Go Home, Gringo
Bolivia and Venezuela's expulsion of their US ambassadors
exposes yet another faultline in north American foreign policy
By Richard Gott
12/09/08 "The Guardian" - -- On the 35th anniversary of the
military overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11,
1973, which had the overt support of the United States, the
presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela have asked the US
ambassadors accredited to their countries to leave.
They both believe they are facing the possibility of an imminent
coup d'etat in which they accuse the Americans of being
involved. A third country, Paraguay, announced 10 days ago that
it had detected a conspiracy involving military officers and
opposition politicians. Latin America now faces its most serious
crisis since the re-introduction of democratic practice at the
end of the last century.
Brazil and Argentina have both denounced the violent activities
of opposition groups in Bolivia that have led to the closure of
the natural gas pipelines to their countries, while President
Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has warned that a coup against Evo
Morales of Bolivia would be seen as a "green light" for an armed
insurgency in that country.
Giving details of a planned coup in his own country, in which
retired military officers and opposition figures were involved,
Chávez announced the expulsion of the US ambassador, Patrick
Duddy, and the withdrawal of his own ambassador from Washington.
Any aggression against Venezuela, Chávez said, would involve a
halt in the supply of Venezuelan oil to the United States.
Chávez's decision came one day after President Morales had
thrown out the US ambassador in La Paz, Philip Goldberg, who has
been frequently accused by the Bolivian government of plotting
with the separatist politicians in the eastern province of Santa
The situation in Bolivia is immediately more dramatic than in
Venezuela, although both countries are facing important
electoral battles at the end of the year.
Evo Morales, an indigenous politician from the Andes in the west
of the country, has organised a referendum on a new constitution
to which the rightwing (and white racist) politicians in the
eastern lowlands are bitterly opposed. The atmosphere of
violence has now broken into the open, with endless political
demonstrations and several deaths, the seizure of provincial
airports, and sabotage of the oil and gas installations on which
the country's economy depends. Morales has accused the regional
governors of the five eastern regions of creating the conditions
for a coup.
Chávez originally announced his decision to expel the US
ambassador from Caracas as an act of solidarity with Morales –
"so that Bolivia is not alone". But it was soon clear that he
had his own possible coup d'etat to deal with. A tape recording
of phone conversations between retired military officers, some
of whom were involved in the failed coup of April 2002, was
broadcast on Venezuelan television on Wednesday night, revealing
plans to seize the Miraflores presidential palace and to capture
or shoot down the presidential plane.
The suggestion that there were plans to assassinate the
president brought large crowds down from the shanty towns on
Thursday night to demonstrate their solidarity with Chávez.
Several of the alleged conspirators have been detained.
Venezuela, like Bolivia, has an uncertain pre-election climate,
since there will be regional and municipal elections in November
that will be viewed as a judgment on the popularity of the
The possible coup in Paraguay appears less serious, since it
only appeared to involve preliminary discussions between retired
General Lino Oviedo, an old hand at failed coups, and a serving
officer. Yet since the government of the left-wing former
bishop, Fernando Lugo, has only been in power since August,
tales of a possible coup have reverberated through the
continent. Brazil declared pointedly that it would not tolerate
a coup in Bolivia "or in any other Latin American country".
The US is, of course, preoccupied with Iraq, Afghanistan and
Pakistan, but whichever presidential candidate takes over in
January will also find Latin America at the top of his in-tray.
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