(above) US Undersecretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon

US diplomat seeks dialogue with Bolivia
May 20, 2009 - AFP

LA PAZ (AFP) — A senior US diplomat was in Bolivia Wednesday in an effort to repair badly frayed relations between the two countries.

US Undersecretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon said upon his arrival at the airport in La Paz that the goal of his visit was to improve the tone of the bilateral dialogue, which has been marked by recriminations and counter-accusations.

Bolivia-US relations have been rocky since socialist President Evo Morales took office three years ago.

The United States last year expelled Bolivia's ambassador to the United States Gustavo Guzman in retaliation for Bolivia's expulsion of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Washington suspended trade preferences to Bolivia under former US president George W. Bush's administration. Earlier this year, a US State Department report expressed concern over Bolivia's continued cultivation of coca leaf, used to make cocaine, and its alleged role as a money laundering hub.

Morales, meanwhile, has accused Washington of conspiring with his opponents to incite violence in Bolivia, and even accused it of having a hand in an assassination plot against him.

He also has taken steps to rein in separatist forces, issuing a decree that enables the government to seize by court order the assets of anyone accused of terrorism or supporting secession.

His government believes that groups in the business-oriented, wealthier Santa Cruz region might support foreign mercenaries with secessionist goals.

Authorities are investigating an incident last month in which they shot dead a Bolivian, Eduardo Rosza, who also held Hungarian and Croatian nationalities, Arpad Magyarosi, an ethnic Hungarian from Romania, and Irishman Michael Dwyer.

Dwyer, a 24-year-old construction management graduate, was among the three gunned down when police raided a hotel in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz on April 16.

Bolivian authorities have claimed he was involved in a plot to kill Morales.