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Evo Morales nationalizes the ‘dignity’ of the Bolivian people

Every year for the past seven May Days, Bolivian President Evo Morales has nationalized key industries as a gesture of populist zeal. But this year he went one (or two or three) steps further. "Today we are only going to nationalize … the dignity of the Bolivian people," the leftist leader declared in protest of ...

AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images

Every year for the past seven May Days, Bolivian President Evo Morales has nationalized key industries as a gesture of populist zeal. But this year he went one (or two or three) steps further. "Today we are only going to nationalize ... the dignity of the Bolivian people," the leftist leader declared in protest of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's description of Latin America as the "backyard of the United States."

So, how exactly do you go about nationalizing a people's dignity? By kicking out USAID, apparently. Morales accused the aid organization, which has been operating in the country for 49 years, of attempting to undermine his government.

On Wednesday afternoon, USAID issued a statement in response to getting the boot:

Every year for the past seven May Days, Bolivian President Evo Morales has nationalized key industries as a gesture of populist zeal. But this year he went one (or two or three) steps further. "Today we are only going to nationalize … the dignity of the Bolivian people," the leftist leader declared in protest of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s description of Latin America as the "backyard of the United States."

So, how exactly do you go about nationalizing a people’s dignity? By kicking out USAID, apparently. Morales accused the aid organization, which has been operating in the country for 49 years, of attempting to undermine his government.

On Wednesday afternoon, USAID issued a statement in response to getting the boot:

The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.

USAID’s purpose in Bolivia since 1964 has been to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians. All USAID programs have been supportive of the Bolivian government’s National Development Plan, and have been fully coordinated with appropriate government agencies. The United States government has worked in a dedicated fashion over the past five years to establish a relationship based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation with the Bolivian government. This action is further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision.

What is most regrettable is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, agriculture, health, alternative development, and the environment.

This is not the first time that the United States and Bolivia have butted heads; in 2008, for instance, Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Agency. But only now has the Bolivian people’s dignity been caught in the middle.

Neha Paliwal is the Editorial Assistant for Democracy Lab.

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