Bolivia strengthens relations with Russia after US fall-out

Bolivia may look towards Russia for funding if the United States decides to withdraw its £14 million in annual aid.

By Jeremy McDermott, Latin America Correspondent
Last Updated: 5:16PM BST 16 Sep 2008

Relations between America and the South American state are at an all-time low after Bolivia expelled the US ambassador amid civil unrest which has left more than 30 dead.

Whilst long range Russian bombers now streak across the skies of the Caribbean from a base in Venezuela, and Moscow seeks to strengthen relations with its old ally Cuba, Bolivia may be the latest recruit in expanding Russian influence in Washington’s “back yard”.

Last week the US ambassador to La Paz was expelled accused of fomenting civil unrest and Washington swiftly reciprocated with the ejection of the Bolivian ambassador.

Now Evo Morales is looking to get help, military and antinarcotics, to make up the shortfall if and when the US cuts off aid.

“There are negotiations going on”, said Felipe Caceres, Bolivia’s Vice Minister of Defence, adding that the Russian embassy in La Paz had responded positively and that a visit to Moscow was being planned.

President Morales is facing demands from four of the country’s richer provinces for more autonomy, following protests that have left 30 dead, more than 100 injured and another 106 disappeared.

However, he received on Monday an overwhelming show of support from nine presidents of South America who met in Santiago de Chile, including close allies like Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Washington, which has long neglected Latin America for more pressing foreign policy concerns in the Middle East and Asia, is now paying the price. South America is now all but lost to US influence, with only Colombia, a stalwart ally, and Peru interested in closer relations.

The rest of the region has now swung against US influence, the most extreme example being Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has cultivated anti-US allies like Iran and Cuba, and has now invited not just the Russian air force but Russian navy to exercise in the Caribbean, just hours from the US coastline.

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