World and Nation

Venezuelan Aid to Bolivia May Surpass $120 Million From US

To understand Venezuela's growing influence here, consider that more than two dozen ambassadors are in this capital city, including those of Bolivia's leading trading partners like Brazil, the United States and Argentina. Yet none enjoy the direct conduit that the Venezuelan ambassador, Julio Montes, has established with President Evo Morales.

Montes often accompanies Morales on domestic and international trips on executive jets provided by Venezuela's national oil company, say officials who have seen them traveling together. On many days Montes, who arrived in La Paz a year ago, can be found at the presidential palace huddled in meetings with Morales or the president's top aides.

Since Morales became president little more than a year ago, Venezuela has quickly come to rival the United States as Bolivia's main patron. It has provided assistance for the army, cattle ranches, soybean cultivation, microfinance projects, urban sanitation companies and the oil industry.

Perhaps most important to Washington, despite its opposition, Venezuelan financial assistance has helped Bolivia push ahead with plans to increase exports of its industrial production of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine.

The coca financing plan has helped Venezuela accomplish one of its foreign policy goals: limiting the regional influence of the United States, which for years has provided Bolivia with millions of dollars in aid in an effort to curb coca production. The United States recently cut its drug enforcement aid to Bolivia by about 25 percent, to $33.8 million, after Morales acknowledged that the size of the country's coca-growing areas were about double official estimates.

A senior U.S. official here, speaking anonymously out of concern that Bolivia's already fragile relations with the United States could erode further, said it was difficult to know the exact amount of Venezuelan aid because many of the agreements between Venezuela and Bolivia were not made public.

Citing Morales' efforts to assert greater government control over the energy industry and to rush a military agreement with Venezuela through the Bolivian Congress, the U.S. official said, "It is clear that Venezuela has strongly influenced policy in Bolivia."

Analysts who have reviewed the various Venezuelan assistance projects say the total may surpass the $120 million in anti-drug and humanitarian assistance from the United States, which made Bolivia one of the largest recipients in the world of aid from Washington per capita.