Oil Report

Bolivia, U.S. clash over Morales' plot claims

LA PAZ, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Tensions between Bolivia and the United States flared again on Wednesday after President Evo Morales accused Washington of plotting against the state-run energy company YPFB, a claim dismissed by the U.S. government.

A judge ordered the temporary detention of former YPFB chief Santos Ramirez, a close friend of the leftist president, this month over accusations of corruption. Morales says the U.S. “empire” is also to blame for the company’s troubles.

“It’s been totally proven that foreign agents, CIA agents, were infiltrated (in YPFB) ... Maybe that’s the way the (U.S.) empire has to conspire against the policies that we’re pushing forward,” Morales told a radio network on Tuesday.

Washington called the charge baseless.

“We cannot understand why (Morales) maintains he wants to improve relations with the United States when he continues issuing false accusations,” Denise Urs, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in La Paz said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We reject these accusation ... there is no evidence,” the statement said.

Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in September 2008, accusing him of conspiring against the Bolivian government, which prompted the U.S. to respond in kind.

But late last year, Morales said he was hopeful that relations with the United States would improve under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Morales nationalized Bolivia’s natural gas industry soon after taking office three years ago and put YPFB in charge of managing the country’s biggest industry.

But YPFB has failed to deliver on promises to invest heavily to boost Bolivia’s natural gas output and has struggled to tackle fuel shortages in the Andean country.

Morales’ regional allies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have also ejected U.S. diplomats in recent months while warming to Russia and Iran. (Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Writing by Eduardo Garcia; editing by Patricia Zengerle)