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Morales claims US drug agency bugged his phone

Text by REUTERS

Latest update : 2009-01-24

Bolivia's leftist President, Evo Morales, has lashed out against the US Drug Enforcement Administration, which he claims tried to to tap into his telephone, casting a chill on the already frosty relationship between the two countries.

Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday of trying to tap his telephone conversations instead of going after cocaine traffickers.

Bolivian-U.S. relations have deteriorated in recent months since Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in September, accusing him of inciting anti-government protests, and Washington blacklisted Bolivia for not cooperating in the war on drugs.

This month, Morales ejected DEA agents from operating in the world's third-largest cocaine-producing country, charging them with spying and maintaining ties with anti-government groups that staged violent protests in September. Washington denies the charge.

"We do not need DEA agents to control the president" of Bolivia, Morales said in an address to the Organization of American States in Washington. He accused the agency of trying to bug his telephone as well as that of the Bolivian vice president. Morales offered no details of the accusation.

Morales, a former coca farmer leader and the country's first indigenous president, says he opposes cocaine trafficking but supports harvesting of its main ingredient, the coca leaf, which Bolivian Indians use in rituals and chew for its medicinal and nutritional properties.

In October, outgoing U.S President George W. Bush said he intended to suspend trade benefits for Bolivia in a 17-year-old U.S. program that requires Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru to cooperate with the United States in the war on drugs.

Bush made the proposal after the U.S. government reported in September that the impoverished, landlocked country had "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months" to honor international obligations to fight drugs.

Morales told the OAS the U.S. move was designed to punish Bolivia for not following Washington's economic policies.

Tensions have been strained for several years by Bolivia's close ties to the leftist governments of Venezuela and Cuba.

Morales called for a more "transparent" form of cooperation in the drug war, to be overseen by the OAS or the United Nations rather than Washington.

He said he expected relations between the United States and Latin America, not just Bolivia, to improve "greatly" when President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan 20.

The Bolivian leader did not meet with Obama or members of his transition team while in the United States.
 

Date created : 2008-11-20

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