Bolivia claims foiled assassination attempt

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Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. And this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Authorities in Bolivia say they have thwarted a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales. The plot allegedly involved foreign mercenaries. Officials say three people were killed during a half-hour shootout with police in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. The BBC's Andres Schipani is following the story from La Paz. When did this shoot-out take place exactly, Andres?

ANDRES SCHIPANI: This morning, actually, very early in the morning. Apparently what happened yesterday there was a bomb explosion at the house of Bolivia's Catholic Church cardinal. And after that the police started to follow a trace. And Minister Morales himself, before setting off on his trip to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, he gave the order of using the best men available to track these people down. And apparently they found in a hotel room in the city of Santa Cruz.

WERMAN: And what else do we know about this alleged plot against President Morales.

SCHIPANI: Not much so far. The Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, just gave a presser, and what he said was, like, the people were following President Morales, himself, the Vice President, and other government officials and some regional authorities. And so they are considering the thesis of an attempt on their lives with the idea of destabilizing the government.

WERMAN: And explain who these foreign mercenaries are that Bolivian officials say perpetrated this plot.

SCHIPANI: It's not clear yet, but apparently they're talking nationals of Hungry, Romania, and Ireland, and Croatia, and some Bolivians are involved. They are linking them to extreme right wingers.

WERMAN: There have been tensions in Bolivia for some time between President Morales and the opposition. Is this alleged plot related, in any way, to that tension?

SCHIPANI: We cannot say that now, but maybe at some point the government will say that. There has always been tensions since Morales took office three years ago. And tensions have increased; there has been bloodshed in the past two years. And nothing like this so far. I mean, there was a massacre last year in the northern region of Pando, but nothing involving foreign mercenaries so far. But some people in the government call the opposition right wingers and even some of the extreme right wingers. So, I won't be surprised if at some point the government will say there's a link between the right wing opposition and these mercenaries.

WERMAN: I mean, President Morales just ended a hunger strike where he was refusing to eat so that a law would pass that he could run for a second term. Has anybody mentioned any relation to this new law?

SCHIPANI: Not yet, I mean, actually, the new constitution that was passed in last January said that he can run for a second term. What this new law was actually setting the terms for that, like giving more seats in parliament for the indigenous and rural areas and allowing Bolivians abroad to vote, etcetera. But nothing has been linked to this so far.

WERMAN: President Morales has said that there've been plots and threats before and the opposition comes back and says that's just Morales painting himself as a martyr. Is anybody saying that this time?

SCHIPANI: Well, I mean, there has been some attempts. Last year they found two people in Santa Cruz, actually, with a rifle when he was flying there. So, it's not clear yet, I mean, he has said that this was an attempt on his life with the idea of destabilizing the government. But, the story is too new and there's no clear proof so far. So, apparently the government is going to make more announcements this afternoon.

WERMAN: Okay, the BBC's Andre Schipani in La Paz, Bolivia. Thank you very much for the update.

SCHIPANI: Thank you.