Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catching up with Evo Morales in Bolivia...

Bolivian region rejects US anti-drug aid in favor of Venezuelan aid - June 25th Coca growers in Bolivia's Chapare province said Wednesday that they will suspend projects financed by the U.S. government aid agency and instead seek funding from Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez. Leaders in the key coca-growing region accused the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, of using its aid to undermine leftist President Evo Morales, who rose to prominence as leader of the coca growers union. "We want USAID to go. If USAID leaves, we will have aid from Venezuela, which is unconditioned and in solidarity," Chapare coca leader Julio Salazar told The Associated Press by telephone. Venezuela already is a major financial backer of Bolivia. USAID gave US$87 million in aid to Bolivia in 2007, including US$11.9 million to Chapare, mostly for road building and projects to help farmers to grow alternatives to coca. Asterio Romero, vice president of Chapare's main coca-growing group, said growers on Tuesday agreed to cancel the USAID's operations in the region and gave it until Thursday to leave. A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the embassy would not comment because it has not yet been officially informed by the coca growers. Coca leaves are the main ingredient in cocaine, but they also have traditional, medicinal and religious uses among South America's Andean people. Morales has accused the aid agency of financing his opponents, including groups promoting regional autonomy from his government. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Tuesday he wasn't familiar with the coca-growers' decision but said his government wants to make U.S. aid to Bolivia more "transparent." *** Bolivia denies expulsion of USAID revenge tactic he Bolivian government denied Thursday that Bolivian coca growers' decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is a revenge tactic, news reaching here said. The coca growers in Chapare Province of Bolivia's Cochabamba province said Wednesday they will expel USAID from Bolivian territory. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the press that USAID is not the first institution that were asked to leave the country and there is no need to worry about. "I haven't got precise information on the work USAID is performing in Chapare. It is said they were helping groups that are against the changing process, but that will be clarified later," Choquehuanca said. He said this is an independent decision made by the coca growers and it does not represent the foreign policy of the Bolivian government. "The coca growing companions have their reasons for taking the action. There is no need for too much worry. This is not a serious issue that could affect the ties between the U.S. and Bolivia," Choquehuanca said. He admitted, however, that these kind of incidents "don't help constructive ties" with the U.S. Choquehuanca said many other agreements singed with the U.S. will be implemented to the end despite the coca growers' decision. More than 85 million U.S. dollars were channeled into Bolivia in 2007 through USAID programs which began providing aid from the U.S. government in 1960. It has programs in 31 cities of Cochabamba, encouraging the growing of banana, palmetto, pineapple and papaya, alternatives to coca, which is the principal ingredient for cocaine. Source:Xinhua *** Bolivia's autonomy-seeking province declares 78.8-percent approval The Provincial Electoral Court (CDE) of Tarija in southern Bolivia said Thursday that 78.8 percent of the electors voted in favor of autonomy for the province in Sunday's referendum. According to the CDE, there were 79,424 "yes" votes against 21,396 "no" ones, with a turnout of 62 percent, news from La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, reported. The gas-rich Tarija is seeking autonomy from the central government of President Evo Morales, along with the provinces of Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz governed by the opposition, moves considered by the central government as separative. In Santa Cruz, the first province to launch an autonomous referendum, 85.6 percent of voters supported its autonomy bid, while Beni registered 79.5-percent approval and Pando 81.9 percent. Bolivians will also vote on Aug. 10 to decide whether President Evo Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia and nine regional governors will remain in their posts.

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