Declassified U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal a clear and consistent policy of U.S. intervention and meddling in Bolivia’s internal affairs. These activities are directed from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, particularly through the local offices of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded Agency for International Development (USAID).
As a photo and investigative journalist for more than two decades, I often come across revealing government documents and information through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests. These requests declassify and allow me access to documents from various entities of the US government.
I made my first request of US government documents about Bolivia in 1997 and since then have made subsequent requests for information, ranging from American embassy communiques in La Paz to USAID grant requests. The information below reveals a clear policy of US intervention and meddling in Bolivia´s internal affairs. Almost all the time, this has been done without the knowledge and at the expense of the American taxpayer.
- The first document, from 2001 is written before a visit by then President Quiroga, to the US, in which the US Embassy states that they didn´t believe he had acted strongly enough against the MAS party, led by Evo Morales. In talking points prepared by the US embassy in La Paz to be used by US Secretary Beers during his meeting with the President, the US government suggests he say, “We were quite concerned by the agreement in November to halt eradication . We believe that a continued strong response could have weakened the political base of Evo Morales even further.” View the full document here.
- In 2002, the American embassy qualifies Evo Morales as an “illegal coca agitator” and admits that cocaine production in Bolivia is insignificant for the US. More importantly though, the embassy details a USAID “Political Party Reform Project” that should specifically “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors.” View the full document here.
- In 2004, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funds the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce organization, CAINCO, through CIPE (Center for International Private Enterprise) to alter an existing Bolivian law and “gain popular support for their policy recommendations”. This clearly shows that US funding was spent to alter internal legislation and in this case, it also shows a historic relationship between US funding institutions and the Santa Cruz opposition. View the full document here.
- Many organizations funded by NED show a clear political bias. One, the IIPS or Institute of Pedagogical & Social Investigation, refers to Evo Morales and the MAS in their grant request and project summary as an “anti-democratic, radical opposition” that doesn’t represent the majority. Of the three program objectives listed, the last is telling. The NED grant awarded to them will help, “efficient and effective social monitoring.” View the full document here.
- By 2006, it is evident that the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and USAID are openly working to promote events centered around regional autonomy and decentralization. “ NDl adapted the community forum model piloted in this program to conduct a Santa Cruz dialogue event through its USAID funded political party program to facilitate an open discussion about regional autonomy and decentralization.” View the full document here.
- The most telling documents from my point of view, are a series of e-mails from within USAID-Bolivia last year. They detail the forming relationship between the U.S. government (specifically Ambassador Philip Goldberg and the US embassy in La Paz) and indigenous groups in the Chapare and Media Luna departments to create a common USAID-guided front against Evo Morales and the MAS. In discussing who to invite to a lunch between indigenous leaders and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2007, USAID staff write that the litmus test for being invited is, “a su situacion real frente el gobierno del MAS, etc. ademas son aliados nuestros.” The staff members goes on to discuss the indigenous organizations that USAID programs fund and how their principal demand is to “fortalecer sus organizaciones de base para hacerle frente al MAS:” In order to facilitate communications, one of the USAID officers recommends “immediate assistance” by sending them radios. Shades of Vietnam and the US assistance to the Hmong tribesmen, which only guaranteed the destruction of their way of life. View the full document here.
- Among my many Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on Bolivia, I have made five such requests to USAID since 2005 to determine exactly what they are doing there. So far, USAID has not responded to my requests, I can only conclude, because they wish to keep their activities there clandestine. USAID denied any response to my latest request about their activities in Bolivia during the last year (2008) by stating that “the few people who are still there will not be able to conduct a search of the documents you request” because of the “political crisis” in the country. This is simply not the case: as anyone who drives by the USAID building knows, for the parking lot is still full and there are hundreds of employees still working there. View October 2008 photos of USAID-Bolivia’s full parking lot taken by me and the full document requests and responses here from September 14, 2008, September 19, and September 28.
To summarize, I believe that these documents provide clear proof that the US government, through its various entities – especially USAID – have been, and continue to conspire against the legal and democratically elected government of Bolivia. In coming weeks, I will reveal more of the documents that I have uncovered in my ongoing investigation and research on website: Bolivia Matters.
Jeremy Bigwood is a Washington, D.C.-based investigative journalist and photographer. For more, please visit his personal website: http://www.bigwood.biz/.