U.S. relations with Bolivia tumble as accusations are exchanged
Relations between Bolivia and the United States fell to a low point this week as both countries accused each other of overstepping international law.
Bolivia says U.S. Embassy representatives appear to be inciting native Indians who are protesting plans for highway construction across their land. The U.S. government says Bolivia has jailed an American businessman with no apparent evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Bolivian Indians say the planned 185-mile highway would interfere with their way of life. It would run through a section of the Amazon forest that until now has been set aside as protected park land called the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park.
The Bolivian government bases its accusations of U.S. interference with its sovereignty on phone records from calls William Mozdzierz, acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, made to Indian leaders.
Mozdzierz discussed the Indians' Aug. 15 protest march against the highway project during the phone calls, according to Bolivian officials.
"It's a strategy of imperialism" by the United States to "provoke a confrontation between the people of western Bolivia and those from the east," Bolivian President Evo Morales said on state-run television.
The U.S. Embassy acknowledges Mozdzierz made the phone calls but denied he was trying to provoke the Indians against Morales or the Bolivian government.
"We emphasize that neither the United States Embassy in Bolivia nor any other element of the U.S. government has given any support to the indigenous march," the Embassy said in a statement.
Embassy officials say Mozdzierz was merely gathering information about the protest as part of his normal duty of staying informed on Bolivian issues.
"The Embassy of the United States, like any other diplomatic mission in Bolivia and the world, maintains dialogue with various sectors of Bolivian society," the Embassy statement said. "Such dialogue is the daily work of diplomacy and is usual and appropriate."
Nevertheless, the Bolivian government decided Wednesday to organize a committee from among its political parties to investigate the allegations. The committee would consist of senators and delegates to the Bolivian parliament.
A government statement also said that if it was true Mozdzierz wanted information about the Indians' protest, he could have gone through diplomatic channels at Bolivia's Foreign Ministry.
The investigating committee also plans to check whether non-governmental organizations, such as charitable groups, are interfering in the country's internal affairs, Hector Arce, Bolivia's president of the chamber of deputies, told the Bolivian news media during a press conference.
American aid groups in Bolivia include the U.S. Agency for International Development, a government agency that provides economic and humanitarian assistance in underdeveloped nations.
"Capitalism and non-governmental organizations use indigenous leaders to promote a march whose objective is not the protection of natural resources or the motherland, but a conspiracy against Bolivia," Morales said.
He also said the Bolivian government would "reconsider the United States Agency for International Development's presence in the country."
In a separate dispute, Bolivian police have arrested Jacob Ostreicher, a New York City businessman, who says he was searching out opportunities to invest in Bolivian rice production.
He is being held in jail in the eastern provincial capital of Santa Cruz while he is investigated on charges of money laundering.
Ostreicher claims any alleged improprieties with the $25 million investment by him and his Swiss partners could be traced to a corrupt caretaker he hired to manage a Bolivian rice plantation.
Prosecutors say Ostreicher has failed to prove his money was obtained legally.