Bolivia has appointed the country’s first ambassador to the United States in 11 years, officials said, as the new interim government resets the country’s foreign policy after the departure of former President Evo Morales.
Walter Serrate Cuellar, the Latin American country’s former representative to the UN, has been given the key posting, the foreign ministry announced on Twitter on Tuesday, filling a position left vacant since a diplomatic spat between La Paz and Washington in 2008.
The high-profile appointment, which has to be approved by the Senate controlled by Morales‘ the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, comes as the interim government prepares to hold new elections that will exclude the former leftist leader.
Under Morales, Bolivia’s president for 13 years, ties with the US were tense, as the leader accused Washington of meddling in the mineral-rich country’s affairs.
Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, resigned on November 10 after the army backed protests that erupted against the disputed October 20 election results. The socialist leader fled to Mexico where he was granted political asylum.
Since then, the self-declared interim President Jeanine Anez, who has been recognised by the US, has taken steps to rewrite Bolivia’s foreign policy.
Anez’s conservative government has also broken ties with the communist-ruled Cuba and Venezuela under socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
Her first foreign policy decision was to recognise Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president, joining America and its regional allies.
Bolivia also fired all its ambassadors except those to Peru and the Vatican.
Translation: Foreign Minister Karen Longaric has assigned a new Extraordinary Ambassador with Plenipotentiary Representation before the Government of the United States of America, Walter Oscar Serrate Cuellar, who was Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the UN.
Tuesday’s announcement comes as some 20 former members of Morales’s government have taken shelter inside Mexico’s embassy in La Paz, the foreign ministry said.
Five of them – including Morales’s former top minister Juan Ramon Quintana – face arrest.
Federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that Morales, after arriving in Mexico, encouraged his supporters to maintain roadblocks that caused severe food and fuel shortages in La Paz.
Bolivia has lodged a formal protest to Mexico over Morales’s remarks, saying they “contravened” his political asylum status. Morales told Al Jazeera in Mexico that he would not stand for elections if allowed back.
Looming new elections and talks between the interim government and opposition groups have helped defuse tensions after weeks of deadly protests.
An Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Bolivia on Monday to interview witnesses of the violence that resulted in the deaths of nine farmers and coca growers on November 15.
Human Rights Watch has accused the interim government of adopting “abusing measures” after the army was given “a blank check to commit abuses instead of working to restore the rule of law in the country”.
In La Paz and other cities, normal activities are resuming with schools and businesses reopening this week and blockades of major transport routes mostly removed.
An eight-point agreement released by the government pledged, among other things, to set up a commission to free protesters who had not committed any crimes.