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Cablegate: Gob Respins Anti-U.S. Allegations

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #0329/01 0502300
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 192300Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6467
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7598
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4967
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8872
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 6087
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3307
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3522
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 5243
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5936
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0553
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0912
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L LA PAZ 000329

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON BL
SUBJECT: GOB RESPINS ANTI-U.S. ALLEGATIONS

REF: A. LA PAZ 303
B. LA PAZ 304
C. LA PAZ 218

Classified By: EcoPol Chief Mike Hammer for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: The Bolivian government attempted to renew
and, in some cases, repackage old allegations against the
U.S. February 16-18. Bolivian President Evo Morales
threatened to show USAID the door if it continues undermining
his administration. As proof, Morales provided the example
of a political organization that was allegedly turned down
for USAID assistance due to its pro-Morales stance. He also
cited unnamed groups that were asked to work against the
government as a condition for assistance. Morales also
argued against a free trade agreement with the U.S. and
charged the U.S. of involvement in the disappearances of
Bolivians during drug-related conflicts in the region of
Chapare. Morales' assertion that pro-government groups were
prepared to take up arms to defend his agenda were rebuffed
by a wide-range of social and labor groups. Government
Minister Alfredo Rada continues to accuse the U.S. of
involvement in a police "spying" scandal to deflect from his
role in the unauthorized surveillance of opposition
politicians and reporters. The Bolivian government's refusal
to sign a cooperation agreement concerning U.S. military aid
and the impact of that refusal on disaster assistance was
made public February 18. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca
explained the government did not want to sign an agreement
"with its eyes closed" and was only reviewing the agreement.
Despite public assurances that they want better relations
with the U.S., the relentless public spinning of the Bolivian
government's complaints against the U.S. at the expense of
diplomatic channels suggest the BOG has another agenda:
discredit the U.S. and distract the Bolivian public. End
Summary.

Lights, Camera, Allegations
---------------------------

2. (U) Bolivian President Evo Morales made several references
to ongoing "political problems" with the U.S. February 15,
although he clarified diplomatic and commercial relations
would be maintained. Morales rehashed the argument that
USAID is supporting opposition groups and that the U.S.
Embassy is "making politics" at the expense of diplomatic
work, such as advancing commercial ties. Morales asserted
during recent months USAID has been convoking groups through
implementing NGOs and offering them money with the
stipulation that they work "against the Bolivian government."
Morales claimed leaders from the Federation of Ayllus
(indigenous local government units) of Potosi told him an
USAID-supported NGO denied their group's request for $20,000
because the organization "supports Evo Morales." Morales
urged citizens to report NGOs that are "bought by USAID to
distribute funds to make politics against the government."
He added, "The government will not allow NGOs to work against
the executive power. Faced with these provocations from
USAID, we will ask them to go home." Morales saluted U.S.
citizens that are denouncing both USAID and the Embassy for
practicing "politics," but offered no details on who he was
referring to.

3. (U) Although most of his criticisms were respun from old
charges, Morales added a new spin on some existing
allegations. Morales asserted Embassy Bolivian police guards
act "like embassy workers ... at the side of the U.S.
government." Morales claimed he learned of this "strange"
police arrangement through Fulbrighter van Schaick, who
accused Assistant Regional Security Officer Vincent Cooper of
asking him to "spy" on Cubans and Venezuelans in Bolivia last
week (Reftels a and b). Though not directly associated with
recent charges the U.S. is behind Bolivian police "spying" on
politicians and reporters, this mischaracterization of our
Bolivian guard force feeds into the Morales administration's
allegations of undue U.S. influence on Bolivian police units.

Evo on FTA, Drugs, and Cooper "Expulsion"
-----------------------------------------

4. (C) Morales rejected a free trade agreement with the U.S.
as a return to the days of former-president Gonzalo Sanchez
de Lozada, when Morales alleges the government made deals
with U.S. businesses at the expense of Bolivians. Morales
characterized the Embassy's decision that ARSO Vincent Cooper
would not return to Bolivia as the "expulsion" of a "man who
conducted North American espionage." Morales repeated his
opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure because it
targeted coca leaf instead of cocaine. He alleged the DEA,
U.S. military, and Bolivian national police headed Bolivian
anti-narcotics efforts "from a U.S. military base" in
Cochabamba Department when there were "demonstrations and
disappearances," implying U.S. involvement. (Note: The U.S.
supports Bolivian anti-narcotics efforts at the Chimore
Airport and has offices there, but there are no U.S. military
bases per se in Bolivia. Despite Morales' intermittent calls
to dismantle such non-existent bases, this issue is a
misunderstanding or a straw man. End Note.)

Call to Arms Disconnected
-------------------------

5. (U) While railing against "oligarchic groups," and
particularly efforts to convoke an autonomy referendum in the
opposition-led Department (state) of Santa Cruz, Morales
claimed pro-government groups would defend his administration
"with arms." Morales said February 14 that sympathizers in
Santa Cruz had told him they would take up arms to ensure the
opposition showed Morales the proper "respect." However,
leaders from MAS-aligned social and union groups rejected any
attempt to resort to arms February 16, calling instead for an
electoral solution to settle Bolivian differences.


