The US puts Bolivia on drugs blacklist, along with Venezuela:
The two nations – Bolivia for the first time and Venezuela for the fourth year in a row – were found to have “failed demonstrably” to meet commitments to combat the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, mainly cocaine. Myanmar, a major producer of methaphetamine, also made a repeat appearance on the list.
The designations can result in significant cuts in U.S. aid but Bush spared both Bolivia and Venezuela from such penalties, citing a national interest waiver. Myanmar, also known as Burma, was not given a waiver but is already under numerous U.S. sanctions that bar all but humanitarian assistance.
Due to the security situation, the State Department has allowed nonessential personnel at its embassy in La Paz and the families of all diplomats there to leave the country and on Tuesday announced it was organizing at least two evacuation flights for Americans who want to depart. The Peace Corps has moved all its volunteers from Bolivia to Peru.
The State Department, however, denied that politics played any role in either the Bolivian or Venezuelan determinations.
“This was not hasty decision,” said David Johnson, the State Department’s point man for counter-narcotics, as he presented the findings. “Bolivia remains a major narcotics producing country and its official policies and actions have caused a significant deterioration in its cooperation with the United States.”
He noted that Morales, a former coca growers’ union leader, was encouraging farmers to boost production of the leaf which many Bolivians chew as a mild stimulant but is also the precursor for cocaine. There was a 14 percent increase in land used for coca cultivation last year increasing the potential cocaine yield from 115 to 120 metric tons, he said.
Johnson also noted that the Bolivian government had recently barred U.S. aid workers and drug enforcement agents from the major coca production area of Chapare area.
“These actions represent a retreat from Bolivia’s international obligations to control cocaine trafficking,” he told reporters.
In addition to Bolivia, Myanmar and Venezuela, the other countries on the “majors list” are: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.
As I mentioned earlier this morning, the Bolivian government and the opposition have agreed to formal negotiations to end the current crisis. The WaPo’s Juan Forero points to intervention by Brazilian president Lula:
Eduardo Gamarra, an expert on Bolivia at Miami’s Florida International University, said the two sides are so far apart that the only “glimmer of hope” for a resolution is if Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, respected by both leftists and conservatives in Bolivia, plays an active role in talks. “Mediation is the only thing that’s going to get them out of there,” he said.
The WSJ adds context to both the drugs and agreement news:
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Days after President Evo Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Washington has added the country to its list of nations failing to fight illegal narcotics, a decision that could have economic consequences for the natural-gas-rich nation.
The move could embolden U.S. lawmakers who oppose the renewal of Bolivia’s trade preferences, which are due to expire in the coming months. Such an economic blow would add to Mr. Morales’s problems. Mr. Morales is battling provincial governors who have declared autonomy in the nation’s gas-rich farmlands. They accuse Mr. Morales of trying to impose a Cuba-styled regime by nationalizing industries and pushing a new constitution that redefines property, centralizes power and grants rights based on ethnicity.
Late Tuesday, Mr. Morales and the governors agreed on a road map to end a weeklong crisis in the country, Reuters reported. The governors pledged to end occupations of government buildings, after a wave of violent protests left 17 dead last week, and Mr. Morales said he would discuss their demands for more autonomy and a greater share of state energy revenue.
The agreement came even though Bolivian troops arrested one of the governors, Leopoldo Fernández, the leader of Pando province, as part of a crackdown earlier Tuesday.
Mr. Morales and his chief ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, blame the U.S. for Bolivia’s troubles. Last week, Venezuela and Bolivia expelled their U.S. ambassadors, accusing Washington of orchestrating Bolivia’s political opposition, a charge the U.S. denies.
The U.S. and Bolivia, a major cocaine producer, have clashed over drugs. The U.S. ambassador was expelled as he was questioning the Morales government about threats made to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Bolivia, the U.S. State Department said. The populist Bolivian president leads a union of growers of coca leaves, the raw material in cocaine. Bolivia joins Venezuela and Myanmar on the U.S. list of countries not fulfilling obligations to stem drug trafficking.
Bolivia’s neighbors, which depend on its natural-gas reserves, met in a grouping of South American leaders Monday in Chile and vowed to help Mr. Morales find a peaceful resolution. Sabotage curtailed gas flows to Brazil and Argentina last week.
Mr. Morales had ordered Mr. Fernández arrested after a clash in Pando last week that left at least 14 people dead, many of them Morales supporters. Mr. Morales, without providing evidence, says Mr. Fernández organized an ambush. Mr. Fernández denies it.
In response to the clash, Mr. Morales deployed troops to the province and ordered them to enforce martial law and arrest opposition leaders. Upon arrival in Pando, soldiers killed an unarmed evangelical minister. Since then, several opposition leaders have been arrested by soldiers.
In other, somewhat related news, Honduras, who last Friday delayed receiving the American ambassador in support of Bolivia, is welcoming him with open arms.
Bolivia’s goverment and the opposition have signed a pact. Will it last?
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