La Paz (AP) – Bolivia’s fledgeling president has refused to return arms provided by the United States to a counterterrorism unit,
publicly dismissing the request in a simmering disagreement over the naming of an anti-terrorist commander.
President Evo Morales on Tuesday said the army would not return weapons provided by the United States, responding to a written request by the U.S. Embassy in objection to the appointment.
The U.S. government sent a letter on March 3 cutting off U.S.$456,000 (euro 380,000) that funds Bolivia’s anti-terrorist unit and asking for the return of arms and equipment provided to the unit. Bolivia published the letter without naming the commander.
The move by the U.S., which Morales called “blackmail,” will cut funds for training, weaponry and communications equipment and requires the immediate return of Bolivian military personnel currently training in the U.S. under the counterterrorism program.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the specific nature of their objection, but issued a statement Tuesday saying it is not looking to “name leaders of the Bolivian government” and that “the decision taken in this specific case of this Bolivian anti-terrorist force should not affect the wide range of constructive relations.”
In a letter released by the Bolivian government, U.S. Army Col. Daniel Barreto wrote that a recent change in the unit commander led the U.S. armed forces to conclude that the armies no longer shared the “same vision.”
After taking office as Bolivia’s first Indian president Jan. 22, Morales has overhauled the armed forces and announced an investigation of a decision last October to let the United States destroy 28 of Bolivia’s Chinese shoulder-launched missiles.
On the campaign trail, Mo-rales, a union leader of coca-leaf farmers, claimed to be “the nightmare of the U.S. government,” although he has toned down his rhetoric since then and met with U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee to discuss bilateral issues.
U.S. aid to Bolivia is roughly U.S.$150 million (euro 125 million) annually, the majority of which goes toward anti-drug efforts.