Wed, Feb 13, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Morales denounces US official after complaints


Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced a US embassy security officer after complaints that the official asked a US scholar and 30 Peace Corps volunteers to pass along information about Cubans and Venezuelans working in Bolivia.

It was not immediately clear whether Morales intended to seek the expulsion of the official, Vincent Cooper, who according to the US embassy has been recalled to Washington for consultations.

Morales said Cooper is, "for Bolivia, for the government, an undesirable person," and accused him of sending US citizens in Bolivia out as spies.

"I feel that this man has not only violated the rights of these citizens, but also violated, offended and attacked Bolivia," the president said.

The embassy released a statement on Monday explaining that Peace Corps volunteers had been mistakenly given a security briefing meant only for embassy staff, asking them to report "suspicious activities."

"Nobody at the embassy has ever asked American citizens to participate in intelligence activities here," US ambassador Phillip Goldberg said during a flood relief visit to the eastern city of Trinidad. "But I want to say that I greatly regret the incident that was made known this weekend."

The ambassador's statement referred only to the Peace Corps briefing in July. Embassy officials said they could not confirm whether Cooper also gave improper instructions to a Fulbright scholar in a one-on-one briefing in November.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said he would seek a meeting with Goldberg to discuss recent tensions over intelligence operations in Bolivia, but the embassy has yet to receive a formal summons.

On Friday, Fulbright scholar Alex van Schaick said that Cooper, the embassy's assistant regional security officer, asked him to pass along the names and addresses of any Venezuelan and Cuban workers he might encounter in the country.

"We know they're out there, we just want to keep tabs on them," Schaick quoted Cooper as telling him during a meeting Nov. 5.

ABC News reported that Cooper made a similar request to 30 newly arrived Peace Corps volunteers on July 29, angering the organization's programming and training officer for Bolivia, Doreen Salazar, who told Cooper that the request violated policy and instructed the volunteers to ignore it.

The US State Department said on Friday that any such request would be "an error" and against US policy.

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