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Ambassador Calls Ouster From Bolivia A Foil


Welcome back to All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. You know relations between two countries are on the rocks when they kick out each other's ambassadors. Well, Philip Goldberg found himself in the middle of a diplomatic mess last week after Bolivian President Evo Morales sent the U.S. ambassador packing. Goldberg returned to Washington this week and met with a few reporters, including NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A career foreign service officer, Philip Goldberg says his 10-year as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia was never very easy.

Ambassador PHILIP GOLDBERG (U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia): When I arrived in Bolivia on October 13, 2006, I presented my credentials. And from there, I had to go downstairs to speak to the press. And issue number one was, are you really part of a plot to assassinate Evo Morales? I didn't think this was a very auspicious beginning.

KELEMEN: Goldberg called it a rollercoaster ride, saying President Morales often used the U.S. and the U.S. Embassy as a foil, a distraction from the problems inside Bolivia. This month, the ambassador was told that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would have to leave a main coca-producing part of Bolivia. The U.S. Agency for International Development was also forced out. And soon Goldberg himself was packing his bags, declared persona non grata. As he left, he says the Bolivian government aired, what he called, a propaganda infomercial about him on TV.

Ambassador GOLDBERG: It was a vile piece of propaganda accusing the United States, accusing opposition members, too, of taking instructions from the U.S., making links with people I'd never met. It really was - is a sad, sad display.

KELEMEN: And a sad moment for U.S.-Bolivian relations.

Ambassador GOLBERG: This is a very delicate, very dangerous moment in some ways, because of the internal situation. And I think what happened also is very much tied to that.

KELEMEN: Bolivian President Evo Morales, an indigenous leader and head of a coco-farming union, is facing increasingly violent protests in wealthy parts of the country. Ambassador Goldberg defended his meetings with conservative opposition figures saying that's the role of a diplomat, to find out what's going on in the country. Goldberg was speaking to a small group of reporters at the Inter-American Dialogue, where he was joined by Michael Shifter who said Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, had a hand in this.

Mr. MICHAEL SHIFTER (Vice President for Policy, Inter-American Dialogue): The U.S., I think, is preoccupied with economic problems and its presidential campaign, and Chavez seems to have in this moment gotten a bit feisty. The challenge for the U.S. is how to, sort of, deal with this situation in, sort of, a step-by-step, calm, quiet approach, which is not always easy.

KELEMEN: Chavez, in solidarity with Bolivia, kicked out the U.S. ambassador and withdrew his from Washington. Venezuela has also stepped up its military ties with Russia, which adds a whole new dimension to the Bush administration's troubles in Latin America. Shifter says the next administration will have an opportunity to get off to a better start.

Mr. SHIFTER: The Bush administration has just had real difficulty, and there's just been tremendous mistrust from the beginning. I mean, this goes way back. So it's nothing new. And there'll be a new opportunity, but the issues are not going to disappear.

KELEMEN: These are countries, he says, which are asserting their nationalism. They have energy resources. And Shifter predicts they will continue to pose challenges to the U.S., no matter who is elected here in November. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.