- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SANTA CRUZ, BoliviaIran plans to set up a television network and has signed joint projects worth $1 billion with Bolivia — efforts that reflect a growing relationship between the two energy-rich nations that share a common hostility to the United States.

Iranian diplomat Hojatollah Soltani, who arrived last month to open an Iranian embassy in the capital, La Paz, told the La Prensa newspaper that Iran’s state-run network, Radio and Television of Iran, would install at least three TV channels in Bolivia.

They would interface with Venezuela’s international television service, Telesur, which is beamed via satellite throughout Latin America.

Bolivian President Evo Morales attaches great importance to his nation’s budding relationship with the Islamic republic.

In a recent speech to coca-farming syndicates, Mr. Morales said Iran would help turn Bolivia into the “center of revolutionary democracy.”

Iran is going to establish a television station here in Chapare,” Mr. Morales said, referring to the main coca farming region in Bolivia.

Iranian efforts, he added, would “support the peasant struggle in Latin America.”

Chapare is Mr. Morales‘ home constituency and the focus of resistance to U.S. counternarcotics policies aimed at eradicating coca, the main ingredient for cocaine.

Mr. Morales, who also heads Bolivia’s main federation of coca-farming syndicates, has lost millions of dollars in U.S. aid as a result of his policies allowing the expansion of coca cultivation.

At a meeting of coca growers last week, Mr. Morales called for the expulsion of U.S. development officials and U.S.-assisted police units from the Chapare region.

Relations between the U.S. and Bolivia have deteriorated in recent months over charges that U.S. diplomats asked incoming Peace Corps volunteers to watch for Cubans and Venezuelans working with peasant communities and report their whereabouts and activities to the U.S. Embassy.

American diplomat Vincent Cooper was expelled as a result.

The growing relationship with Iran has further strained Bolivia’s ties with Washington.

Mr. Morales said he found evidence of “secret surveillance” by the United States during a visit last year by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Senior State Department officials have told The Washington Times that Bolivia’s new relationship with Iran could “seriously alter our policy approach towards Bolivia.”

Speaking at his Florida headquarters, the chief of the U.S. Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis, recently warned of a “fusion between terrorism and narcotraffick.” He illustrated the threat with slides showing Mr. Morales and Mr. Ahmadinejad embracing each other.

Rep. Jerry Weller, Illinois Republican, visited Bolivia last month and said Iran plans to “launch anti-American and fundamentalist propaganda from our own doorstep.”

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