(above) Evo Morales

Bolivia, suspecting spying, bars US drug agency from its skies
October 4, 2008 - AFP

LA PAZ (AFP) -- President Evo Morales said Saturday he has rejected a request from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to fly over Bolivian territory, and alleged that such flights were a cover for US spying.

"Two or three days ago I was told we had a DEA request for overflying Bolivia," said Morales at a meeting with coca leaf growers.

"We do not accept that. No DEA or American (agency) can be overflying our national territory."

"Under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking, under the pretext of monitoring coca leaf crops they want to overfly, and we are going to make it clear that we monitor domestically," the president added.

"We don't need anyone spying."

His remarks came as relations between South America's poorest nation and the richest country in the Americas hit a new low with a mutual expulsion of ambassadors.

Coca leaves are the raw material from which cocaine can be processed. But they are used in traditional remedies and for tea that fights altitude sickness, and growing small amounts for such purposes is legal.

UN reports say coca growing has been on the rise.

The leftist Morales is majority indigenous Bolivia's first indigenous president, and a staunch ally of US critics Venezuela and Cuba.

The United States is the main funding source of Bolivia's fight against illegal drugs, contributing 66 million dollars a year.