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Morales Tightens His Grip on Bolivia’s Government

By Scott Sullivan

03.08.05 | With the support of only one-fifth of Bolivia’s electorate, Evo Morales is taking bold steps to tighten his grip on the government. This week he successfully stage managed the dismissal of Finance Minister Luis Jemio for remarks made in the US that allegedly magnified claims by a junior Department of Defense (DoD) official claiming Hugo Chavez’s support for Morales (FM Jemio denies these allegations). Other policy disputes may have been at stake, according to Cuba’s Prensa Latina, including Jemio’s proposal to delay implementation of Bolivia’s new hydrocarbons law (pushed through Congress by Morales over then-President Mesa’s objections) until after presidential elections in December. Morales said no, and Luis Jemio had to go.

This latest Morales power play came after last week’s Washington Times reporting that Morales had overturned US and UN limits on coca production in Bolivia, a step that is weakening similar limits throughout the region.

The Morales coup d’etat suggests that an intense power struggle is underway in Bolivia and that Morales is winning. These developments raise obvious questions about US policy:

-- Will the US speak out against Finance Minister Jemio’s dismissal and defend the remarks made by the DoD official? The alternative is to remain silent, as with repression in Venezuela, which will give Morales an incentive to move ahead.

-- Will DoD proceed with the proposed sale of riot control equipment and training to Bolivia even though Morales is dominating the Rodriguez government?

-- Should the US continue to endorse upcoming elections even though they will only ratify the Morales coup d’etat?

-- Should the US take this opportunity to reaffirm its support, from Roger Noriega, for Santa Cruz self-determination?

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