Jim Kouri / The Post Chronicle – 2006-01-03 23:48:55
(December 28, 2005) — It didn’t take long for the newly elected Bolivian President to intensify his verbal attacks against the United States. But the new Bolivian leader, an avowed Socialist and friend of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba, is going even further than rhetoric. He’s threatening to take action against the US.
President Evo Morales, according to a news story in the Washington Times, leveled allegations at the United States that its advisors secretly removed Chinese-made anti-aircraft missiles from Bolivia. US military and law enforcement personnel serve as advisors to the Bolivians in their drug control activities and counterterrorism training.
Morales, an Indian and former coca farmer, has pledged to end United States drug eradication programs in the country. The US had been invited to help Bolivian authorities by the previous administration which was more centrist than the incoming neo-Marxists. A Morales campaign promise to legalize coca plant cultivation is expected to increase cocaine production in the region.
Bolivia’s new President is leader of the Movement to Socialism (MAS). He was quoted in press reports this week as saying he would evict US military advisers from Bolivia and punish those responsible for the removal from the country this year of 28 HN-SA hand-held surface-to-air missiles (SAM).
The missiles are similar to the U.S. “Stinger” missiles used by Afghan insurgents with devastating effectiveness against low-flying Russian aircraft during the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“I will press for a full investigation to establish responsibilities. We cannot tolerate international intervention,” Mr. Morales was quoted as saying of the missile incident.
However, a leaked intelligence report that was presented to the Bolivian legislature actually accuses Bolivia’s military of permitting the United States to secrete the missiles out of the country when it was clear the Socialists would take control of the government.
The secret report said US military officers operating out of the US Embassy had confiscated the missiles between May and June of this year. The report also reveals that Bolivian army commanders assisted the US officers in the operation. They feared these missiles might fall into the hands of radicals in the Morales administration.
Some see this situation as being an excuse for President Morales to purge his military of anti-Socialist commanders and placing his own people in key positions within the Bolivian armed forces. The Movement to Socialism (MAS) quoted military sources saying the missiles and launchers were boarded onto an unmarked C-130 operated by the US State Department’s Narcotics Affairs Section and flown to the United States.
But, American military officers claim that the removal was to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of militants. At the time, MAS-led street protests had toppled the government of former President Carlos Mesa and mobs were threatening to invade government installations in La Paz.
“They were afraid the missiles could be used against the U.S. aircraft in the event that they had to evacuate their personnel or intervene,” said one source quoted in the Washington Times.
In a statement to the Bolivian legislature last week, army chief General Marcelo Antezana admitted the missiles had been flown out of the country in June but he denied having taken any part in the operation.
Morales fought a tough battle against a conservative former president, Jorge Quiroga. Quiroga promised to get tough on coca growing and keep Bolivia on a free-market track, rather than a planned and government controlled economy But Morales has been successful in creating a fever-pitched hatred for all things capitalist. And he wholeheartedly plays the all-too-familiar race card. Quiroga is of European ancestry. Morales is an Indian.
Morales, an Aymara Indian street activist, whose boyhood hero is the late Che Guevera, dictator Fidel Castro’s right-hand man during the Cuban revolution, has promised to decriminalize coca and renegotiate long-standing natural-gas deals with foreign companies working in Bolivia.
He is the first Indian president in Bolivia, a country where Aymara and Quechua Indians make up a majority of the population of eight and a half million. In fact. the US media seemed to focus more on the race of the candidates than on their ideologies
Morales has been a problem for Washington since he rose to prominence in the 1990s as the leader of the cocaleros, or coca farmers, in Bolivia’s tropical region, leading their often violent resistance to US-backed coca eradication efforts.
Then-President Bill Clinton appeared to back off when faced with growing violence. While the US government insists that much of the coca becomes cocaine, farmers say they supply a legal market. Coca leaves are sold in supermarkets and can be chewed, brewed for tea, and used in religious ceremonies. It helps the poor deal with hunger — coca and cocaine are appetite suppressants — and it gives them energy for long, arduous labor.
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