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Bolivia's Evo Morales says 'adiós' to USAID

Morales has made other important policy announcements on May Day in the past, like nationalizing Bolivia's oil and gas industry. This is not the first time tensions have run high with the US.

By Sara ShahriariCorrespondent / May 1, 2013

Bolivia's President Evo Morales sings his national anthem during the annual May Day march in La Paz, Bolivia, May 1. Morales said Wednesday he is expelling the USAID from Bolivia for allegedly seeking to undermine his leftist government.

Juan Karita/AP

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La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivia's President Evo Morales announced today that his government will expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The move coincides with Bolivia's annual May Day celebration, which has been used in the past as a date for President Morales to announce big moves like nationalizing the country's oil and gas industry. 

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"They still believe that they can manipulate politically and economically, but those times have passed," Morales said of the US. He later accused USAID, which acts as the US government's humanitarian arm abroad, of attempting to influence local leaders through its programs, and objected to Secretary of State John Kerry's recent reference to Latin America as The United States' "backyard."

This is not the first time tensions have run high between the two countries. Bolivia ejected the US ambassador in 2008, claiming collaboration between the US Embassy and opposition political groups in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. The US subsequently expelled Bolivia's ambassador to Washington. That same year, Morales ended the US Drug Enforcement Agency's decades-long presence in the country.

"The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government's decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government," the organization said in a statement published on its website. According to USAID Bolivia, the organizations focuses on health, sustainable development, and environmental programs here.

'Longstanding mistrust'

Morales, a former coca farmer who remains the leader of the Andean nation's largest coca growers union, has often spoken of his experience in the country's central Chapare region, where US-backed drug eradication policies led to sometimes violent conflicts with local residents. Since his 2005 presidential victory, Morales has clashed with the US over how to manage this indigenous crop.

"Morales's contentious relationship with USAID originated as a result of the largely ineffective alternative development programs it enacted in the Chapare region, which at the peak of forced eradication required coca growers to eliminate their coca and leave unions before they receive aid," says Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivia-based advocacy group.

"This longstanding mistrust was exacerbated after his election when the government accused USAID of working with opposition groups to undermine his administration," says Ms. Ledebur.

Funding for US military, economic, and social aid to Bolivia has decreased dramatically in recent years as Morales pushed back against US influence, falling from a total of more than 85 million dollars in 2009 to a projected 20 million in 2012, according to information aggregated by Just the Facts, a guide to defense and security assistance. Despite that decrease in funding, Bolivia's overall economic situation has improved in recent years.

Today's announcement comes days after a Bolivian court ruled that Morales can run for a third term in 2014. First elected in 2005, the president ended his first mandate early and was reelected in 2009 under the country's new constitution. "This is a forceful move," activist Raul Prada, a former government official turned critic, says of today's announcement. "It's a move to be used in the campaign."

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