Tension in Bolivia may boost illegal drug sales

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Since then, Bolivia has expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, closed its airspace to anti-drug flights and expelled all agents of the DEA.

With each step, charges by Mr. Morales and his aides have sounded a familiar refrain: The U.S. is conspiring with Bolivia’s domestic opposition to oust Mr. Morales.

The U.S. State Department calls the charges “false and absurd.”

“We reject accusations that the DEA or any other agency of the U.S. government has supported the opposition or conspired against the Bolivian government,” the department said after the expulsion of DEA agents was announced earlier this month.

Mr. Morales described the move as a “personal decision,” adding that it was necessary “to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the Bolivian people.”

U.S. programs, which range from police training to crop substitution, have been cut from $100 million to less than $30 million, with most of the cuts coming after Mr. Morales took office as Bolivia’s first Indian president in early 2006.

A suspension of trade preferences by Washington also threatens tens of thousands of factory jobs, mainly in textiles exported to the United States.

Opposition leaders charge that the moves presage a surge in illegal cocaine exports.

“What really worries the government is that anti-drug investigations were getting too close to the MAS leadership,” said former Bolivian drug czar Ernesto Justiniano, who is now an opposition congressman.

Three MAS leaders holding government positions have been indicted recently for narcotics trafficking.

Gen. Luis Caballero, the former commander of Bolivia’s anti-drug police unit, FELCN, fears that Bolivia is becoming a “free zone for narco traffickers.”

Gen. Caballero also warned that the DEA’s expulsion will open the country to international drug mafias from Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

“The DEA manages a database linking up intelligence on individuals connected with international organized crime and which is essential to interdict the cross-border movement of drugs,” he said.

The U.N. Office for Crime and Drug Prevention estimates that Bolivia’s coca cultivation has increased nearly 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, though much of the increase came before Mr. Morales took office.

The latest U.N. statistics show a 5 percent increase in coca cultivation from 2006 to 2007, well below the 27 percent for the same period in Colombia, a staunch ally of the U.S. in the war on drugs.

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