President of Bolivia expels U.S. aid agency

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LA PAZ, Bolivia -- President Evo Morales on Wednesday expelled the United States Agency for International Development from Bolivia, suggesting that it had conspired against his leftist government.

Mr. Morales made the announcement at the start of festivities to commemorate May 1, a holiday in Bolivia and in many other nations that celebrate workers' movements and organized labor.

The agency, which has nine U.S. employees in the country, had already sharply reduced its presence. The Obama administration had asked for $17 million for the agency's Bolivia programs this year, a steep drop from its $89 million budget in 2007.

"Some institutions of the United States Embassy continue to conspire against this process, against the people and especially against the country," Mr. Morales said. As a result, he said, "We have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia."

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the United States denied "the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government," adding, "Those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government's decision are the Bolivian citizens, who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, health and the environment." The agency said its projects in Bolivia included work to reduce pollution in Lake Titicaca and to support nongovernmental organizations that provide health care for pregnant women, infants and young children.

Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian research group, said Mr. Morales has long distrusted the aid agency, since the days when it helped finance a program to persuade coca growers, an important constituency for the president, to switch to other crops. The program was linked to a highly unpopular campaign for the forced eradication of coca, the leaves of which are processed into cocaine.

Mr. Morales has often accused Washington of trying to undermine his government. He expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008 and the Drug Enforcement Administration the following year.

He did not give details Wednesday to back up his assertion that the aid agency was conspiring against him, but said it manipulated the leaders of social movements in areas where it worked. He also said the expulsion was a response to comments last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that angered other leftist leaders in the region by conjuring images of an imperialist foreign policy.

"The Western Hemisphere is our backyard," Mr. Kerry said. "It's critical to us."

The United States "still has a mentality of domination, of subjugation," Mr. Morales said.



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