July 1, 2009 / 9:25 PM / 10 years ago

Bolivian leader berates Obama over trade benefits

* Morales chides Obama over trade benefit suspension

* Says Obama broke promise for fresh start in region

By Diego Ore

LA PAZ, July 1 (Reuters) - Bolivia’s leftist president criticized the Obama administration on Wednesday for blocking U.S. trade benefits to the Andean nation, saying the decision was based on "slander and lies."

President Evo Morales, a close ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, was one of Latin America’s most outspoken critics of former U.S. President George W. Bush, but he joined fellow leftists in welcoming Obama’s promise in April to make a new start on regional ties.

However, Morales said he had been wrong to trust Obama, a day after Washington maintained Bolivia’s suspension from a program of trade benefits that rewards Andean countries for helping fight cocaine trafficking.

"I’m disappointed ... because the Obama administration has used slander, lies and false accusations to suspend the preferential tariffs," said Morales, who threw out the U.S. ambassador to La Paz and American anti-drug agents last year.

"They said I shouldn’t trust Obama ... I want to thank those people for giving me that advice," the former coca farmer told reporters.

Bush suspended Bolivia’s duty-free trade benefits late last year after Morales expelled the U.S. agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing them of spying.

A White House report upholding the Bolivian suspension said there was "explicit acceptance and encouragement of coca production at the highest levels of Bolivian government."

Morales has pledged to eradicate plants used in the drugs trade in Bolivia, the world’s No. 3 cocaine producer, but defended the chewing of coca leaves as well as their use in brewing teas and in religious ceremonies.

Bolivia’s Andean neighbors — Colombia, Peru and Ecuador — continue to benefit from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, ATPDEA, which grants most of their goods duty-free entry into the United States. (Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by John O’Callaghan)








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