Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia's Morales rages against US 'coup-plotting'

President Evo Morales addressing the conference of defence ministers of the Americas in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Image caption President Morales is a staunch critic of the US

Bolivian President Evo Morales has accused the US of backing coup attempts against him and other left-wing Latin American leaders.

Mr Morales said US policies to combat drugs and terrorism were pretexts for "intervention" in the region.

He was addressing a meeting of regional defence ministers, including US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

Mr Gates listened but made no public response to the accusations.

The US embassy later expressed disappointment at Mr Morales's remarks.

In an hour-long speech, Mr Morales accused the US of backing failed coup attempts in Venezuela in 2002, in Bolivia in 2008, and in Ecuador this year.

He also accused it of involvement in the ousting of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

"Latin American compatriots, we must recognise that the US beat us in Honduras, the North American empire beat us. But the people of America also won in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador", he said.

"The score is 3-1".

The US has previously strongly denied involvement in all those cases.

Image caption Mr Gates did not respond to President Morales's remarks

Mr Morales did not mention Mr Gates by name, but much of his speech was clearly directed at the US defence secretary and former CIA director.

The Bolivian leader said "nobody" would stop his country from forming the alliances it chose.

"Bolivia, under my leadership, will have agreements and alliances with every one," he said.

'Shared dreams'

Mr Gates did not respond to Mr Morales's accusations when he addressed the conference later in the day.

Instead, he backed a plan to improve disaster relief cooperation to respond to regional events such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile earlier this year.

He also gave his support to a proposal for greater transparency on defence spending in the region to prevent arms races.

"Let us not lose sight of our shared dreams and common aspirations for a free, prosperous and secure Americas", he said.

Mr Gates had earlier warned Bolivia to be careful in its dealings with Iran, which has offered to help it develop nuclear energy.

""As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relations with any country in the world that it wishes to", he said on Sunday.

"Bolivia needs to be mindful of the of the number of UN security council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran's behaviour".

Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, is a long-standing opponent of US influence in Latin America and an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

President Barack Obama's administration has been trying to improve US relations with Latin America in the face of the rising influence of China and other powers, but has faced strong opposition from left-wing leaders in the region such as Mr Morales and Mr Chavez.

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