(above) Evo Morales

US Senator slams Bolivia's ouster of US diplomat
March 11, 2009 - AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican, Richard Lugar, condemned on Tuesday Bolivia's latest expulsion of a US diplomat, as the White House kept mum on the issue.

"It is necessary to condemn the expulsion of yet another member of our US Embassy staff" in La Paz, Lugar said a day after the diplomat was given 72 hours to leave the country by President Evo Morales, who accused him of conspiring against his government.

"This behavior might yield political dividends in Bolivia," Lugar said, but "it certainly does not bode well for efforts to solve our differences through honest dialogue and positive actions."

Neither the White House nor the State Department have commented on the expulsion of Francisco Martinez, second secretary of the US Embassy in La Paz.

Morales accused Martinez of linking up with the Bolivian opposition during a period of anti-government unrest that culminated in September 2008.

Morales already ordered out the US ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, last September for the same reason.

US-Bolivia relations have been on a rocky road since Morales became Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2005 and struck up friendly relations with top leftist regimes and US foes in the region, Cuba and Venezuela.

Lugar recalled his meeting with Morales when he visited Washington in November, describing it as "both cordial and promising," adding that they discussed ways of improving bilateral relations.

However, shortly after that meeting, Lugar said, Morales terminated the US Drug Enforcement Administration's stay in Bolivia, also accusing its agents of conspiring against his government.