Bolivia Expels Spanish and Mexican Envoys over Plot to Smuggle Out Socialist Officials

Bolivian interim President Jeanine Anez speaks during the ceremony in which Bolivian Salvador Romero Ballivian was sworn in as member of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), ahead of new elections at the Quemado Palace in La Paz on November 25, 2019. - Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez signed off on …
JORGE BERNAL/AFP via Getty Images

Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez announced on Monday that her government is expelling the top Mexican and Spanish diplomats from the country over an alleged plan by their respective countries to smuggle former government ministers out of the country to avoid facing trial.

The row centers around nine former officials from the government of former Bolivian President Evo Morales, who stepped down last month following an audit by the Organization of American States found “irregularities” in favor of Morales during the counting of the results of October’s presidential election.

Morales has since fled the country and been granted asylum in Argentina, while a warrant has been put out for his arrest on charges of sedition, terrorism, and electoral fraud. The nine officials face similar charges and have sought refuge in the Mexican embassy as authorities prevent them from fleeing the country.

This weekend, the government accused Spanish diplomats working for socialist President Pedro Sánchez of trying to smuggle the nine officials out of the Mexican embassy with the support of a group of hooded Spanish security agents.

On Monday, Añez announced that Ambassador Maria Teresa Mercado, the Spanish charge d’affaires and the Spanish consul had been designated as persona non grata and given 72 hours to leave the country. A further six Spanish security officials also on Sunday after being asked to leave by the government.

“A serious violation has been committed against Bolivian sovereignty and democracy, which must be respected,” Anez said, adding that they had “seriously harmed the sovereignty and dignity of the people and the constitutional government of Bolivia.”

Spain has denied all the charges and responded on Monday to the “hostile gesture” by expelling three Bolivian officials from the embassy in Madrid.

“Spain categorically rejects any hint about the alleged willingness to interfere in the internal political affairs of Bolivia,” said a government spokesperson, describing the allegations as “conspiracy theories.”

“Spain wishes to maintain close relations of friendship and solidarity with the country and brother people of Bolivia,” the spokesperson added.

The Bolivian government also expelled the Mexican Ambassador, María Teresa Mercado, who also represents a socialist administration that does not recognize Áñez’s government.

In a statement, the Mexican government described the expulsion as a “political decision.” Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero said the relationship between the two countries remained “tense” but confirmed they have no plans to cut off diplomatic relations and will continue to protect the former Bolivian officials.

“Of course we’re going to protect them,” she told a press conference on Monday. “While they are in the Mexican embassy they are in Mexican territory.”

Morales is currently residing in Argentina, from where he plans to oversee the campaign of his political party’s candidate for next year’s presidential elections. On Sunday, he organized a protest close to the Bolivian Argentinian border aimed at destabilizing the current administration. Last month, he was caught in an audio recording urging his supporters to block the passage of food and other living essentials aimed at creating a state of chaos across the country.

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