Morales’ change of command was interpreted as a move to sideline military commanders suspected of complicity in a missile scandal.
But critics alleged that he elevated a lower-level general, Wilfredo Alfredo Vargas, who was unqualified to head the armed forces, and some officers were infuriated at being passed over.
“What are they doing to me?” shouted one of the bypassed generals. His daughter briefly interrupted the ceremony with shouts of “Unfair! Unfair!” The general was among several officers detained by palace security guards.
The decision to send 28 Chinese shoulder-launched missiles to the United States for destruction prompted Morales’ predecessor to fire a top army chief, whom Morales replaced in Tuesday’s ceremony at the Government Palace.
Morales argued during his campaign that the decision to turn the missiles over to the U.S. was illegal because it was not authorized by Congress.
Morales, whose leftist government took power Sunday on promises to reinvent Bolivia by fighting poverty, discrimination and corruption, said he would investigate the missile case.
“I regret that some of the generals are under scrutiny by the government,” he said. “They have to submit themselves for investigation.”
“It’s important to strengthen our armed forces because a country without a military is not a free and sovereign country.”
The missile scandal comes at a sensitive time for the United States, which is trying to improve strained relations with the leftist Morales, a frequent critic of American anti-drug and economic policies. Last week, the State Department said the U.S. government “complied in good faith” with a Bolivian request “for assistance in disposing of outdated military equipment.” The United States has been campaigning to rid Latin America of portable arms that could fall into the hands of terrorists.
As for the reasons for disposing the equipment, the State Department re-ferred the issue to the Bolivian government.
Morales on Tuesday asked for cooperation in the investigation and said he is only seeking those directly responsible. Looking unfazed by the shouts and shoving, Morales said after the event, ‘’It’s not a big deal. These are presidential decisions.” AP