$300,000, Morales said.

"It's peanuts. These resources are only there to control
Bolivia, to have intelligence agents. We don't want
intelligence agents serving the U.S. government," he was quoted
as saying.

No one from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz was immediately
available to comment.

Washington has been wary of Morales' leftist rhetoric and
worries he may make good on an election promise to
decriminalize all coca growing, instead of maintaining quotas
for cultivation for traditional uses like tea and chewing for
altitude sickness and hunger.

It is not the first time Morales has attacked Washington
since he was sworn into office in January. Late last month he
criticized a U.S. decision to revoke the visa of a close aide
and fellow coca farmer.

Several weeks earlier, he attacked Washington's move to cut
96 percent of military aid to Bolivia because it had failed to
sign an accord granting U.S. troops immunity from prosecution
at the International Criminal Court.

However, Morales has vowed to pursue friendly relations
with the Bush administration and has promised to fight the
narcotics trade in the world's third-largest cocaine producer.

Despite deep differences with Morales over coca and his
political ideology, U.S. diplomats have been positive about
their early contacts with the new government.