Friday, February 10, 2006

U.S. cutting military aid to Bolivia 96 percent

By Joel Brinkley
The New York Times
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2006

WASHINGTON Less than a month after an assertively anti-American president took office in Bolivia, the Bush administration is planning to cut military aid to the country by 96 percent.

The amount of money Bolivia normally receives is small; much of it is used to train Bolivian military officers in the United States. But the cut holds the potential to anger the powerful Bolivian military establishment, which has been responsible for a long history of coups.

Evo Morales, a Socialist leader, became president on Jan. 22 and has promised to end U.S.-financed programs to eradicate the Bolivian coca crop.

Coca is the main ingredient in cocaine. U.S. officials say if Bolivia ends the programs, farmers in Peru and other coca-producing states could demand the same. And that could lead to a flood of cocaine in the Americas and Europe.

The State Department said the military aid is being cut because of a law that says Washington must end military assistance to countries that have failed to ratify a pledge not to extradite Americans to the International Criminal Court.

The Bush administration does not recognize the court as legitimate.

Under pressure, just over 100 countries have signed an agreement. The administration has in some cases waived the rule and provided military aid to countries that have not signed, but officials would not provide numbers.

Bolivia and five other countries - Romania, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia and Jordan - have signed the agreement, but have not ratified it in their legislatures. The administration waived the requirement for the other five countries, leaving their military aid at roughly the same level as in previous years.

Administration officials said some of those other countries won exemptions because they were allies while others were not members of the International Criminal Court system.

One senior State Department official said the administration had no choice but to cut Bolivia's aid. But another State Department official said the administration could choose, later, to provide the money. The officials declined to be named, citing department rules.

In the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1 2005, Bolivia is to receive about $1.7 million. Next year, according to the budget proposal, Bolivia would get only $70,000. Just over half of the money this year would be used for civil defense supplies and other nonlethal equipment. About $792,000 would be used primarily to send Bolivian military officers to the School of the Americas, a combat training school for Latin American officers at Fort Benning, Georgia.

For many Latin American countries, including Bolivia, the training is an important part of their military tradition. In recent years, Bolivia has sent between 50 and 100 officers a year to the school, said Adam Isacson, program director for the Center for International Policy, which tracks military aid to Latin America. Cutting the financing "would antagonize the Bolivian military," he added.

The Bolivian military was responsible for numerous coups and partial coups in the 1960s and 1970s. The last one was in 1980.

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