Evo Morales Criticizes U.S. At Conference; Robert Gates Focuses Talks On Drugs and Disasters

Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — Bolivian President Evo Morales had sharp words for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Monday when the two attended a regional conference on defense held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

In an hour long speech at the ninth Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), Morales accused the United States of undermining democratic governments in Latin America and said Latin American nations can choose their own friends and business partners, regardless of U.S. opinion. While Gates was never called out by name, it was clear that the comments were directed at the Pentagon chief and former head of the CIA.

“As Secretary Robert Gates listened, Evo Morales blamed the United States for 4 coup attempts in the region since 2002,” Tweeted Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).  Morales allegedly blamed the U.S. for the coup attempts in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Gates showed no reaction to Morales’ speech and during his remarks focused on the need for greater military cooperation to address drug trafficking, natural disasters and criminal networks.

“The security challenges we face in our hemisphere – natural and man-made disasters, sophisticated and brutal criminal networks, illicit drugs, weapons and human trafficking – are transnational threats that affect us all,” Gates said, according to a Defense Department transcript. “To successfully confront these challenges we must stand and work together as true partners.”

When questioned by reporters on whether the U.S. had problems with Bolivia receiving civilian nuclear power assistance from Iran, Gates said that Bolivia is a sovereign nation and can have relations with any country it chooses.

Gates attendance at the conference is part of a four-day trip to Bolivia and Chile.

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