LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales, citing information sourced from WikiLeaks cables, said that the US government lodged at least $4 million dollars into anti-government separatist groups from 2006 to 2009.
The issue, based in the eastern Bolivian departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija, nicknamed the media luna (half-moon) due to the shape they form on a map, is based in gas: the wealthier region is rich in natural gases.
When Morales, of the leftist Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, was elected as the head of state in 2006, two of his main priorities were land reform and the nationalization of the country’s natural resources as both issues plagued the nation since its colonization by Spain in the early 1500s.
The eastern half of the nation, the media luna, and its leaders had enriched themselves with the exploitation of the large natural gas reserves found in the area; this made the region more wealthy than the rest of Bolivia.
Further dividing the country is the fact that the Bolivians of whole or part-European descent, the minority group that has dominated and monopolized all sectors of society, is more numerous in the media luna while the majority indigenous population, traditionally marginalized, is concentrated in the western and central parts of Bolivia.
Morales, the first indigenous leader in the history of Bolivia, ordered the nationalization of all natural gas resources on May 1, 2006 and enacted land reform shortly after.
The electoral wins of Morales and his party, along with the subsequent laws passed by the MAS-dominated legislature, heightened the tensions between the two regions and their communities.
The media luna business and political elite soon began organizing strikes and protests against Morales and his policies. Although the region was given more representation in Congress despite a small decrease in population, they remained opposed to the power in La Paz and in December of 2007, they declared “autonomy” from the central government.
Demonstrations continued to escalate from that point and media luna protesters shut down streets, erected barricades, attacked security officials, seized government buildings and damaged and destroyed structures linked to the nationalized gas industry.
Pro-Morales counterprotests then took place and the situation continued to escalate until at least 30 deaths, those of which were almost all pro-Morales farmers, had occurred by mid-September of 2008, in the Pando department.
Morales rejected the media luna’s calls for autonomy on legal and constitutional grounds, accused the United States of funding and supporting the violent opposition and said that Washington sought to destabilize and overthrow his government.
The then-US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, was then expelled for meeting repeatedly with the separatist leaders in the media luna but Morales did not break diplomatic relations with the US.
While the US denied involvement of any kind in the Bolivian unrest, Morales was seemingly correct in his assertion as recently released WikiLeaks cables showed that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) disbursed at least $4 million dollars to the separatist groups in the media luna.
USAID is officially a United States governmental agency that doles out foreign aid to civilians and organizations. It is subject to the foreign policy guidance of the President of the US and other high-ranking officals.
According to the state press Agencia Boliviana de Información, Morales was speaking at a public act when he made the remarks, pertinent because he made them in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia’s second city and unofficial capital of the media luna.
“According to the e-mails sent between 2006 and 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided at least $4 million to the separatist movements in the region known as the media luna, which comprises the eastern departments of Bolivia,” Morales said.
He explained that the cables were analyzed by Norwegian journalist and transparency activist Eirik Vold, who has worked extensively with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in the past. In late 2016, Vold said that there were 14,000 WikiLeaks documents concerning Morales and Washington’s role in Latin America to be scrutinized.
“Now we can clearly see and realize where and how the division of Bolivia was planned and how the division of Bolivia was financed. We can now see how important it was for our nation to stay united in the face of foreign intervention,” Morales said.
In nearby Ecuador, USAID funded several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were politically motivated, as well as groups that were in staunch opposition to the Correa government.
According to then-leader Rafael Correa, Ecuador would have gladly worked with USAID “if that financing was actually for development but the money is used to finance NGOs that are enemies of the government and even worse, quite obvious about violating the rules of our nation.”
Correa said that his nation would stop its cooperation with USAID until a new and reworked agreement between his government and the agency was signed. Apparently, no deal was reached as USAID left Ecuador in September of 2014. This came just one year after Morales ordered the agency to shut down in Bolivia.
“There is direct interference by external groups in Latin American nations like Ecuador under the pretext of strengthening democracy but really with the intention of destabilizing governments through funding of certain citizens and groups,” Correa said then. “We will not allow this blatant intervention.”
Indeed, USAID has been embroiled in similar situations before in nearby Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere. The case of Alan Gross, the US government subcontractor that was imprisoned in Cuba from 2009 to 2014 for illegally distributing communication equipment in Havana without permission, highlighted USAID’s political side. In the example of the island, USAID’s mission in Cuba officially and explicitly calls for regime change.
For their part, the US Embassy in La Paz rejected Morales’ latest statement as “unfounded” and “based on a biased source.”