LA PAZ (EFE) – President Evo Morales expects that in the interests of friendly bilateral ties, U.S. officials will correct their “mistake” of revoking the entry visa of a senator who belongs to Bolivia’s ruling party.
So said presidential chief of staff Juan Ramón Quintana here on Friday, referring to the action taken against Sen. Leonilda Zurita, an ally of the recently inaugurated Morales.
Zurita is a member of the president’s Movement Toward Socialism party as well as the leader of women coca growers in the central region of Chapare, where Morales launched his political career as the champion of some 30,000 families who subsist by cultivating coca. Though the leaf is the raw material of cocaine, Andean Indians also use it for ceremonial and medicinal purposes.
The U.S. Embassy in La Paz contacted Zurita on Tuesday to inform her that her visa to enter the United States had been revoked in May 2004 due to suspicions she was linked to terrorism.
U.S. officials appear to have based their action on Zurita’s connection to Colombian land-reform advocate leader Francisco “Pacho” Cortes, who was arrested in La Paz in April 2003 for allegedly planning to create a Bolivian branch of a Colombia-based rebel group.
Police said he was in possession of drugs and materials to make explosives.
Zurita’s attorney, Carlos Soruco, pointed out that she was cleared of wrongdoing in the initial stage of the investigation into Cortés, whose case has become a cause celebre for anti-globalization activists and human rights watchdogs.
Quintana said Friday that Morales “assumes that this (the cancellation of Zurita’s visa) has been due to mistakes by fifth-rate bureaucrats who have to justify their jobs and must identify potential threats from among a group of citizens.”
“We believe that it will be quickly corrected to maintain a friendly, respectful and reciprocal relationship with the United States,” the president’s chief of staff told Radio Erbol.
Calling Zurita a crusader for social justice and an “emblematic figure” among Bolivian women for her resistance to external powers, he said that the senator cannot be linked to terrorist activity.
Bolivia’s foreign ministry on Thursday formally asked the U.S. Embassy for an explanation of the decision to cancel Zurita’s visa.