Cuba says Trump administration pressured Bolivia to worsen ties

HAVANA (Reuters) - A day after Bolivia suspended diplomatic relations with Cuba, Havana accused its interim government of having sought to sabotage bilateral ties ever since it took power last year, partly under pressure from the Trump administration.

A view of Cuba's Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/David Mercado

Communist-run Cuba was a key ally of Bolivia’s former leftist President Evo Morales - who resigned amid a political crisis and protests in November - and has supported his assertion that he was toppled in a foreign-backed “coup”.

Bolivia’s conservative interim President Jeanine Anez, meanwhile, has tried to align the country more closely with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which is cranking up sanctions on Cuba.

“The acting authorities unfurled a ferocious campaign of lies against Cuba ... in particular against the Cuban medical cooperation, inciting violence against our staff,” the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“It is not casual that the facts described here coincide with a brutal, politically-motivated U.S. campaign against the international medical cooperation Cuba provides to dozens of countries.”

Cuba’s foreign ministry also said U.S. officials had, since the departure of Morales, “applied pressure on Bolivia to impose a deterioration in relations with Cuba”.

The U.S. State Department was not immediately available for comment.

Cuba’s health service is the country’s most important hard currency earner, sending more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries.

That program, though, has come under increased fire over the past two years, with critics accusing Cuba of treating doctors as “slave labor” or using them to fuel unrest abroad. Cuba denies the accusations.

Thousands of Cuban doctors have returned home after agreements with Brazil and Ecuador were ended over the past year and a half.

Bolivia’s foreign ministry said in November: “There have been a number of accusations that Cuban citizens have been involved in these aggressive acts that have tormented our country in recent days.”

Cuba responded by terminating its medical mission, saying Bolivian officials were fostering violence against the around 700 doctors by claiming they were instigating rebellion.

The spat was revived on Wednesday, when Anez said the Cuban government kept 80% of the payments that Bolivia made for the work of Cuban doctors in the country.

Cuba’s foreign ministry denied this, saying on Saturday that from 2006 to 2012, the Caribbean island nation had actually covered all the costs of medical cooperation with Bolivia, at more than $200 million per year.

It was from then that Bolivia started paying for the medical services due to its improved economic situation.

“But it never transferred one dollar to Cuba, nor did Cuba receive any revenue,” the ministry said.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Tom Hogue