Bolivia says US drug agents not welcome

President Evo Morales says despite normalisation of diplomatic relations with US, drug agents will not be allowed back.

Bolivia deputy foreign minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and senior US official Maria Otero signed the agreement [Reuters]

Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, has said that US drug agents are not welcome back in his country despite the newly announced normalisation of diplomatic relations with Washington.

Morales told reporters in Bogota on Tuesday during a regional summit in the Colombian capital that it was a question of “dignity and sovereignty”.

As a coca growers’ union leader before his 2005 election, Morales said he was “personally a victim” because US agents controlled Bolivia’s military and police.

Bolivia’s anti-narcotics police, working closely with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), often clashed with coca growers and Morales has said they once beat him unconscious.

“They repressed us in Bolivia. That has ended,” Morales said.

“For the first time since Bolivia was founded, the United States will now respect Bolivia’s rules and laws,” he added, under the agreement restoring full diplomatic ties that Bolivia and Washington signed on Monday.

The deal comes three years after the Andean nation’s leftist government expelled the US ambassador and DEA for allegedly inciting the opposition.

Normalising relations

The pact calls for the restoration of ambassadors as soon as possible and close co-operation in counter narcotics, trade and development, said a US official familiar with the agreement.

Morales said that he still considered the ambassador he expelled in September 2008, Philip Goldberg, to have been “a conspirator”. Less than two months later, he ejected the DEA.

Washington denies the Bolivian government’s allegations that Goldberg schemed with lowlands agribusiness people to unseat Morales, an Aymara Indian raised in the country’s poor highlands.

Drug control officials say cocaine production has been on the rise there since the DEA was expelled, with Mexican and Colombian traffickers moving in and building more sophisticated processing labs.

The rise comes despite limited growth in the country’s coca crop, which the UN says only grew by 0.3 per cent last year to 31,000 hectares.

The agreement normalising relations does not address the issue of restoring trade preferences with the US, which Washington suspended in December 2008, and which Bolivian officials said cost them thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.

The tariff exemptions have allowed the region’s cocaine-producing nations – Peru, Bolivia and Colombia – to export thousands of products to the US duty-free since 1991, as an incentive for trying to wean peasants off coca.

Analyst Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Centre, said the normalisation of relations “doesn’t represent the end of friction between the US and Bolivia, but it does create a new diplomatic framework to attempt to resolve [it]”.

Washington also continues to be without an ambassador in Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is a close ally of Morales’ Bolivia.

Source: News Agencies

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