Venezuela Dismisses US Accusations of Involvement in Bolivia’s Crisis

US Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega blamed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for the current social and political unrest in Bolivia. Venezuela's Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez responded by asking Noriega to provide proof that Chávez is meddling in Bolivia's affairs.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 7, 2005—Today during a press conference during the 35th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez asked Roger Noriega, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, to back up his allegations that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is engineering the current crisis in Bolivia.

Earlier this morning, Noriega expressed his “concern” for the “role” of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in the Bolivian crisis and claimed that “the profile of President Chávez in the events in Bolivia is obvious to all of the world.” However, Noriega did not elaborate on what he refers to as “a truly worrisome” situation beyond saying that Chávez has been “working with various sectors” in Bolivia.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez replied, “Venezuela is scrupulously respectful of other countries’ sovereignty. Bolivia’s problems are the problems of the Bolivians and it is up to their government to resolve them in agreement with their laws and with their Constitution.” Rodriguez added that Venezuela will only get involved in Bolivia as part of a collective effort with other Latin American nations and only at the request of the legitimate authorities of that country.

Rodríguez asked Noriega to point to “some element that can demonstrate that we have a participation that is not about trying to help and that is not requested…” Rodríguez also stated that he did not want to dwell on Noriega’s comments because, “it seems that (Noriega) is always going around looking to start a fire, when the job of diplomats…is to look to put out any fire.”

During the press conference this morning, Rodríguez insisted that “through mutual work we will find ways to understanding” with the U.S. However, he made it clear that these kinds of comments, far from constructing a dialogue, “what they do is to further estrange any possibility of maintaining good relations with the US.”

The months-long social and political crisis in Bolivia reached yet another pivotal climax yesterday, when hundreds of thousands of protesters maintained demonstrations, blocking five major cities and the roads to other countries and paralyzing the economy, in spite of Bolivian President Carlos Mesa’s third offer to resign. Protests are nothing new to Mesa’s government; his government has been plagued and paralyzed by over 800 over them since he replaced his ousted predecessor 19 months ago.

However, this time the protesters–mainly the impoverished Indigenous who make up 2/3 of the population–are no longer satisfied with Mesa’s resignation offer. They want full fledged nationalization of the energy companies, early elections and a new Constitution that focuses on social rights.

The Bolivian Congress is currently debating whether or not to accept the resignation. Neither the Congress nor Mesa has ever alleged that Chávez is responsible for the turmoil.