HomeNewsBriefUS-Bolivia Gun Spat Points to Drug War Tensions
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US-Bolivia Gun Spat Points to Drug War Tensions

BOLIVIA / 28 MAR 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

The discovery of an American diplomatic vehicle transporting weapons and ammunition in Bolivia has added yet another layer of tension to relations between the governments of Bolivia and the United States.

On March 27, Bolivian police intercepted a van with diplomatic license plates carrying three shotguns, a revolver and more than 2,300 rounds of ammunition in the Amazonian province of Beni. The van’s driver and a police officer escorting him, both Bolivian citizens, were taken into custody for questioning. According to Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero, the incident amounts to a “security threat to Bolivia, an act that calls into question the [US government’s] respect for the institution and laws of the Bolivian state.” He called for a full investigation into the matter.

The US embassy in La Paz, for its part, denies any wrongdoing. In a statement released yesterday, the embassy claims that the weapons were being relocated from a closed office in the city of Trinidad to Santa Cruz under an agreement with local police. The statement added that it is customary for Washington to contract local police in order to protect its diplomats overseas, and stressed that embassy officials are happy to comply with an investigation.

The statement failed to placate Bolivian officials, however. Although Romero has conceded that the US had negotiated an agreement with the police in Beni, he called the arrangement “illegal,” noting that foreign governments are only authorized to negotiate agreements with federal institutions. Romero also questioned why the van was traveling at night, and implied that a diplomatic vehicle was used to reduce the chance of it being searched.

InSight Crime Analysis

The incident comes at a time of extremely strained relations between Bolivia and the US. Although President Evo Morales has restored diplomatic ties with the US after expelling the US ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for alleged connections to his political opposition, he remains suspicious of US activities in his country.

Ahead of a visit to the US last July, for instance, Morales publicly expressed fears that the American government would attempt to plant cocaine on his plane in an effort to discredit his counternarcotics efforts.

Because the Beni department is governed by the opposition National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), the government’s reaction to the discovery of weapons has distinctly political undertones. While the Bolivian government’s concerns over sovereignty are valid, it seems likely that Minister Romero’s musings were designed to raise doubts about a potentially destabilizing relationship between the US and the local authorities in Beni.

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