Spin Doctor Rada's Dizzying "Spy" Accusations
---------------------------------------------

6. (U) On February 15, the Ambassador met with Government
Minister Alfredo Rada to discuss the USG's support to the
Police's Special Operations Command (COPES) police unit, a
unit that Rada has stated was likely behind a growing
domestic surveillance scandal. Following their meeting, the
Ambassador issued a public statement which re-iterated that
the USG was never involved in domestic spying and explained
that USG would no longer fund COPES because the unit had been
disbanded on January 29.

7. (U) In an interview with the La Paz newspaper La Prensa
following the February 15 meeting Rada continued to insinuate
)- as he has done publicly on various occasions -- that
COPES was responsible for internal surveillance against
political officials and journalists. Rada once again called
COPES a parallel intelligence organization that conducted
"political intelligence," argued it reported directly to the
USG and not to the National Intelligence Directorate (DNI),
and that it exceeded the scope of its mandate. Rada
explained that since September 11, 2001 the U.S. government
had directed COPES to gather intelligence on terrorist
organizations which violated COPES' mission to conduct
surveillance only on narco-trafficking organizations. Rada
stated, that "terrorism is a fundamentally political
phenomenon . . . therefore COPES . . . conducted political
intelligence . . . All of this a function of the State
Department's priorities." (Note: According to the COPES'
memorandum of understanding between the Bolivian and U.S.
governments, conducting surveillance on both illegal
narcotics and terrorist targets is part of its mission. End
Note.)

8. (U) Throughout the interview Minister Rada engaged in
double speak, at times strongly insinuating the USG was
behind the domestic spying scandal, at other times
acknowledging there was little information tying the USG to
the case. "It would be irresponsible to affirm they (the
Embassy) were behind these (domestic spying) operations,"
Rada stated. He followed with, "The fact that intelligence
personnel from the Embassy received reports from ODEP (COPES'
official name since 2001) makes us believe that they were
aware of these things (domestic spying). Despite earlier
statements in the interview that COPES responded to the USG,
Rada closed the interview with the statement, "That
ODEP-COPES followed direct orders from the Embassy, we cannot
yet demonstrate, but we are investigating. But there was a
direct economic link, and it has been demonstrated that they
worked on priorities designed by Washington." Rada also
tried to link Fulbrighter Van Schaick case to the domestic
spy scandal. Arguing his Van Schaick's sworn statement is
the first piece of concrete evidence that links the USG to
espionage within Bolivia.

Eyes Wide Shut on MILGP Assistance
----------------------------------

9. (C) The Bolivian press reported February 19 that the
Bolivian government had frozen military humanitarian
assistance, by not renewing our humanitarian assistance
diplomatic note (which acts as a SOFA, or status of forces
agreement, for U.S. military personnel in Bolivia). The
article stressed that non-military aid (USD) 600,000 to flood
victims is not affected. However, it highlighted that our
MILGRP has provided humanitarian assistance (include medical,
dental and eye treatment) since 1996 and has already
prevented aid from arriving for flooding victims. Foreign
Minister David Choquehuanca responded that the government had
not canceled any agreement, but was simply reviewing it.
Choquehuanca stated, "We now do not sign agreements with the
United States with our eyes closed, like what happened in the
past, especially with anti-drug assistance." (Note: The
humanitarian assistance agreement has nothing to do with our
counter-narcotics aid. A Bolivian diplomatic note suspended
renewal of the assistance agreement January 29, citing the
need for a dialogue to bridge a "gap of understanding."
((Reftel C)) End Note).

Comment
-------

10. (C) Although charges that USAID is undermining the
Bolivian government are nothing new (Minister of the
Presidency Juan Quintana originally laid out the charges in
August and officials have drummed them up periodically
since), Morales' call for Bolivians to help the government
"identify these NGOs" ostensibly working to undermine his
administration is a troubling development. Using Morales'
example of the Potosi group that was "denied" $20,000, any
person or organization that asks for USAID funding and does
not receive it could allege a political motive. We will
continue to counter misunderstandings about USAID's
transparency and apolitical nature with reality. However,
the Bolivian government is unlikely to back off from its
USAID assault any time soon, as it enjoys the propaganda
value of creating an external enemy to distract from domestic
problems. Likewise, although government officials have
privately admitted to us they do not believe the U.S. was
involved in the police "spying" scandal, they are not
disengaging from insinuations of U.S. involvement. Rada's
accusations are designed not to lead to a formal process that
would prove or disprove them, but rather to create the
appearance of U.S. impropriety to distract the Bolivian
public from very real and potentially damaging charges
against him. As such, they are a success. The incongruity
of the government accusing us of being in cahoots with the
opposition and, at the same time, spying on them seems
largely overlooked in the public discourse. Unfortunately,
the Bolivian press does not consistently apply critical
analysis to these incoherent, vague, and sometimes
contradictory charges before distributing them to the
Bolivian and international public.

11. (C) Comment Continued. Although they may not always
believe in the merits of some of their specific accusations,
government leaders from Evo down appear to genuinely believe
the Embassy is working to undermine the Morales
administration. Given his proclivity to view the Embassy as
separate from the U.S. government and people, we expect
Morales to bring the GOB's vague litany of accusations
against the Embassy to both the visiting Congressional
delegation and to the U.S. public during his planned February
25-27 speaking tour in the U.S. End Comment.
GOLDBERG

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