Amid Growing Unrest, Bolivia Orders
CARACAS, Venezuela -- The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, ordered the American ambassador, Philip S. Goldberg, on Wednesday to leave the country, accusing him of supporting rebellious groups in eastern regions that have been rocked by intensifying protests this week.
The expulsion order signals a low point between Bolivia and the United States. Their dealings of late have reflected a heightening tension over American antinarcotics policies and the granting of asylum in the United States to Bolivian officials who fled the country earlier in this decade.
"We do not want people here who conspire against democracy," Mr. Morales said in Bolivias capital, La Paz, announcing the decision to expel Mr. Goldberg. Mr. Morales, a leftist whose top ally is President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, repeated contentions that Mr. Goldberg was helping groups seeking greater political autonomy in eastern Bolivia.
Officials at the American Embassy in Bolivia, which has repeatedly denied Mr. Moraless assertions, did not return calls seeking comment. But the State Department said Wednesday evening that it had received no official notification of Mr. Moraless order expelling Mr. Goldberg, who served as chief of mission to Kosovo before his nomination as ambassador to Bolivia in 2006.
"We are therefore trying to establish the intent of the presidents remarks," said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman. He dismissed Mr. Moraless charges against Mr. Goldberg as "baseless." The ambassador, Mr. Vasquez said, is still at his post.
If the expulsion does occur, it could affect a variety of issues between Bolivia and the United States. Despite a recent deterioration of political relations, Washington remains one of the largest providers of development and antinarcotics aid to Bolivia and grants duty-free access to American markets for Bolivian textiles and other products.
Mr. Moraless order came as antigovernment demonstrations were spreading in eastern Bolivia. They took a violent turn on Wednesday in the southern gas-rich department of Tarija, where Bolivias state energy company accused protesters of causing a pipeline explosion that cut 10 percent of the countrys natural gas exports to neighboring Brazil.
Bolivian officials said the pipeline disruption could cost the country about $8 million a day in lost revenue and about $100 million to repair, significant amounts in one of South Americas poorest countries.
The protests in Tarija and neighboring departments, or provinces, have intensified since a referendum last month in which more than 67 percent of voters approved of Mr. Moraless presidency. Buoyed by those results, Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian who is Bolivias first president to identify explicitly with his indigenous ancestry, vowed to press ahead with efforts to redistribute land and petroleum royalties from the moneyed elite in eastern lowlands to the countrys indigenous majority.
In Santa Cruz, Bolivias richest city, protesters this week stormed the offices of the tax agency, state television company and state telecommunications company. The protests have disrupted telephone service out of the eastern lowlands and, of more pressing immediate concern, caused shortages of diesel and other fuels in the region.
"So far what they have achieved are major fuel shortages within their own departments," said Kathryn Ledebur, a political analyst in Cochabamba, Bolivia. "If they block transport to Argentina and Brazil, there wont be any significant royalties to fight over."
Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.