January 04, 2020

A dispute between Bolivia, Mexico, and Spain has resulted in decreased diplomatic representation between the countries and has led Bolivia to set up police checkpoints near Mexican diplomatic buildings in southern La Paz. The spat between the countries has also driven Bolivian civilians to set up camp outside the Mexican Embassy and the Mexican ambassador’s residence in La Paz. Mexico and Spain have accused the civilians of harassing diplomatic personnel with the acquiesce of the Bolivian security forces.


Tensions Between Bolivia and Mexico

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales. Credit: Simon Wedege, Creative Commons

Shortly after his Nov. 10 resignation, former Bolivian President Evo Morales fled Bolivia for Mexico, and the Mexican diplomatic mission to Bolivia used its offices to take in Bolivian politicians who supported Morales. The mission currently houses nine former officials who were loyal to Morales; Bolivian authorities have issued arrest warrants for four of the officials under Mexican protection, accusing them of terrorism and sedition for having allegedly supported the civil unrest that occurred immediately after Morales' resignation.

To prevent the former officials from fleeing the country, Bolivia has placed police checkpoints around the Mexican Embassy and the residence of the Mexican ambassador, both of which are located in southern La Paz. Additionally, civilians who are critics of Morales have begun camping out near the diplomatic buildings, protesting Mexico and watching for any signs that Mexico might attempt to bring the Bolivian officials it is housing to the airport so that they can leave the country. Mexico has claimed that the police checkpoints and civilian camps are violations of international law and has brought a case to the International Court of Justice accusing Bolivia of failing to protect the Mexican diplomatic mission.


Strain in Bolivia-Spain Relationship

The tensions between Bolivia and Mexico spilled into Bolivia-Spain relations Dec. 27, when two vehicles from the Spanish embassy were stopped at a checkpoint near the Mexican ambassador's residence. The Bolivian police demanded the identification of four Spanish police officers who were providing security to the diplomats in the vehicle; the Spanish police refused to cooperate. Civilians then approached the vehicles and began to insult the Spanish diplomats. Spain insists that the convoy was part of a routine courtesy visit between high-level diplomats, but the Bolivian police and civilians on the scene likely suspected that the Spanish were attempting to smuggle former Bolivian officials out of the country with the cooperation of the Mexican diplomatic corps.

On Dec. 30, Bolivia declared two high-ranking Spanish diplomats, the consul and the trade representative, as well as several members of the security force that protects Spanish diplomats, to be personae non gratae, ordering them to leave Bolivia within 72 hours. The Bolivian government simultaneously announced the expulsion of the Mexican ambassador. Spain immediately retaliated against the move by announcing it would expel Bolivia’s trade representative as well as its military and police attaches. Mexico condemned the expulsion of its ambassador and said that it was recalling her to Mexico for security reasons.


A Look Ahead

While the expulsions do not represent a complete break in relations between Bolivia and Spain, each country will have reduced diplomatic representation in the other. Relations between Bolivia and Mexico are even more fraught; Mexico does not recognize the interim administration of Jeanine Áñez, it now does not have an ambassador in Bolivia, and the Bolivian Embassy in Mexico has shown signs that it remains loyal to Morales rather than Áñez, meaning Bolivia may effectively have no representation in Mexico.


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