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US surprised by Bolivian expulsion of USAID


Bolivia's decision to expel USAID came as a shock to the United States, as no one in Evo Morales' government had complained about the US development agency's activities, a US official said Thursday.

Meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs was the stated reason for the decision announced Wednesday by President Morales, although he did not specify just how the agency was interfering.

Now, nine US experts working in South America's poorest country in education, health and environmental programs will presumably have to leave, said Mark Lopes, USAID's deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The agency had a budget of $26 million in Bolivia last year.

In 2008, Morales expelled the US ambassador and agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing them of meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs as well. Bolivia is a major producer of coca leaves, the raw material of cocaine.

The United States responded by expelling the Bolivian ambassador and ending trade privileges that it had granted the country.

After a long period of frosty ties, the two countries in 2011 signed a framework agreement to normalize relations and exchange ambassadors again, but tensions remained and no exchange of ambassadors has taken place.

USAID had heard there was grumbling within the Morales government about it but "we always found cooperative partners and government officials within all levels of government," Lopes said.

In Bolivia, indigenous groups that make up the majority of the population -- Morales himself is an Aymara Indian -- have clashed with the government over road projects and their desire for more of a say in the nation's political life.

But Lopes denied any suggestion that USAID had links to such groups.

"This idea that we're not transparent, not telling who we're funding, is simply false," he told AFP.

"Not one of this sort (of concerns) was raised to me," he added.