Bolivia, US restore full diplomatic ties

Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia and the United States agreed Monday to restore full diplomatic ties three years after the Andean nation's leftist government expelled the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly inciting the opposition.

The two nations signed a joint framework agreement in Washington, D.C. that a U.S. official familiar with the document said seeks both to mend frayed relations and return ambassadors to the respective capitals as soon as possible.

The agreement's "objectives include strengthening and deepening" relations, according to a joint statement from the governments, including "supporting cooperative and effective action against illicit narcotics production and trafficking."

The document does not touch on whether U.S. drug agents can return to the world's No. 3 cocaine-producing nation, the U.S. official said. But it does mention that ongoing U.S. cooperation will include assistance by the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has on various occasions, though without providing proof, accused USAID of inciting lowlands indigenous groups who have opposed some of his development plans.

The joint statement said the agreement was signed in Washington, D.C., by Bolivian Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and U.S. Undersecretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero.

U.S. and Bolivian diplomats have been negotiating it since 2009, when Thomas Shannon was the top U.S. diplomat in the region.

Under the pact, an umbrella commission will be created to ensure its success. The U.S. official said it stresses three areas of improved cooperation: counternarcotics, trade and U.S. development assistance.

Morales expelled then-U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg in September 2008 for allegedly inciting pro-autonomy opposition leaders in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. Two months later, he kicked out U.S. drug agents, accusing them of similarly conspiring against his government.

The DEA had long worked closely with Bolivia's FELCN counternarcotics police, Morales' nemesis during his years as a coca-growers' union leader.

But Washington denied the either the DEA or Goldberg tried to undermine President Morales.

Morales has, nevertheless, repeatedly stressed that he has no intention of allowing the DEA back. He has instead just signed an agreement to boost counternarcotics cooperation with Brazil.

Goldberg's expulsion came as Morales faced a rebellion by pro-autonomy forces, led by wealthy agro-industry businessmen, over which the Bolivian leader subsequently prevailed. The loss of the trade preferences has cost Bolivia thousands of jobs and hurt investment prospects.

The joint statement did not say whether Washington would move to restore the tariff exemptions, part of the Andean Trade Preference Act.

It has allowed the region's cocaine-producing nations — Peru, Bolivia and Colombia — to export thousands of products to the United States duty-free since 1991 as an incentive for trying to wean peasants off coca.

Bolivia remains a top producer of coca leaf, which in its unrefined form is a widely chewed as a sacred plant, and international drug control officials say cocaine production has been on the rise since the DEA was expelled.

They say Colombian and Mexican traffickers have moved in, constructing ever more sophisticated labs.

Washington continues to be without an ambassador in Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is a close ally of Morales' Bolivia.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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