Anti-Morales governor removed in Bolivia
December 16, 2010 - Associated Press


LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Lawmakers in a natural gas-rich eastern province removed its governor - a key opponent of leftist President Evo Morales - on Thursday after he was charged with dereliction of duty and causing economic damage.

Morales' opponents claim Tarija Gov. Mario Cossio is just the latest casualty of a campaign by backers of Bolivia's popular president, who they allege controls the country's chief prosecutor's office and its courts, to remove all serious opposition.

Cossio's unseating by a legislature dominated by Morales supporters leaves opposition governors in control of just two of Bolivia's nine provinces.

"This is a putschist plan by Morales in complicity with prosecutors and judges controlled by a government that wants to demolish everything that opposes it in order to have total power," Cossio roared during heated assembly debate shortly before being ousted early Thursday.

Gov. Ruben Costas of Santa Cruz province, the pro-capitalist eastern lowland center of opposition, calls Cossio's removal "a coup d'etat."

And backers of Cossio called for a general strike "in defense of democracy."

The president of the national Senate, Rene Martinez, rejected the accusations of political persecution.

"Cossio is desperate and can't shield himself," he said.

The charges were filed last week against Cossio, who had been re-elected in April. If convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.

Three leading opponents of Morales have now been removed from office after being charged with or convicted of crimes. Mayor Jaime Barron of Sucre stands accused of "instigating racist actions." Potosi Mayor Rene Joaquino has been convicted of causing economic damage and sentenced to three years in prison, which he has appealed.

Luis Revilla, the La Paz mayor, could be next. A prosecutor filed embezzlement charges against him Wednesday.

Under a law passed by the national legislature, dominated by Morales backers, public officials can be unseated based only on the filing of charges by a prosecutor.

Morales was re-elected last year with 64 percent of the vote.

Tarija is home to the majority of Bolivia's oil and gas reserves.