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Trump sending aid mission to Bolivia ahead of election

MIAMI - The Trump administration is sending an assessment team to Bolivia this week to discuss possible resumption of foreign aid to the Andean nation following the ouster of leftist leader Evo Morales, according to two people with knowledge of the visit.

The team organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the development branch of the State Department, is looking to assist Bolivia’s interim government run a smooth presidential election May 3 that it hopes will end months of political turmoil following a vote last year that observers said was marred by fraud.

The mission will also discuss longer-term areas of co-operation, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday because the mission hasn’t yet been announced.

Morales expelled the USAID from Bolivia in 2013, accusing it of political interference by support for groups and local governments that that opposed him.

Interim President Jeanine Anez has been driving a conservative backlash against policies implemented by Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president, during almost 14 years of leftist rule. She has been looking to improve relations with the U.S. and take a tougher line on coca farmers.

But critics says she’s overstepping her caretaker mandate and say the U.S. should be wary of backing an interim government accused of targeting Morales’ allies, who still wield plenty of political power even with their leader living in exile, in neighbouring Argentina.

“The Trump administration has clearly picked sides,” said Kathryn Ledebur of the non-profit Andean Information Network in Bolivia. “But instead of just giving support for the interim government ahead of the election, it should also highlight concerns about human rights violations and erosion of democratic rights.”

The White House on Monday announced that it was lifting a longstanding ban on foreign aid to Bolivia imposed for its failure to co-operate in U.S. anti-narcotics efforts.

The U.S. first decertified Bolivia as a partner in the drug war shortly after Morales — former head of a coca growers’ union — expelled then U.S. Ambassador Phil Goldberg and the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008. But it received wavers for several years after that, permitting aid to continue.

On Monday, the Trump administration reinstated a waiver that would allow aid to resume flowing to the Andean nation, finding that it is “vital to the national interests of the United States.”

Before Morales came to power, the country had been receiving more than $150 million in economic and security aid, much of it focused on anti-narcotics programs.

Aid had dropped to about $100 million in 2008 and to $28 million in 2012.

When Morales expelled the agency a year later, USAID said its programs were helping tens of thousands of Bolivians, particularly children and new mothers in rural areas who have benefited from health, nutrition, immunization and reproductive services.
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