Bolivia Expels 3 Diplomats in Tiff With Mexico and Spain Over Morales Aides

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Raphael Minder report for The New York Times:

The caretaker president accused the Mexican ambassador and two Spanish diplomats of breaking norms by aiding former officials linked to Evo Morales, the ousted president.

Police officers in La Paz, Bolivia, on Monday near the Mexican Embassy. Diplomatic tensions erupted when allies of Evo Morales, the ousted president, took haven in the compound.Credit…Jorge Bernal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bolivia’s interim government expelled three senior Spanish and Mexican diplomats from the country on Monday, dramatically escalating a diplomatic spat caused by the downfall of President Evo Morales.

Bolivia’s caretaker president, Jeanine Añez, gave Mexico’s ambassador and Spain’s chargé d’affaires and its consul in La Paz, the nation’s main city, 72 hours to leave, accusing them of breaking diplomatic norms by aiding former officials linked to Mr. Morales.

“This group of representatives of the governments of Mexico and Spain have gravely damaged the sovereignty and dignity of the people and the government” of Bolivia, Ms. Añez said Monday at a news conference.

Spain’s government responded by expelling three Bolivian diplomats on Monday. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry called Bolivia’s move “political” but did not immediately retaliate.

The surprise expulsions by Bolivia were the latest and most drastic step taken by Ms. Añez to reshape foreign and domestic policy since succeeding Mr. Morales in November. Mr. Morales fled to Mexico last month, after stepping down under pressure from street protesters and the military. He later traveled to Argentina.

Since assuming the presidency, Ms. Añez has kicked out hundreds of Cuban workers, halted formal recognition of Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela’s president, begun a legal crusade against top officials under Mr. Morales and brought religious symbols back into the ceremonies of the explicitly secular state.

Her critics say these measures go well beyond her self-professed mission as a caretaker to oversee new elections early next year.

Bolivia’s caretaker president, Jeanine Añez, second from left, ordering  several foreign diplomats to leave the country at a news conference with other top officials on Monday.Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

Ms. Añez’s shake-up of diplomatic ties could have lasting political and economic consequences for the next president. Of particular concern would be any political fallout with Spain, a significant investment partner whose government helped broker Ms. Añez’s ascension. [Bolivian Thoughts opinion: Spain tried to play in the major leagues, maybe a relapse from its long foregone imperial days. The fact is that being an international donor entails more than just “trying” as Spain did in Bolivia the last 16 years. Its contribution to Bolivian economy was practically irrelevant. Along those lines, Carvalho, below, is also wrong in his appreciation. He cannot feel like a Bolivian, we were fed up with former coca grower’s demagogue and ochlocrat corrupt government. Bolivia is no colony of anyone, everybody seemed to look down on Bolivia, like we are “SO small, so poor, so ignorant’ … well, Mr Carvalho, what we did was an act of pride, of independence, so back off and return to your life, please.]

“Frankly, there’s very little for Bolivia to gain from this over the long term,” said Filipe Carvalho, a Washington-based risk analyst with the Eurasia Group, a consultancy firm. “These measures are counterproductive.”

Ms. Añez’s diplomatic saber-rattling instead serves a short-term political goal, he said: mobilizing Mr. Morales’s staunch opponents ahead of elections. “This is a very polarized country, and some here really want to get back at the people who held power for 14 years” under Mr. Morales, Mr. Carvalho said.

The recent diplomatic tensions have centered around 10 officials from Mr. Morales’s inner circle who sought asylum in the Mexican diplomatic premises in La Paz after the former president fled into exile. The caretaker government has accused three of them of sedition and electoral fraud and issued warrants for their arrests.

Officials in the Añez administration said Mexico had broken diplomatic norms by allowing asylum seekers to conduct political activity and move in diplomatic vehicles. Mexico’s left-wing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, initially drew Bolivia’s ire for granting Mr. Morales, an ally, temporary asylum and sending a military plane to pick him up at his Bolivian hide-out.

The tensions exploded into the open last week after the Spanish government unexpectedly became involved. On Friday, two Spanish diplomatic cars, driven by masked security officers, tried to enter the Mexican ambassador’s residence in La Paz, fueling suspicions that Spain was trying to quietly intervene in the standoff.

In an attempt to diffuse the spat, the Spanish government sent a commission to investigate the episode, without explaining why its officials had covered their faces and refused to identify themselves to the Bolivian police.

Some local residents and politicians were outraged, accusing Spain, a former colonial power, of disrespect and arrogance.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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