(AFP) – Mar 9, 2009
LA PAZ (AFP) — Bolivia ordered a senior US diplomat to leave the country within 72 hours after President Evo Morales accused him of participating in a "conspiracy" against Bolivia's far-left government.
Francisco Martinez, the second secretary of the US embassy in La Paz, was "persona non grata," Morales said in a public address at his official palace.
Martinez, he said, "was in permanent contact with opposition groups during the entire period of the conspiracy," which he said caused anti-government unrest that rocked much of the country in September 2008.
Morales already ordered out the US ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, last September for the same reason.
Bolivia's chief ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, had followed suit out of solidarity, prompting Washington to retaliate by expelling the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors to the United States.
"We have finalized the diplomatic orders and we give him a time limit of 72 hours to leave the country," said Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca.
Morales in November also withdrew permission for US Drug Enforcement Administration agents to operate in Bolivia, accusing their agency of encouraging drug trafficking -- something Washington denied as "patently absurd."
While Morales had last month left open the door to smoothing over battered bilateral relations with new US President Barack Obama, the move Monday suggested ties would remain fraught and perhaps worsen.
The Bolivian president accused Martinez, a US citizen of Mexican descent, of communicating with former Bolivian police officers suspected of trying to undermine Morales's nationalization of the country's energy sector.
Government officials say one ex-officer, Rodrigo Carrasco, a former official in the police intelligence unit COPES, had infiltrated the state oil and gas company YPFB with the aim of countering the nationalization push.
The US embassy in La Paz did not respond to requests for comment on Martinez's expulsion. Diplomats said the US State Department in Washington would give an official reaction.
Morales, an Aymara Indian and former coca farmer, became Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2005.
He has aligned himself with two of the United States' biggest foes in the region, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Chavez, as he attempts to redefine his poor landlocked nation along socialist lines.
Morales also visited Russia, where he agreed to increase cooperation in the energy and defense spheres with Moscow.
In January, Bolivians approved a constitutional referendum allowing Morales to stand for a second five-year term.
The changes also give Bolivia's 36 indigenous communities and groups the right to territory, language and their own "community" justice, and enacts agrarian reform measures by limiting the size of landholdings.
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