Obama offers olive branch to Bolivia
April 19, 2009 - Associated Press


PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) — Bolivia's leftist president was headed to the airport Sunday when Barack Obama gave him what he requested the day before: public repudiation of an alleged attempt on his life.

The U.S. president went out of his way at a news conference capping a 34-nation hemispheric summit to respond to Evo Morales' plea.

"Specifically on the Bolivia issue," said Obama, "I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere."

Morales told reporters Saturday that Washington continued to conspire against him, deeming hollow Obama's pledge of a new era of mutual respect between the U.S. and Latin America, with no senior partner.

He said he had asked Obama during a private meeting with South American leaders to publicly repudiate an alleged assassination plot that Bolivian authorities said they crushed on Thursday. Bolivian police killed three alleged conspirators: an Irishman, a Romanian and a Bolivian-Croat.

Morales said he found it difficult to believe that the purported plot wasn't financed by a foreign source, but he did not allege U.S. involvement.

His vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, on Sunday said Bolivia had "not encountered any cooperation with the CIA, the DEA or NAS (Narcotics Affairs Section)" — the three U.S. agencies that Morales' government has accused of meddling.

Morales on Saturday said that if Obama didn't repudiate the alleged assassination plot, "I might think it was organized through the embassy."

Bolivia last year expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, claiming they had conspired with his opponents to incite violence. Former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration then suspended trade preferences to Bolivia.

Obama has been so consumed by trying to stave off domestic and global financial collapse that he has barely named a full Latin America team to deal with thorny regional issues.

But his face-to-face introduction to Latin America's leftist leaders — who benefited at the ballot box from Bush's unpopularity in the region — could spur him to action.

Obama told reporters he had "very cordial conversations" at the summit with Morales and Ecuador's leftist president, Rafael Correa, who has expelled two senior U.S. diplomats since Obama took office for allegedly trying to influence personnel decisions in elite Ecuadorean police units.

Obama said he would "be respectful" to such democratically elected leaders.

While he may not always see eye-to-eye with them, he said he believes "they would say that they feel encouraged about the possibility of a more constructive relationship."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez certainly did, saying Saturday that it was time to send an ambassador back to Washington after a seven-month hiatus.