The Miami Herald
Jan. 19, 2006

Probe of destroyed missiles vowed

President-elect Evo Morales vowed to open a probe into the destruction of 28 of Bolivia's missiles by the United States and Bolivian Army officials.

Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia - President-elect Evo Morales vowed on Wednesday to launch a thorough investigation into allegations that top military officials worked in tandem with the United States to destroy 28 Chinese shoulder-launched missiles owned by the Bolivian Army.

The decision to send the missiles to the United States for destruction last year prompted caretaker President Eduardo Rodríguez to fire Army chief Gen. Marcelo Antezana on Tuesday, and led to the resignation of Defense Minister Gonzalo Méndez.

It also came at a sensitive time for the United States, which is trying to improve strained relations with the leftist Morales, an open critic of American policies.

Morales said the investigation would be ''profound'' and that any evidence of wrongdoing would be met with ``drastic punishment.''

A State Department spokesman has said Bolivia requested U.S. help in removing the deteriorating Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles.

Antezana appeared on Bolivian television, saying Rodríguez made a ''bad interpretation'' of his role in the October destruction of the missiles, which led to accusations of treason by Morales, who was then campaigning for the presidency.

At the time, Morales revealed the destruction of the weapons and said the move left Bolivia with virtually no air defenses.

''This cannot remain like this,'' Morales said Wednesday. ''The material and intellectual authors of this decision, whether they be civilians or military officers, must be judged,'' said Morales.

Rodríguez has said he was told by Army officials that the missiles were obsolete, and made the decision to destroy on recommendations of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

But some critics have said the missiles were not obsolete.

Morales' Movement Toward Socialism Party filed a suit against Rodríguez in October, with some members claiming the missiles were in working condition. Party members have distanced themselves from the suit in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, government news agency ABI reported that Rodríguez would make a formal inquiry with the U.S. Embassy to investigate their role in the matter.

During his TV appearance, Antezana said the missiles could have been deactivated in La Paz, but that ''secondary officials at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia had abused the trust'' of the Bolivian military in order to carry the missiles to a U.S. base to be destroyed.

Antezana's comments appeared to backtrack from an October declaration that he was the sole person responsible for the handling of the missiles.