Why is Bolivia expelling foreign diplomats?

Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez prepares to speak at a news conference at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia December 30, 2019Image copyright

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Interim President Jeanine Añez at a press conference on Monday

Bolivia has announced it is expelling Mexico’s ambassador and two Spanish diplomats, following a tense incident at the Mexican diplomat’s residence on Friday.

Spain has since reciprocated the move, while Mexico claims it had already recalled its ambassador owing to concerns over her safety.

What has caused this sudden breakdown of relations?

It essentially comes back to Bolivia’s ex-president Evo Morales, who was given asylum in Mexico in November after fleeing his homeland amid turmoil following his disputed re-election.

  • Evo Morales’ turbulent run
  • Bolivia country profile

Mexico also opened its ambassador’s residence in La Paz to various former associates of Mr Morales, and this has led to protests on its doorstep from angry Bolivians who oppose the ex-president.

Relations have since been understandably strained between Mexico and Bolivia – which is now being led by Interim President Jeanine Añez.

What are the accusations?

Spain says its representatives – including Chargé d’Affaires Cristina Borreguero – were paying a courtesy visit to the Mexican embassy on Friday morning.

However, Bolivia insists there was an ulterior “hostile” motive.

Its interim government has accused Spain of being part of a plot to hatch the escape of the most-wanted man in the country, former Interior Minister Juan Ramón Quintana.

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Evo Morales, centre, and Juan Ramon Quintana, right, in 2016

Spain “vehemently denies there was any aim to facilitate the exit of people holed up inside the building”, according to statement from its foreign ministry.

Mr Quintana, the former top aide of Mr Morales, has, like the ex-president, been accused of sedition and terrorism after post-election protests became violent.

Both men reject the allegations against them and Mr Morales has since moved on to Argentina.

Why was the area so tense?

Morales critics have been gathering outside the Mexican residence – in a traffic-free compound known as La Rinconada – calling for Mr Quintana to be handed over to authorities.

Mexico’s foreign ministry has, for days, complained about a “siege” outside, owing to the heavy presence of Bolivian police and military standing guard at the perimeter.

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Protesters have been gathering outside Urbanizacion La Rinconada, where the residence is located

It accuses Bolivian authorities of harassing and intimidating its diplomatic staff, and has asked the International Court of Justice to mediate in the dispute.

According to Spanish newspaper El País, tensions were particularly high on Friday morning as protesters had already reacted to a van leaving the premises, thinking it held Mr Quintana in the back.

The newspaper said that was a false alarm: the van was carrying a fridge.

What did the Spanish diplomats do?

Their meeting lasted 40 minutes, according to the Mexican ministry of foreign affairs.

The ministry said the problems started when the Spaniards went to leave and police blocked their cars – with diplomatic licence plates – from driving in to collect them.

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Vehicles coming in and out of La Rinconada have been checked

The Mexican ambassador reportedly heard screams – it is unclear from whom – and then invited the delegation back inside.

The ministry claims the Bolivian authorities told the visitors they could make their way towards the exit on foot, but the Spanish delegation feared for their safety.

Amid the tension, the Mexican ambassador, María Teresa Mercado, fired off a message on Twitter – which she later deleted – accusing Bolivian officials of violating the Vienna Convention which safeguards diplomatic rights.

El País reported that special operatives of the Spanish police were present and they covered their faces to hide from photographers outside.

However, Bolivia claimed they were masked because they were involved in a covert operation.

“The hostile behaviour, trying to surreptitiously enter Mexico’s residence in Bolivia, challenging Bolivian police officers and Bolivian citizens themselves, are facts that we cannot let go and have generated consequences,” said the country’s interim president.

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source: bbc.com