September 22, 2020

Spain orders Bolivian trio to leave as diplomatic row deepens

Government in tit-for-tat retort after Jeanine Añez said she would expel diplomats over alleged plan to extract former Morales aide

 Jeanine Añez, Bolivia’s interim president. Madrid issued a strongly worded denial over the alleged attempt to extract the former Morales aide. Photograph: David Mercado/Reuters

The Spanish government has declared three Bolivian diplomats “personae non gratae” in a tit-for-tat move as a diplomatic spat deepened with Madrid’s former colony.

The move on Monday came after Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez, said La Paz would expel Mexico’s ambassador and two Spanish diplomats over an alleged attempt to extract an ex-government aide to former Bolivian leader Evo Morales.

The socialist government of Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez said the three diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country.

Hours earlier, Anez stated: “The constitutional government that I preside over has decided to declare persona non grata the ambassador of Mexico in Bolivia, Maria Teresa Mercado, the charge d’affaires of Spain, Cristina Borreguero, and the (Spanish) consul, Alvaro Fernandez.”

She accused the diplomats of having “seriously harmed the sovereignty and dignity of the people and the constitutional government of Bolivia” and likewise gave them 72 hours to depart.

Mexico’s foreign ministry denounced what it termed a “political” decision.

Bolivia has accused Spanish embassy staff of trying to infiltrate the Mexican mission in La Paz with masked men to extract the former aide to Morales – who resigned in November after weeks of protests over his controversial re-election and is now in Argentinian exile.

Madrid categorically denied the claim, saying its riposte was a reaction to “a hostile gesture by the Bolivian government to declare two Spanish diplomats personae non gratae.

“Spain categorically rejects any insinuation of presumed willingness to interfere in Bolivia’s internal political affairs,” the government statement read, warning the spat threatened to damage relations by propagating “false” conspiracy theories.

“Spain wishes to maintain close relations of friendship and solidarity with the country and brother people of Bolivia,” Madrid concluded, urging La Paz to return to a “common sense path of confidence and cooperation between our two countries.”

Arturo Murillo, the interior minister in Anez’s transitional government, said on Saturday he believed an attempt had been made to extract Juan Ramon Quintana, the former right-hand man to Morales and who is sought by Bolivian authorities.

Both Spain and Mexico said the incident occurred on Friday when Borreguero paid a brief visit to Mexico’s ambassador.

But Madrid denied there was any attempt to extract the former Morales aide.

“The ministry wishes to clarify that the charge d’affaires was purely making a courtesy visit and vehemently denies there was any aim to facilitate the exit of people holed up inside the building,” Spain’s foreign ministry said in a statement.


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