- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

From combined dispatches

Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales accused U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents of spying Saturday and barred them from fighting cocaine traffickers in the Andean country until further notice.

“There were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage and to fund criminal groups so they could launch attacks on the lives of authorities, if not the president,” Mr. Morales said.

Mr. Morales accused the DEA of maintaining ties with anti-government groups that in September staged violent protests in eastern and central regions governed by the opposition. He said the organization’s actions amounted to “conspiracy.”

“This is a personal decision. From now on, the DEA is not allowed to act in the country until further notice,” said Mr. Morales, who stopped short of expelling DEA agents.

Mr. Morales, who announced the indefinite cutoff in a speech in which he said his government has wiped out more than 12,300 acres of illegally planted coca this year, had already banned DEA flights over the country. He denied a DEA request to fly an anti-drug plane over the country early last month, saying Bolivia doesn’t need U.S. help to control its coca crop.

In Washington, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said that Mr. Morales’ decision creates “an unfortunate situation” but that the agency will find other ways to deal with drug traffic from the South American nation.

“We will find other ways to make sure we keep abreast of the drug-trafficking situation through there,” he said.

Impoverished Bolivia is the world’s third-largest cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru. Last month, the United States added Bolivia to a list of states that had “failed demonstrably” to meet their counternarcotics obligations.

The U.S. government has taken steps to suspend trade benefits for Bolivia because of what officials described as its poor cooperation in fighting drug trafficking.

Washington says coca acreage in Bolivia has increased significantly, but the Morales government says it rose only 5 percent last year.

Relations between the two nations were upset in September when Mr. Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador, after accusing him of meddling.

The U.S. State Department then ejected the Bolivian envoy, calling Mr. Morales’ action a grave error, and said it was the first time in three decades a U.S. envoy was declared “persona non grata” anywhere in the world.

Since taking office in 2006, Mr. Morales has pursued a policy of “zero cocaine but not zero coca,” which gives tens of thousands of farmers permission to grow coca on small plots for legal uses.

Mr. Morales built his political career as a leader of Bolivia’s coca growers and wants to develop legal markets for coca leaves while fighting the cocaine trade.

The coca leaf is the main ingredient for cocaine, but it is also widely used by Bolivian Indians, who chew it for its medicinal and nutritional properties.

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