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Bolivia accuses United States of promoting protests

By the CNN Wire Staff
Bolivian President Evo Morales said the U.S. Embassy officials had "suspiciously" been in touch with protest organizers.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said the U.S. Embassy officials had "suspiciously" been in touch with protest organizers.
  • A Bolivian official says officials from USAID are behind an indigenous protest
  • He accuses the agency of promoting actions aimed at "destabilizing" the government
  • President Evo Morales says U.S. officials were "suspiciously" in touch with organizers
  • The U.S. Embassy in La Paz says the U.S. government has not supported the march
  • Bolivia
  • Evo Morales
  • United States

La Paz, Bolivia (CNN) -- Bolivia's government is accusing U.S. officials of meddling in the South American nation's internal affairs and fueling indigenous protests of a proposed highway project.

An influential Bolivian official called Wednesday for the expulsion of the U.S. Agency of International Development, accusing the agency of promoting actions aimed at "destabilizing" the government.

"The expulsion of USAID should be ... an act of sovereignty," said Juan Ramon Quintana, director of a Bolivian government development agency and a former top presidential aide.

His remarks came as hundreds of indigenous protesters trekked toward La Paz, protesting the proposed construction of a highway through a national park where indigenous communities live. Quintana showed documents that he said proved that officials from the agency were behind the movement.

On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the U.S. Embassy officials had "suspiciously" been in touch with protest organizers -- pointing to a phone log that he said proved it.

But embassy officials have denied supporting the protests, which are scheduled to last for weeks.

"We emphasize that neither the United States Embassy in Bolivia nor any other element of the U.S. government has given any support to the indigenous march," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

USAID did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency's website says it provided $52 million in aid money to Bolivia in the 2010 fiscal year for projects related to health, development, economic growth and the environment.

Opposition politicians accuse Morales and his government of using the United States as a scapegoat as a way to deflect attention away from issues raised by indigenous groups Morales purports to defend.

"They are violating fundamental rights, the right to privacy, they are flagrantly violating it," said Jaime Navarro, a representative in the National Unity Party. "And once again the government dusts off an old ghost when it finds itself facing situations like this, and tries to show a conspiracy."

Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia's interior minister, said the phone log was obtained legally.

Bolivia and the United States have had diminished relations since September 2008, when each country expelled the other's ambassador. Morales, a strong proponent of the cultivation of coca plants -- the source of cocaine -- expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration a month later. He also delivered a strong verbal criticism of the U.S. government at the United Nations General Assembly that year.

Last month Morales told CNN en Español that he was afraid the U.S. government was plotting against him.

Days earlier, he told a convention of female of farm workers that he was worried U.S. authorities would plant something on his presidential plane while he attended the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

"They are preparing something to discredit us with drug trafficking," he said.

Journalist Gloria Carrasco contributed to this report.